The Top 25 Modern Metal Guitarists

#4: FREDRIK THORDENDAL (MESHUGGAH)

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MetalSucks recently polled its staff to determine who are The Top 25 Modern Metal Guitarists, and after an incredible amount of arguing, name calling, and physical violence, we have finalized that list! The only requirements to be eligible for the list were that the musician in question had to a) play metal (duh), b) play guitar (double-duh), and c) have recorded something in the past five years. Today we continue our countdown with Meshuggah’s Fredrik Thordendal…

We could have easily chosen Meshuggah’s rhythm guitarist, Martin Hagström, for this list. As the primary music writer on about half of Meshuggah’s songs from Chaosphere onwards, Hagstrom is equally responsible for Meshuggah’s deliriously complex rhythm schemes, which have largely defined the band’s music for nearly twenty years and more or less inspired the entire djent movement. In 2004, Guitar World threw up its hands trying to decide who was better, and inducted both guitarists to the #35 spot on the magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists of All Time. Let’s not forget that Thordendal and Hagström also made seven and eight-string guitars cool again, after the scourge of nu-metal tainted the reputation of the extended range axe.

But there are a couple things that give Thordendal the upper hand.

First, he wrote or co-wrote the music for eight of the ten songs on Destroy Erase Improve, Meshuggah’s watershed 1995 album that introduced the fractal polyrhythms that the band is still refining and fucking with today. Thordendal wrote all the music on the album’s untouchable first half, including the pummeling “Soul Burn,” which was written years before Destroy Erase Improve was released. No doubt every member of Meshuggah is essential to the band’s revolutionary sound, but Thordendal first crystallized the Meshuggah concept in song form.

Second, Thordendal’s lead work is among the most sophisticated in metal. Unlike the typical shredder content to assert his mastery independent of what’s happening underneath him, Thordendal always braids his solos into a song’s DNA. He spins out liquidy fusion leads during the wide-open sections of Destroy Erase Improve opener “Future Breed Machine” and obZen’s centerpiece “Bleed.” Synapses fire and misfire throughout his atonal, pointillist solo at the 2:57 mark on Chaosphere’s “New Millennium Cyanide Christ;” it’s just as hostile and alien as the rest of the song. And what the hell is happening on “Entrapment” from Catch 33? Thordendal’s guitar sounds like two robots trying to hurriedly fuck before they run out of batteries. No matter what he’s doing – even when he’s just building layers of textural motifs over the band’s rhythmic backbone, as he does a lot – Thordendal is completely wrapped up in the song, submerged in Meshuggah’s foreboding mood.

So many of the guitarists on this list are forever identified with one band, and Thordendal is no exception. Thordendal is so much part of Meshuggah’s unique m.o. that putting him in any other context feels unnecessary, almost like cheating.  That’s perhaps why his 1997 solo album Sol Niger Within sounds like a way premature Catch 33, and why his guest spots on Scarve’s “Asphyxiate” and Darkane’s “Psychic Pain,” no matter how brilliant they are, feel a little off. There is no separation between Thordendal and his band – Fredrik Thordendal is Meshuggah.

-SR

THE LIST SO FAR

#5 — Karl Sanders (Nile)

#6 — Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer, Agoraphobic Nosebleed)

#7 — Jeff Loomis

#8 — A.J. Minette (The Human Abstract)

#9 — John Petrucci (Dream Theater)

#10 — Terrance Hobbs (Suffocation)

#11 – Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth)

#12 — Michael Keene (The Faceless)

#13 — Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan)

#14 – Emil Werstler (Dååth, Levi/Werstler)

#15 — Colin Marston (Krallice, Behold… The Arctopus)

#16 — Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains)

#17 — Buckethead

#18 — Adam Jones (Tool)

#19 — Vernon Reid (Living Colour)

#20 — Misha Mansoor (Periphery)

#21 — Alex Skolnick (Testament)

#22 – Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved)

#23 — Synyster Gates (Avenged Sevenfold)

#24 — Chris Letchford (Scale the Summit)

#25 — Paul Ryan (Origin)


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