I live about 45 minutes from Laurel, Maryland, and frequently end up in the District of Columbia. You pass through, or by, Laurel to get to D.C., and though I almost never speak of it to anyone riding with me—unless, as rock fans, they can grasp the significance of it—I always think the same thing: "Man, here's where a guitar icon was born." Like most of the folks in Monroeville, Pennsylvania who have no stinking clue the late George Romero filmed his zombie canon piece "Dawn of the Dead" in their mall, most in Laurel are oblivious to the fact Marty Friedman once called it home.
Those who are in the know get my reference here. They can also agree Marty's relocation to Japan was the right one, forget taking a patriotic stance; an artist's empathy is what's required to understand this decision's magnitude. Already talented beyond words by the time Marty Friedman slung shotgun with Dave Mustaine, Friedman's choice to live, create and find love in Japan has taken him to a level he probably could've found in America. Yet, according to most musicians, the appreciation of Western music by the Japanese public is legendary. You get why Marty chose this new life, particularly once you submerge yourself into his latest work of instrumental splendor, "Wall of Sound".
It's been three years since Marty's last album, "Inferno", and if that album was mind-melding, "Wall of Sound" is a maestro's pronouncement. Suffice it to say, this is Marty Friedman! "Self Pollution", right out of the gate, gives the listener much to absorb just by the transitioning moods, much less modes. Try to follow the blitzing scales, tumbling drum rolls and dizzying bass twirls, all flung with frenzied processes. Think of it as being on one of those twirling UFO carnival rides, the ones whirling so fast the bottom of the floor drops and you're plastered to the walls from the spinning havoc. That's what this song feels like in the opening and ending sequences, particularly in the final half minute where Marty is freaking inhuman on those frets. Between is a breath-catching state of calm, shrewdly snuck in and milked just long enough to deliver the finale's impact.
"Sorrow and Madness" opens as a weepy violin and piano sonata with Marty Friedman playing call and answer until the remainder of the band joins in. The violin is provided by none other than Jinxx from BLACK VEIL BRIDES. The audience is pulled through a trudging rhythm, bent and clubbed with bass drum and snare splashes as the neoclassical spirit of the composition—ditto on "The Blackest Rose"—intensifies and inevitably erupts. The madness portion of the song comes with more agro-based passages, opening for an instrumental drenching.
The cascade continues on the gorgeous "Streetlight", filled both with swaying and thrashing, as it conveys one of the most emotive, romantic melodies Marty Friedman has set his craft to. "Whiteworm" trails this grandeur by creating a spectacle of its own, dicing through an ever-shifting series of progressions and tempo changes where he can jerk, peal and shred in tandem. Agro drops into flamenco, which subsequently eases into power prog and then prancing balladry. The sanitized, sanitized for Marty's purposes, "For A Friend" swoons much of the ride as a reverie. The accompanying piano all but tests Marty to whip to another level until a harp whisk opens curtain-like, giving the listener a peek into Marty's view of something certain to be fabulous—even if this is an intended swan song, that moment of fabulous is assuredly the transcendental.
"Pussy Ghost" is as weird as its title, but it's a freaking monster nevertheless. It snarls in segments and wisps in others, Marty Friedman here is conjuring ethereal trajectories until turning the figurative beast loose. If Danny Elfman and Marty ever joined forces to score a metal-flavored Tim Burton film project, this is possibly the creepy if senses-shattering vibe you'd get. In this case, DEAFHEAVEN's Shiv Mehra lends extra guitar to an already vast piece. For an even greater cinematic experience, Friedman dumps everything he has into "The Soldier"'s melancholic, global wanderer's feel, inclusive of cello fugue, a breezy Celtic melody and castanets.
The rare set of vocals springs onto a Marty Friedman project with SHINING's Jørgen Munkeby raging all over the brisk, pounding "Something to Fight". Even when writing a more conventional song, Marty Friedman can't leave it to simplicities. Munkeby wrings the most out of his appearance, pushing himself to the same limits as the random double hammer and Friedman's ripping. With a solo sequence that begins tempered then jolts with a rousing saxophone supplement, "Something to Fight" is hardly conventional.
As ever, Marty Friedman defies his audience to peg his solo material into any snug category. Metal and prog being mere foundations to a body of work that refuses to lay claim to anything other than art. Let us be greatly satisfied when Friedman chooses to grace us with an album: it's never a disappointment. It's reliably an invitation to join an enlightened musical mind for an hour, give or take. Though a SOILWORK, NILE or MESHUGGAH album offers just as much gyrating ear candy, Marty Friedman has more than that extra touch defining him as superhuman. You knew you were in the presence of genius as early as Friedman's CACOPHONY years alongside Jason Becker.