rating icon 7 / 10

Track listing:

01. Illumination
02. Song For An Eternal Child
03. Triumph (Official Version)
04. Thrill City
05. Deep End
06. Dead Of Winter (English Vocal)
07. Mirage
08. A Prayer
09. Acapella (Guitar Solo)
10. Tearful Confession
11. Icicles
12. 2 Rebeldes (Spanish Vocal)

As much as all enjoy the sound of a skillfully played guitar, free entry into the world of instrumental shred records is not something that will appeal to everyone. But if anyone can win over the doubters, it's Marty Friedman.

Perhaps most celebrated for his tenure as Dave Mustaine's six-string foil in MEGADETH during the '90s, he has spent the decades since in a state of near-constant creativity, releasing a steady stream of highly distinctive solo records that have covered far more musical ground than most people would expect. From his sustained dalliance with Japanese musical tradition, to the blistering, fret-eviscerating splendor of his more straight-ahead metal guitar records, Friedman has always been classy and always played like an absolute motherfucker.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that "Drama" is technically dazzling, highly emotive and sonically pristine. This is what Marty Friedman does, even when he's not trying. But this album does seem to represent a concerted effort to bring the various strands of his musicality together, with only a slight lack of face-removing metal aggression betraying the guitarist's slightly more reserved tastes at this point in his career. Roughly divided between lavish, mellifluous balladry and more intricate, challenging fare, this has little in common with previous albums like "Wall Of Sound" (2017) and "Inferno" (2014). In fact, there are times when Friedman appears to be exercising more restraint than is strictly necessary, but for the majority of the time, "Drama" is a meticulous and unapologetic demonstration of prowess.

If you can't make it through all seven minutes of opener "Illumination", it seems safe to suggest that "Drama" is probably not for you. Drenched with the melodic schmaltz that has long been a trademark, it revels in theatricality and heightened emotion, as Friedman scorches through the gears, doing beautiful, lyrical things with its lissome, core melodies, and saying a loud, proud "yes please!" to being as sumptuously over-the-top as possible. On the nimble-footed "Deep End", he strides manfully into traditional shred territory, but with big, shiny hooks and some crushing, state-of-the-art riffing ensuring that the end result is a coherent song, rather than just four minutes of showing off. It is followed by "Dead Of Winter": a solid if unremarkable power ballad, with vocals from Chris Brooks (LIKE A STORM),  a gently theatrical edge and at least one mind-bending and flawless solo from the great man that unquestionably needs to be performed at the top of a mountain, mid-blizzard.

Elsewhere, "A Prayer" shines the spotlight on the elegance of Friedman's playing, as another large helping of schmaltz detonates in slow motion over a never knowingly understated melancholy waltz; "Acapella" and "Tearful Confession" serve up a series of wonderfully delicate chord movements, with Friedman's rapt and masterful dexterity gliding serenely across them; while the closing "Icicles" is a hyper-melodic and determinedly mellow tour-de-force which slowly grows into triumphant arena rock with grand, orchestral depths.

Again, records like "Drama" are not designed for mass appeal, but Marty Friedman's extraordinary skills are underscored by so much emotion and sincerity, that every note he plays has the power to win hearts and minds.

Author: Dom Lawson
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