Mattias IA Eklundh — Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled (Favored Nations Entertainment)
Shred guitar albums can take one of two opposing approaches. The first is the portentous faux-classical approach, with featured guitarist as Paganini figure—the Malmsteen school, if you will. At the other end of the scale is the Satriani/Morse approach, with approachable, accessible chunks of shredding—some jazz fusion here, a little tech-metal there, with the off chance of getting on the radio and having a “Surfing With the Alien”-type hit. Mattias IA Eklundh is firmly in the latter camp on his second Freak Guitar album—unpretentious and fun, eager to please, and more than willing to show off his chops across a bewildering variety of material. The Road Less Traveled contains a synapse-scrambling 23 songs ranging in length from 15 seconds to 9 minutes. Eklundh, who doesn’t work with effects other than distortion, processes all the styles on this album through his own mental effects box, producing some enjoyably warped results. For example, his nylon string tribute to “The Woman in Seat 27A” could be a pleasant meandering number, yet it’s rendered unsettling by a backing track of menacing pizzicato strings and dripping water. One of the only songs to play it relatively straight is also the only vocal track, “Happy Hour,” which rocks along in unobtrusive 7/4 time. The album contains no information about backing musicians, so I assume that Eklundh programmed his backing tracks himself. If so, he did an amazing job; they’re more than up to the task of supporting all the shredding on offer. “There’s No Money in Jazz” sees “Flight of the Bumblebee” speed metal battling with staccato fusion passages (as the title hints, the metal wins out), “The Battle of Bob” showcases some prog insanity of near-Japanese intensity, and the Nintendo-core of “Insert Coin” sends you helplessly caroming around a short-circuiting pinball machine. His electro-bounce take on “Smoke on the Water” makes a nice companion piece to TOC’s similarly irreverent cover on last year’s Loss Angeles. Eklundh’s aim with this collection was to “make it easy for everyone to listen to and not just be a platform for showing off,” and he’s clearly succeeded. Guitar purists and old-school bluesmen might blanch at Eklundh’s over-the-top squeals and squalls, but anyone else interested in sonic extremes would do to well to strap themselves in for this album’s near-hour of six-string splatter.