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Stephan Thelen - Fractal Guitar CD (album) cover

FRACTAL GUITAR

Stephan Thelen

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.07 | 6 ratings

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TCat
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Stephen Thelen is a solo artist that has been releasing albums since 1990 under his own name. Considered to be a RIO/Avant Prog artist, he utilizes new technology and new ways of playing guitar in his music, yet composes similar to the classical artists. The album "Fractal Guitar" was released early in 2019, and continues with that style, experimental and innovative. In the 1990s, he was involved with the Guitar Craft Seminars along with Robert Fripp, so you can imagine that his playing and style is innovative. "Fractal Guitar" consists of 5 tracks and the total runtime of the album is 67 minutes, so the tracks are all quite long. There are several guest artists on this album, and between some of them and Stephen, there are several various types of guitars and styles used. Stephen also returns to a heavy use of effects on this album. Marcus Reuter guests on all of the tracks, mostly playing the U8 Touch Guitar and so does Matt Tate on the U8 Touch Bass.

Starting off with the longest track at over 18 minutes, "Briefing for a Descent into Hell", we get Stephen using Fractal and Tritone Guitars. The fractal guitar utilizes a rhythmic delay and a high feedback level that creates some awesome sounds. Also, on this track guests use U8 Touch Guitar and Bass, Cloud Guitar and Electric Guitar to generate some interesting layers and etc. The track has a steady bass and rhythm foundation and the different layers play out against this, creating melody, textures and atmospheric effects with the delay causing some interesting off-beat sounds. At the 8 minute mark, the constant rhythm stops for a short time allowing things to float for a minute before coming back again. A different sounding guitar takes over, I assume this is the tritone guitar because of the sudden smoothness of the transition from one note to another. Soon, the beat starts to break up a bit, and a new arpeggio type pattern is established before the rhythm starts up again, this time a bit more complex. Once the fractal guitar takes the spotlight again, this is where you can really hear the power of this guitar and its uniqueness in sound. Now the foundation isn't quite as steady as before, but more involved in what is going on around it. Around the 15 minute mark, things get quite a bit calmer until the guitar screeches and growls its way to the end.

"Road Movie" has Stephen using fractal guitar and a blue sky guitar as well as granular loops. Guests use other electric guitars, atmospherics, and both U8 touch guitar and bass. The rhythmic foundation has a boiling bass and drum pattern that is a bit reminiscent of Pink Floyd, but with guitar chords making for a more tense atmosphere. A beautiful and somewhat shimmering melody is played on top of this, and is later joined by a more intense melody on top of it. Power and intensity ebbs and flows throughout the track with a nice variation of sound coming from the different guitars and effects improvised over it all. The continuation of the rhythm throughout and the use of improvisation gives this track a space rock vibe, but with a huge amount of experimentation involved. Also, all of the guests get a chance to solo on this and their performances were added to the track.

"Fractal Guitar" utilizes echoing and repeating patterns of 5 notes against a 9 / 8 meter established by the rhythm section to create a nice lush sound as patterns echo and fade as other patterns are established over them. As things continue, the rhythm builds in intensity, sounding more complex as it goes. Marcus later comes in with a rousing solo giving everything that Fripp-ian feel. Things calm down again just before the 6 minute mark as new echoing patterns and effects return.

In the track "Radiant Day", the bass pattern and the main guitar pattern are the same, except that the bass is twice as slow as the guitar and also played an octave lower and this creates an interesting and complex foundation. Shimmering guitars and effects play over the top of this, much of it played by Marcus with inspiration coming from Mike Oldfield's music.

"Urban Nightscape" is a new version of an older piece that Stephen has recorded before. It has a tricky part played by the bass that serves as the foundation and features a very odd meter, a fractal guitar part played in another meter, and has that automated and metallic feel of Discipline-era King Crimson. This is my favorite track on the album and has the perfect placement as the last track. Not only that, it is 17+ minutes of genius, powerful, rapid-fire delivery, screeching chords and feedback, heaviness, coldness, just perfection. The guitar solo is amazing! After 10 minutes, things start to break down slowly and after 12 minutes, the entire track turns into a beautiful soundscape.

No doubt that this is the work of a genius, but at times it can develop quite slowly. Things get a bit less interesting in the middle, but still showcase the talent and ingenuity, but I tend to lose my interest a little, but that last track is just plain awesomeness and makes the entire journey worthwhile. With repeated listenings, you start to catch things that you missed before and different moods can make certain sections more appealing that were not so noticeable before. This is a recommended album, and I definitely want to explore some of his other albums.

TCat | 4/5 |

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