Multiple mixes, multiple versions, multiple labels—Fredrik Thordendal’s first (and, so far, only) solo album doesn’t just refuse to die, it refuses to sleep or even stand still for long. Nearly 20 years after its initial release, Sol Niger Within’s relevance waxes brighter than ever as its influence passes from generation to generation via a growing tangle of conduits. 

Why the enduring allure? Thanks largely to Thordendal’s role in Meshuggah, musicians account for a lot. Students at prestigious music schools and self-taught guitarists alike study his inventions (often starting in their teens), poring over online guitar tabs, listening again and again, experimenting with their own gear, and practicing relentlessly—often on guitars with more than six strings acquired in emulation of Thordendal—all in the hope of figuring out how he does what he does and assimilating the spirit behind it. Their numbers are growing, too, unsurprisingly. This, after all, is the guy who with a single gesture, inadvertently engendered djent.

Adventurous non-musicians often also dig his stuff, as only befits one of metal’s most spectacularly original musicians and a master of both “technique” in the general sense and “techniques” in the sense that he approaches his instrument(s) from a multitude of angles—especially on Sol Niger Within. Thordendal’s solos on Meshuggah albums are like extended glimpses of fascinating alien landscapes. SNW gives the guitarist an opportunity to drive whichever planetary (or astral) rover he conjures over, under, around, and through its target world at least every couple minutes: we (the listeners) get to ride shotgun as he gives his capacity for expressing the inexpressible full reign.

It’s not just solos, either. He composed, arranged, and (assisted by engineer Mattias Eklund) produced the album in its entirety, as well as providing all guitar parts, vocals, some synth, and most basslines. Still, apart from Thordendal’s unmistakable signature, Sol Niger Within doesn’t sound all that much like Meshuggah—in part, because he works with different people. 

Child prodigy-turned-modern master Morgan Ågren fills the drummer’s slot majestically throughout, slamming and swinging through Thordendal’s most Lovecraft-batshit time signatures with a grace that makes them downright infectious. Ågren’s musical partner of more than 30 years in Swedish progressive exemplars Mats/Morgan Band—Mats Öberg—contributes keyboards, Kantor Magnus Larsson, church organ. Marcus Persson, Jennie Thordendal, and Meshuggah drummer Thomas Haake provide additional vocals, with the last (as always) making spoken English sound so beautiful that even a few Americans might be tempted to learn it. Jonas Knutsson plays saxophone, Jerry Ericsson, additional bass—with Victor Alneng rounding out the lineup on yidaki.

06 SDFX Norhager.jpg

The enhanced and expanded palette is merely a reflection of what truly makes SNW unique. As with the magisterial later works of Saint John Coltrane, the album is both an extremely personal statement and a tool for DIY self-transformation. Miraculously, Thordendal weaves 29 brief sections into the fabric of a seamlessly cohesive whole inspired by one of esoteric alchemy’s most potent strategies for transcendence: the formula of the Black Sun Within.

Fredrik at the studio "Area 51" where he recorded all the guitars, bass and vocal parts for  Sol Niger Within,  and later also mixed the album.

Fredrik at the studio "Area 51" where he recorded all the guitars, bass and vocal parts for Sol Niger Within, and later also mixed the album.

Husaria aren’t about to drop any spoilers—apart from mentioning that the composer tackles his mission in a thoroughly contemporary manner, interpolating lyrics by Petter Marklund with quotes from William S. Burroughs, Shin Hsiu, Hermann Hesse, Marina Katys, Hui Neng, Donatien-Alphonse-François, Comte de Sade, Lin Chi, Gerard van der Leeuw, Jikido Takasaki, Oscar Wilde, Novalis, Dante Aligheri, Samuel Beckett, and fucking Plato. The end result’s consistency is such that it could have easily been carved from a single massive hunk of inspiration.

As for overall effect, Husaria Records guarantee that even listeners with an abiding lack of interest in ordeal-based death/rebirth scenarios will luxuriate in the sonics of Sol Niger Within’s first-ever appearance on vinyl. Label founder Tom Smaga has been working on this project (with Fredrik’s full cooperation) for a very long time. Now as in the beginning, his foremost goal is to provide the most memorable listening experience possible using today’s technology.  

Sol Niger Within won’t lack for overall physical presence or aesthetic appeal, either. Incorporating Nina Bergman’s iconic artwork, each of 1,000 elegant triple-gatefold sleeves will harbor two 12” slices of 200+-gram virgin vinyl mastered to the brutally exacting audiophile standards a release of SNW’s magnitude merits. As for the rest of the package, here’s Smaga: “Fredrik and I are still plotting out final details, but I’m guessing we’ll do our best to generate at least a couple surprises. We might also throw a little something extra in for people who pre-order early.”

As we move toward 2016, keep an eye on this page for updates. While pre-order probably won’t commence until after the winter solstice, Husaria plan to announce significant developments as they happen. After all, nothing is written in stone yet nor will it be: the medium for Sol Niger Within is vinyl—a substance made from petroleum—the planet’s own blood, warmed and informed by the biggest, baddest “black sun within” most of us are likely to get anywhere near during our lifetimes—a dense, lightless spheroid, insane but responsible, hotter than Sol herself, and not all that happy with developments on the surface: Earth’s core. 

I’ve said enough.  

R. Joseph Lee/Octarine Communications West