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Though his work in Cacophony was widely acclaimed by metalheads everywhere and his contributions to Megadeth even more so, Marty Friedman chose to follow his muse outside of the realm of heavy music and into a sort of New Age sound. His popularity in Japan surely spawned a particular affinity for that country’s music and culture, as reflected by his songs on Scenes, his second solo effort.
Delicate acoustic tones are the dominant sound, complemented by lush synthesizers and, occasionally, the screaming electric guitar solo. The result is a very organic instrumental album that showcases elements of Friedman’s style that you wouldn’t hear in his heavy metal material. For example, one of his quirks when playing acoustic melodies is to intentionally sound a note flat, only to slowly bend it into tune before the listener even takes notice (he does this dozens of times). The material on Scenes is very expressive and compositionally thoughtful and Marty displays profound restraint for a guy whose explosive leadwork is one of the key features on an album like Speed Metal Symphony or Countdown to Extinction.
But is it for everyone? As I’ve alluded in my review title, probably not. I have a lot of respect for this record and regard Marty’s playing highly, but even I rarely listen to this. It’s just that kind of music that you really have to be in a particular mood to listen to. I continually swear off this album, telling myself that I have no interest in music of this sort. But so far, it has managed to keep me coming back, however infrequently that may be.
Certainly worth a listen for fans of Friedman, New Age, or instrumental guitar albums. Don’t go in expecting a speed-fest and you shouldn’t have too much of a hang-up.
While it's a bit too sedate in spots, overall this is pretty enjoyable stuff. The interesting thing about this album as it relates to metal is that Marty released this record in 1992. Much has been said about what effect Marty had on Megadeth in the late 90's, and this album only adds fuel to the fire. On one hand, it shows that Marty really was interested in softer stuff years ago, and may have brought a bit too much of that soft and commercial touch to Megadeth's music. On the other hand, if this album was out in 1992, no one (especially Mustaine) could have complained as though Marty suddenly changed and went soft in the late 90's. Friedman obviously liked exploring his melodic side all along.
But back to Scenes. On an album like this, the centerpiece is obviously going to be the guitar playing, and Friedman puts in some solid work. Friedman's Japanese-influenced, melodic guitar playing is always on the mark technically, and sometimes rises to heights of beauty. The main problem is that the middle part of the album (Night, Realm of the Senses, West) gets bogged down with a few slow, uninspired cuts. The musicianship is still solid, the songs are just boring. Apart from those three average songs, though, this album is a great listen. Sometimes (e.g. on Angel) Friedman even starts to bust into things that are simultaneously more melodic and more rocking than anything on an album like Risk. In a sea of acoustic guitars and soothing melodies, some of the electric guitar solos on this album add a really impressive punctuation mark.
The drums are handled by Nick Menza, though they aren't heard too often. A bass doesn't do a lot, but it supports the music and adequately provides a founation for it. Synthesizers are used, with varying degrees of success. When used as background noise or to accentuate a guitar melody, they can be quite effective. But sometimes Friedman has them come to the front, at which times they tend to detract from the songs. Thankfully this is kept to a minimum.
This CD is only 40 minutes, and three of the songs are average, but I'm still recommending this CD. Songs like Valley of Eternity, Angel, and Trance are more than enough to make up for whatever deficiencies there might be on the album.
This is one of my favorite smooth-listening albums of all time, which blends the perfect amount of electric and clean guitars with great orchestral work to back it up. This album, along with Buckethead's "Colma", contains some of the most relaxing and empowering songs ever. Marty's departure from his typical shredding is done with great class and finess and shows his love for very exotic scales that give this album a very tropical feel.
The album opens with a very gentle and soothing song entitled "Tibet" that pretty much sums up what you're going to expect for the remainder of the album. As it draws to a close, a very uplifting electric riff brings your calm spirits up as "Angel" kicks in. This is the kind of song that can bring you up when you're down, and certainly provides the listener with a sense of ease.
As "Angel" draws to a gentle close, we hit on a very exotic track entitled "Valley Of Eternity," that relies on light orchestral backing to Marty's clean guitar and must be heard to be appreciated.
"Night" carries over the same vibe left by "Valley Of Eternity" and holds the same aesthetic. Not anything different to say here that hasn't been said about "Valley Of Eternity" other than it mixes some electric into the mix.
"Realm Of The Senses" opens with a gong and a asian girl speaking. Sounds kind of cheesy (which it sorta is) but the songs combination of electric guitar, orchestral work and clean guitars give the album the same gentle feel experienced in the aforementioned tracks.
"West" is a fucking excellent track. It opens from the raindrops heard falling at the end of "Realm Of The Senses" that give you that tropical feel of a rainforest. The rain slowly dissolves away as the very exotic and melodic clean guitar comes in, again backed by great orchestral work that has been evident throughout the album.
"Trance" is a very bouncy song, featuring all electric, providing what was heard in "Angel," introducing some drums and a very uplifting feeling to a more often melancholic album.
