Album Review: Stephan Thelen — Fractal Guitar 3

The idea that classical music and popular forms of music can coexist isn’t a new one. The Moody Blues bridged the gap between the two with Days of Future Passed in 1967. Electric Light Orchestra explored that space on their albums, at least up until 1977. On the much artier side of things, Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestrations drew from both classical and prog/metal, but while supremely fascinating, they’re too challenging for the general listening public.

As I’ve noted before (in my reviews of Fractal Guitar 2, a remix album and a piece on Kronos Quartet), Stephan Thelen is a classical composer. But he’s also a fascinating practitioner of instrumental progressive rock. His latest release, Fractal Guitar 3, presents five compositions (plus a remix/edit of one), with Thelen playing electric guitars and keyboards throughout. He’s joined by some impressive players; touch guitarist Markus Reuter and multi-instrumentalist Barry Cleveland chief among them.

The music is demanding, to be sure. But it’s possessed of an accessible character that’s rooted in rhythm and melody, making it an enjoyable listening experience even for those not inclined toward prog. Shades of EDM find their way into the arrangements, but at its heart Fractal Guitar 3 doesn’t sound of a particular time, and will likely age better than any random EDM track might do. It’s intriguing, contemplative, atmospheric, rocking, frightening and sublime, heavy and light, sometimes all in one track. Recommended.