May 9, 2024

The melodies are strong, and Friedman gets the balance right between meditative playing and more bombastic passages. He’s come a long way since Megadeth and the good news is that he’s still worth listening to.

Having reached fame and fortune as guitarist in Megadeth during the ‘90s, you could have forgiven Marty Friedman for sitting on his laurels and milking that heritage. But Friedman took the unusual path of moving to Japan soon after leaving Megadeth. There he has become something of a TV star, presenting a well-known rock programme, and appearing as an actor in fiction series too. He continues to play live in Japan and release solo and mostly instrumental albums, and Drama is his latest opus.

There are some parallels between Drama and his 1992 album, Scenes, and one song (Triumph) appears on both albums with slightly different arrangements.  The press release very accurately states that on Drama ‘he only slightly revisits the atmospheric elements of his acclaimed 1992 release Scenes, elevating them to a modern and exotic collection of epic extravagant and unapologetically emotional mini-symphonies.’ It’s that epic quality about Drama and its insistent pulling on the heartstrings that stands out. On top of that are the pervasive Eastern elements that give this music a quite unique feel.

There are two songs that break that mold though. The first is Dead Of Winter, a pretty straight forward AOR number that is pleasant enough without offering anything new. It’s the only song with vocals (courtesy of Chris Brooks) and is placed as track six out of eleven, thus neatly serving the function of breaking up the flow of instrumental pieces (too many of which might tire some ears). The Japanese album release has a twelfth track which is simply a Spanish version of this same song. In contrast, with Thrill City, Freidman seems to have rejoined Megadeath since it’s full of heavy thrash riffing and shredding solos. It’s not a bad piece of music but to these ears it just doesn’t fit the general mood.

The lengthiest track at almost seven minutes, Illumination, highlights all that is excellent about this album. It opens in a classical guitar style supported by piano, leading to a more traditional theme on electric guitar. Both themes are reflective and soulful. Drums enter and the pace gradually quickens as Friedman plays around with the two themes in increasingly energetic ways, and layers of keys flesh out the sound. The final rendition of the themes is spine-tingling. That ability to build up to an epic conclusion is also shown in a much shorter number, the four-minute Deep-End. The first minute is pure Einaudi and you think this might be a meditative piece but by the third minute Friedman has moved on to some energetic guitar shredding.

The Japanese influence is perhaps most evident in Song For An Eternal Child where Freidman plays the guitar as if it were a koto (or maybe it is a koto!) before the band launches into a big theme which again has a traditional Japanese sound to it. This song also opens with a curious duet between guitar and violin, and it’s these sorts of unusual touches that keep this song and much of the album interesting.  Having said that, the album is very one-paced (mid-paced, that is) so by the time you get to Mirage and A Prayer, a bit of a sameness about the songs starts creeping in. The one-minute guitar-doodling indulgence of Acapella is perhaps not necessary either but it segues nicely into the excellent Tearful Confession where I would advise you not to hold a drink in your hand on first listen because you risk spilling it at the point where the quiet slumbering music is rudely interrupted by the sudden loud entry of the full band. It’s one of the highlights of the album, as is the reflective closing track Icicles that juxtapositions a melancholy theme with a much more cheerful one. There’s the usual build-up from an initial quiet exposition of the themes through to an epic recapitulation, passing via an inspired solo.

I have to confess that I’m generally not a fan of instrumental guitar albums, but I found Drama to be a very enjoyable listen. The melodies are strong, and Friedman gets the balance right between meditative playing and more bombastic passages. He’s come a long way since Megadeth and the good news is that he’s still worth listening to.