Guitar instrumental records are almost guaranteed to be self-indulgent vehicles you can take or leave, but just about every metalhead has Marty Friedman's new album "Inferno" on his or her radar — and with damned good reason. Friedman, of course, has been long residing in Tokyo and quietly working outside of the metal mainstream on solo albums such as "Loudspeaker" and "Future Addict", plus shred-filled covers of J-pop on his two "Tokyo Jukebox" albums. There's also his guest appearance on TOURNIQET's 2012 album "Antiseptic Bloodbath" and his non-metal ventures in Japan.
This year marks Friedman's official return to the global market and his first U.S. released album since 2003's "Music for Speeding". Friedman was reportedly won over by kind words from American artists who marked him as an influence and Prosthetic Records was able to entice Marty to give us "Inferno", across the board a jaw-slacking album. "Inferno" hits 'em hard and fast and constitutes as many metal theories, modern and retro, as can be contained in one sitting. Marty also brought in a horde of collaborators who wrote songs for "Inferno", to which he arranged and added his own touches. Amongst the guests are CHILDREN OF BODOM's Alexi Laiho, Danko Jones, REVOCATION's Dave Davidson, renowned flamenco artists RODRIGO Y GABRIELA and Friedman's former CACOPHONY bandmate, Jason Becker. The latter is extra special and inspirational, given Becker's bodily incapacitation and the retina-interactive software that allows him to write music.
The title track hits first and shows Marty means business as he creates a veritable conflagration from his fingers. Seriously, those strings must've carried serious heat from the wicked sliding Friedman lays all over them. The pace ranges from pounding fast to shuffle-jammed, but Friedman never rests. Even when laying out chord progressions as momentary pause to all the note-flailing mayhem of "Inferno", attention is needed at all times. Marty Friedman doesn't just progress, he leaves vapor trails in this massive opening statement.
"Resin" plays a few tricky hands by first laying down smooth grooves during the intro, and then the song explodes. Friedman weaves scales and shred measures overtop a steady thrash rail, changing things again to a chucked-down groove filled with digging riffs behind his dizzying fret dancing. That's not the last signature change, so enjoy the ride. The listener will then be cozied up to by the flamenco-based "Wicked Panacea" with its funky and salsa-spiced acoustic plunks behind the electric huffing. The heavier this track gets, the more Friedman garnishes it. Static screeches emerge and Friedman rails like a madman to an abrupt close that's so stinking smart, it's like the new Godzilla flick how it toys and teases for most of the way, then hits a colossal climax before checking out after delivering the payoff.
"Steroidhead" continues the thrash attack with countering slowdowns that give Friedman opportunity to wail away. Even with a chunky breakdown within this song, there's a special lilt to the chopping riffs that fills the ears with awe. The shredding gets more attention here than the scales and that's hardly a gyp, even as "Steroidhead" again abruptly halts to a close.
Danko Jones hits the mike on the appropriately-titled "I Can't Relax". Here, Friedman delivers a wild and fun straight rocker front loaded with strong beat spasms and rocked-out riffs that Jones huffs, pants, squeals and parties all over. Friedman's solo sounds tweaked from an old Fifties rock 'n roller and the hyperactive "I Can't Relax" checks in and out before throwing the listener another crazy loop with "Meat Hook". Dueling against screeching saxophone and zany piano lines to a crushing backdrop of grind and thrash channels behind the whole thing, Friedman soon emerges from all of it with successive whirlwinds and molten improvisations that are impossible to keep up with on the first listen.
If you think "Hyper Doom" is going to take it easy by the misleading vigilant intro, you're not reading the title properly. The song springs into a flurrying thrash outbreak reminiscent of "Rust in Peace"-era MEGADETH and this should have any seasoned headbanger tossing horns and screaming their thank you's to Marty.
Featuring traded-off ralphs and cleans from Dave Davidson on "Sociopaths", Friedman steps into the now with agro chugging verses and ripping bridges. Stick around all the way through this one, because Friedman doesn't settle for mere modern metal conventions on "Sociopaths". Throwing in near-startling variations that break the script of current modes, Friedman sends this track to an orgasmic finale where classic metal meets new. Danko Jones returns with Alexi Laiho on "Lycanthrope", again finding Friedman splicing different eras of metal in a killer unified effort. The 6:50 "Horrors" can only be described as a journey one has to take and explore alone as Friedman masterfully laces his way from placid to bombastic with measures that grow disconcerted yet melodious with each bar.
This is a brilliant recording that satiates, delights and marvels on every song. Marty Friedman bravely takes on just about anything that constitutes metal and minces it all together with spectacular fret work and external effects that makes "Inferno" a monster album. Better, he has the ingenuity to toss in standard songs so that all of the instrumental pieces radiate even more. The gorgeous "Undertow" is the only respite from Marty's brute force you're going to get on "Inferno" and even that song is delivered valorously. This album was far more than anyone could've expected, Marty. Thank you.