If you were to ask a random member of the public if they have ever heard of a guy called Marty Friedman, odds are they’ll say no. You might by chance happen across a thrash metal fan who knows him as the dude who played all the legendary guitar solos for classic thrashers Megadeth during their most successful period in the 90s, but that’s about as far as his fame goes over here.
If, however, you were to go to Japan, the answer would likely be very different. After leaving Megadeth in 1999, Marty moved to Tokyo and soon became a huge Japanese celebrity. He hosts TV shows, writes for popular newspapers, has his face plastered over Fanta bottles, all for no reason other than that they think he’s a great guitarist. As such, music is still his biggest pursuit, and he is much sought after by all kinds of massively popular Japanese artists, from aggressive rock bands to the cheesiest of J-pop chart toppers.
So, having just released a new solo album, it begs the question: what does a Marty Friedman album sound like in 2010? Well, it’s pretty much all of the above. Marty has a very varied discography, including 9 solo albums stretching all the way back to the mid-80s, and the 11 tracks on this album seem to be a culmination of all the different albums he has ever released. There’s heavy rhythms, exotic melodies, dodgy synths, poppy choruses, semi-acoustic ballads and, of course, bucketfuls of virtuosic guitar soloing. There aren’t, however, any vocals, which is expected given Marty’s tendency to release instrumental solo albums, so if you hate guitars you should stop reading now and pick up a Robbie Williams album or something. The lack of vocals is mainly a good thing in my opinion, especially given Marty’s track record of being in bands with mediocre vocalists that detract from the music.
As you might expect of something this varied, it’s a bit hit and miss in places; some of it is cringe worthy, some of it is weird, but a lot of it is downright awesome. It starts off with Specimen, one of heaviest and most inaccessible songs on the album, due to a jarring industrial inspired riff, before moving straight to the other end of the spectrum with lead single and title track Bad DNA. Search it on YouTube and you can find an embarrassingly tacky video for it, and unfortunately the music is not much better. It starts off with some of the aforementioned dodgy synths, before going into some simplistic, rocking riffs and one of the most popish Japanese choruses you’re likely to hear outside of an episode of Pokémon. I mean, I like Marty’s big, over-the-top melodies (his 2008 album, Tokyo Jukebox, which consists of 12 heavy metal covers of J-pop songs, is great stuff) but this melody was too sugary to swallow even for me.
Things soon pick up after this, resulting in a great mix of melody, technicality, riffs and general oddness. In particular, the song Battle Scars is a good all round song with one of the catchiest melodies on the album, and the penultimate track Exorcism Parade is thrashy enough to sound as if it could be a leftover cut from Megadeth’s classic period, making it my favourite track of the album. If the solos at 2:09 aren’t the coolest thing you’ve ever heard, I want to know what you’ve been listening to. It’s a cliché to say that he really makes his guitar sing, but he truly does, as evidenced on the final track, a cover of the classical crossover hit Time To Say Goodbye, which makes for great listening if you ignore the horrible artificial drumming, which plagues this song more noticeably than the rest of the album. I would have much preferred the more organic sounds of regular sticksman Jeremy Colson, who for unknown reasons, does not appear on this album. Possibly due to the shame of his horrendous vocal contributions on the 2007 album Future Addict. You should never let the drummer sing.
But I digress, so to sum up, Bad DNA is a great Marty Friedman album, which is unlikely to do very well over here, given that it’ll be too poppy for the elitist metal crowd and too complex for the average pop crowd. An album this unique is destined to fail outside of somewhere as unique as Japan. Give it a try anyway, though, and you may be pleasantly surprised.