As long as new artists keep flocking to the works of Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine and Frank Zappa for inspiration, we're going to keep finding more technique-oriented instrumental albums knocking on our door for attention. The latest of these comes from Venezuelan guitarist Felix Martin and his idyllic-titled "The Scenic Album".
The fourteen-stringer has oodles of chops, there's no question about that. To watch Martin work over double necks with both hands is like watching a sculptor at the height of a caffeine bomb work the hell out of clay. That is to say, Felix Martin at work is expressive, detailed and above all, hyper in every sense of the sense of the word. There's no other way to describe the tirelessly spiraling scales through the first two minutes of "Triangle Tune" than hyper. Martin also has an impressive supporting cast in the studio with him. Joining him on his mission to assault listeners with scores of scales, taps and occasional decorative lucidity is former NECROPHAGIST, Steven Wilson and Paul Gilbert drummer Marco Minnemann plus dubstep bassist Nathan Navarro.
For all the artillery Felix Martin has stashed in his creative compound, "The Scenic Album" feels remiss of something outside of the spellbinding scale laps and irrefutable virtuosity. Those who find the most value in method are going to be well-turned-on by "The Scenic Album". At his best, the stunning wonderment generated on "High Spirit" and "Triangle Tune" (which retains its dizzying awe even when switching flavors to a lower-key blend of samba, funk and prog) are brought to genuine climaxes the more Martin allows his partners help him create mood.
On the flipside, Martin has a tendency to let freestyle be his guide instead (i.e. his "Tango" and "Viroliano" suites) and in those moments, the average listener feels pushed out somewhat. Even "High Spirit", which could've been bisected into two pieces or at least capped by the song's spectacular rolling tides, gets broken into with a couple of isolated sections that diminish the composition's vivacity.
The "Tango" suite is a ton of fun to dive into, at face-value anyway. The second section sounds like a more prog-chopped take on the gonzo ska melodies from MR. BUNGLE's "Egg" for a spell. However, the segment belongs more to Nathan Navarro than Felix Martin, who frolics like hell, but becomes secondary to Navarro's funk plucks and Marco Minnemann's grinding drive. The best part of "The Tango II" comes with a brief flash where all stations gel together nicely. "The Tango I" has moments when the ensemble mashes the tar out of their metallic parts, but mostly the track rings like a jam session played for themselves only. "Spam II" is so tech-heavy your brains will melt trying to keep up with it note-for-note and you can expect that mathematic magma to sear you completely when Marco Minnemann rushes into a grind tempo. Martin shows that he can easily keep up with such arresting speed, which is impressive beyond all words, but there's not a ton of actual musicality lurking behind "Spam II"'s sensory rape.
Felix Martin employs a nutty succession of theory experiments entitled "Viroliano Tries Prog", "Viroliano Tries Jazz" and "Viroliano Tries Metal". Somewhere between Steve Vai's "Flex-able" and Mike Oldfield does this triad attempt to excavate for Martin's supposed amusement. Only when Marco Minnemann challenges Martin with acceleration does any of it carry any actual weight. Again, the issue is a lack of overt songwriting. "Eleven Drums" shows ornate promise featuring some of Felix Martin's most delicate possessions, yet the potential for a tranquil, chop-filled ballad spirals backwards into naked indulgence that serves mainly the interests of future guitar students.
Felix Martin is a stunning player, make no bones about it. Word has it he custom-made his fourteen-string and the way he patters all over his necks, he's destined to become a future innovator. Even better he has a stellar group of session players who keep him honest, if only in the briefest sense. Martin could've merely set himself up next to a drum machine and had at it, but honestly, if you come to "The Scenic Album" without knowing Martin has live musicians in his stead, it's tempting to think he did exactly the former. There's not a lot of musical soul driving this album, but if all you seek is forty-five minutes of mechanical grandiosity, then step on up here; you'll hardly be disappointed.