"Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled" (Favored Nations/Thunderstruck; 2005)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

One of the more difficult genres of music to review is the instrumental guitar album. That's because no matter how great the musician (and there are some truly great musicians out there), an album is just a 45-minute extension of that person's style. Of course, that's exactly what we as fans want to hear; the problem is in describing it to a listener.

Then along comes Mattias IA Eklundh's "Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled" and, although one listen will probably have you arching an eyebrow and wondering "what the hell was that?," irresistible subsequent listenings will allow you to bask in the CD's undeniable originality and boldness, not to mention Eklundh's jaw-dropping talent.

Boasting that he uses no effects anywhere on the record (says Eklundh: "I use no effects whatsoever. The guitar itself contains so many sounds you can use"), Eklundh delivers a CD containing 23 tracks (22 of which are strictly instrumentals) that not only could have come from different records, but from different worlds of music. There's the techno-soundtrack drive of "Print This!," the nearly Jimmy Buffet groove of "Happy Hour," the flamenco fire of "The Woman in Seat 27A," the metal hum of "White Trash Hyper Blues," the jazzy simmer of "Minor Swing" and much more. It's a fascinating aural journey that, despite the fact most of it can't be called hard rock or heavy metal, will keep you entertained throughout.

Boldness and individuality aside, it must be mentioned that Eklundh is a stunning guitar player, delivering dizzying speed, amazing clarity and fearless experimentation. How this man's fingers don't catch fire when he plays is beyond me.

Two covers are also worth mentioning here: Eklundh's nearly straight-forward take on Harold Faltermeyer's "Fletch Theme," from the Chevy Chase films of the mid-80s, is notable for its relative obscurity and a blistering cover of Deep Purple's classic "Smoke on the Water," that will leave your head swimming.

Not for everyone, perhaps, but definitely for those who love the versatility of the guitar, "Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled" is a true showcase of a master.

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"Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled" (Favored Nations/Thunderstruck; 2005)

Reviewed by Snidermann

As long as there are guitars, there will be guitarists who release instrumental CDs. Some of these CDs work and some just fall flat. 

Mattias lA Eklundh's offers a staggering 23 songs on "Freak Guitar - The Road Less Traveled" and, for the most part, manages to keep the listener entertained. Most of the music herein isn't hard rock, but rather a sort of guitar jazz with interesting sound effects and techniques thrown in to make it a little different. I'll give Eklundh that much - he's a hell of a guitarist.

My problem with most of the music here is that it's too slow-paced and lacks any real punch. It might work great in a nature documentary as a background score but it's not strong enough to stand on its own. The music does show its teeth occasionally, but not often enough. 

Bottom line: "Freak Guitar: The Road Less Traveled" is an entertaining listen, but probably not hard enough often enough for Rough Edge readers. 

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"Freak Guitar" (Favored Nations/Thunderstruck; 2002)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Finally! A record I can listen to without being bored to death. Mattias IA Eklundh, a Swede, is better known as the guitarist for the band Freak Kitchen. I've also known Eklundh from his occasional guest solos with Soilwork.

Eklundh uses his deep appreciation and understanding of the quirks of American and Scandinavian cultures as inspiration to craft nearly 70 minutes of instrumental guitar rock that covers a wide spectrum of styles, moods, tempos, and colors. And when I say 'wide' I mean W I D E. You'll have to hear it for yourself to know what I mean.

While certainly not heavy metal and not quite hard rock all of the time, "Freak Guitar" gives fans of good music in general and instrumental rock specifically a lot to cheer about. Eklundh displays his many talents at nearly every turn. The easiest references to Eklundh's style come from Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Frank Zappa. Like Steve Vai, Eklundh has a master's command of the guitar and music. Like Satriani, Eklundh has a way of using that command of the instrument and music in new and inventive ways. Like Frank Zappa, Eklundh has a way of drawing the weird fringes of music toward the center into something that is easily consumed despite its weirdness.

The opening number is an instrumental ditty in the vein of Joe Satriani that grooves and has a melody that can sustain for days. "The Grey Hat Of Compromise" also reminds me of Satriani with it supple melody. The freaky, weird stuff is comparable to Steve Vai's less than lucid moments. By the way, isn't Favored Nations a Vai supported label? And, obviously, Frank Zappa gets the proverbial nod in the way that Eklundh turns the seeming incongruous into something that actually makes sense.

Additionally, a few tracks remind me of the musical stunts performed by Joboj where all the skills and knowledge in the world are abandoned just to get a particular vibe or sound. It sounds easy but sometimes it's not so easy to 'forget' everything you know and just go for it. Eklundh simply knows how to let it all slip away and let the music come through him.

There are two cover songs; hell, there are 22 tracks so I'd hope there were a few cover tunes. The traditional styling of "La Bamba" gets a somewhat exuberant and not-so-tidy rendition. Kiss's "Detroit Rock City" gets a slick jazzy, gypsy treatment which is a bit unbelievable when you hear it for the first time.

The beauty of "Freak Guitar" is that all but one song is under four minutes long (and many of those are less than three minutes long!) That keeps the pace quick and refreshing at all times. The exception is the ten minute-plus soothing ballad "Time To Breathe" which revels in its own calmness.

Guitar fans (or should that be guitar freaks?) should get this disc immediately.

Plentiful and wonderful 'outside-the-lines' artwork rounds out this complete package.

Performing on this CD is ... well, Mattias IA Eklundh. On everything. Including a dildo. Yes, you read that right - a dildo.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright 2005 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 17 Jul 2022 13:29:13 -0400 .