The album draws to a close with one of my favorite songs off the album entitled "Triumph," that opens with very soothing orchestral work, and as the title suggests, you do feel a sense of triumph while listening to it. The end of the song features very light electric guitar, and ends on top of its form.
All in all, if you're a fan of sensitive relaxing music, it's a great album to pick up. It's not too short, not too long, and contains everything you would expect from a very talented guitarist.
Marty Friedman's career since Cacophony was for years solo work intermingled with his work as Megadeth's guitarist. During his Megadeth years he managed to publish three solo albums, of which this, Scenes, is the first one.
For anyone who knows Cacophony's superior Speed Metal Symphony and the glory days of Megadeth, expectations for a solo album by Friedman must be set very high by default. Speed Metal Symphony in itself belongs in the hall of fame of it's style, and Megadeth, whether you like it or not, has been a major influence on thousands of metal artists and amateurs for almost two decades. Therefore, seeing a Friedman album in a record store might cause convulsive purchasing psychosis in an unsuspecting fan of Cacophony.
The warning signs are there, of course. The producer, Kitaro, is known for his orientally atmospheric instrumental music that is mostly soothing and calm, and never even remotely aggressive. The name of the album, along with such song titles as Tibet, Angel, and Trance, should tell anyone with half a brain that the CD in your hand does not contain anything that could possibly appear on a Megadeth or Cacophony album. Even the photo on the cover betrays the type of music, and still, it's so easy to fool yourself. To make it crystal clear: there is absolutely no metal on the album. None whatsoever.
Well, maybe there are evanescent trace amounts of metal, but this is so far away from the days of shred, that it could have been a therapeutic counterweight for all the heavier work Friedman had done so far. What the album does contain, however, is not bad. It actually is excellent in it's own right, but might prove a disappointment for anyone looking for another Concerto of Cacophony era.
The album is filled with atmospheric, ethereal mood music, partly played with an acoustic guitar or at least an electric one without distortion or other effects. A lot of synths support the guitar work, but mostly stay in the background, except for some unfortunate moments such as the beginning of the last track, Triumph. Kitaro's influence is obvious, and the ambient feeling is mildly oriental; sometimes it even seems to be the main idea of a few songs. What Friedman has done on this album is easy to define: he has gone softer than Joe Satriani, and occasionally, from the metal point of view, even strays to the far side of Mike Oldfield. Some of the songs, such as the Angel, do build up to nice semi-metallic soloes, but they do it so gradually that when the solo finally gets up to full speed, it feels like the continuity of the original soft beginning. Then they fade with equal stealth back into the background before the song ends. Try listening to Angel in the middle, skipping the first two minutes, and you'll hear it; there is an excellent musician playing with the combined skill of a battalion of bedroom guitarists, doing a damn decent solo, albeit with mellow production and a very soft sounding guitar. The Valley of Eternity even has a spot, somewhere around 6:50 into the song, that for a few seconds makes a promise that the 14 minutes already behind have been an extended intro, and that metal time is just around the corner. The promise will never be fulfilled.
The tracks are all quite alike. There are moments of very fast but restrained playing. Only the Trance stands out as a little heavier item, and might even be called at least hard rock with minimal sarcasm. Still, it barely manages to achieve the metal level of an average Satriani song, and incidentally sounds like one, from the Flying in a Blue Dream era. The rest of the album blends into a nice sound landscape that delivers exactly what the album name promises. None of the other songs is memorable on its own, but as a whole the package produces a feeling not unlike the better parts of Tubular Bells II by Oldfield. Draw your own conclusions.
Is it any good to a metalhead? Yes, it can be, depending. First of all, you will need an album of mood music in case of the unlikely event that some day one of those intriguing lady-beings walks into your den, and declares that she is not into metal and that Cradle of Filth and even your beloved Linkin Park will kill her appetite. This is made for those moments, just like a bottle of reasonably priced medium dry white wine and modestly stylish two-pack of prophylactics that doesn't betray your over-eagerness. None of your friends will even doubt your street credibility after seeing this next to your stereo, this is by Marty Friedman, for Lucifer's sake. At least it will give you better chances of passing on your metal genes for the future generations, even if only as a hybrid semi-metal abomination. And as a album by a virtuoso, it might even serve as the lady's portal into stiffer musical substances, in case you fail to disillusion her immediately and she actually understands music at all.
Second, in it's own way, it is a damn good album. Friedman has not sold out, even if he wrestles in the same category as his producer. This is not brainless pop music, and features good guitar work. It just manages to evade even the most liberal definitions of metal and most definitions of rock, and remains all the way through its 40 minutes faithful to Friedman's chosen theme. If you wish to remain a true metal badass, avoid this. But if you sometimes listen to other music, too, this is good addition to your collection. It just isn't metal.
How to rate this? If considered metal, it deserves something on the order of 10% or 20% due to lack of metal. If rated as an album of a random genre, without a metal bias, it immediately goes up to the top quarter, to somewhere around 85% due to highly skillful playing and nice, thematic mood. You make up your own mind, if you really cared enough to read this far. I'm slapping a 75 on it, without any good explanation for my behaviour, but that's just me.