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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.