dragon's kiss

Track Listing
1. Saturation Point
2. Dragon Mistress
3. Evil Thrill
4. Namida (Tears)
5. Anvils
6. Jewel
7. Forbidden City
8. Thunder March

Shrapnel 1988

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More Marty Friedman solo:
True Obsessions (1997)
Marty With Others:
Megadeth - Rust In Peace (1990)
Megadeth - Symphony of Destruction (1992)
Megadeth - Youthanasia (1994)
Cacophony - Speed Metal Symphony (1986)


After leaving Hawaii, Marty Friedman intended to start a solo project, and he subsequently began writing material for it. Marty met Jason Becker before any contracts were signed and was so impressed by the then sixteen year old's guitar playing that he asked Jason to join him in a band which was later called Cacophony. Cacophony were short lived, starting around 1986 and for some unjust reason, separating in 1988, after only about two years, having only released two albums. The solo work that the two Cacophony guitarists recorded in the year that Cacophony split, Perpetual Burn from Jason and Dragon's Kiss from Marty, can be seen almost as Cacophony albums. The two albums follow the same ethos of guitar virtuosity, yet were free of the well below par singing of the hitherto forgotten singer from Cacophony. Due to the fact that the two solo albums were recorded just after Cacophony split up ensures that the guitarists sound the same as in their previous albums, which is a good thing. Not surprisingly, Marty and Jason appeared on one-another's solo albums for guest solos, and Jason contributed to Saturation Point and Jewel on Dragon's Kiss. It was a treat to hear the two players together between 1987 and 1988, but with their solo albums, one can appreciate the difference in their styles and inspirations. Out of the two Cacophony albums, Speed Metal Symphony, (their first release in 1987, and commonly argued as their best), was predominantly written and played by Marty, so it is not surprising that Dragon's Kiss resembles the latter more than Cacophony's 1988 release, Go Off.

01.] Saturation Point
It is clear that Marty is intent on creating some powerful and aggressive work when you initially hear Saturation Point, which opens with distinctive heavy bass, drums, and guitar playing. As soon as the lead guitar layers appear, there is only one guitarist that could be responsible, such is Marty's unique and brilliant style showcased in the 1987 to 1988 albums he wrote. Saturation Point is one of my favourite songs of any album, but is flawed in one possible respect, which is Marty's tendency to pile on many measures of cheese into the equation. After a brilliant bit of harmonising that is signature Marty style, and a Japanese lead section typical of this period of Marty, there is an amazing harmonised solo that is simply impossible to work out. Marty never tended to use effects such as delay, and the confusion is purely created through unbelievable harmonising of guitars. I feel that Marty is a genius like no other guitarist in the respects that he is capable of doing such amazing harmonies, but even Marty only recorded a few such sections, (all in the 1987 to 1988 albums), due to the obvious level of commitment and difficulty in getting it to sound right. The level of concentration required is clearly astronomical, and even Marty as a genius at that time cannot be expected to achieve such heights more than a few times.

02.] Dragon Mistress
The first distinctive half is nice Japanese style structured guitar song writing, as a typical guitar instrumental compensating for vocals by having structured guitar pieces. This is the sort of guitar playing that sounds natural for Marty, being very carefully planned with zero improvisation, (like The Thinking Machine, Vinnie Moore, The Maze), and allowing him to play his fastest guitar sections comfortably. The second half is the most impressive in my opinion, as a slow, minor key, jazz sounding piece. Some very nice harmonies are implemented during the amazing second section of this song. The guitar work is atmospheric and overall leads to things that stay in your mind for days, as few but Marty have achieved, and surely none so consistently as Marty in his late 80s albums.

03.] Evil Thrill
This song contains more incredible harmonised sections, and the style is a strange mix of metal pace and jazzy sounding riffs, yet it seems innately familiar as well as highly original, (familial; not in the strange sense, in the recognisable sense). This is a good example of Marty's incredible originality at this stage in his career. Evil Thrill shares two common factors with Saturation Point: firstly the distinctive less than decipherable harmony technique applied in some places, and secondly the 'in some ways' unfortunate 'watering-down' of the song with near melodramatic sentimentality in the middle.

04.] Namida (Tears)
There are some great clean guitar parts used on this song. If you listen carefully, fast and clean arpeggio sequences can be heard in the background on parts of the song. Namida is by fathoms the song on Dragon's Kiss most similar to his subsequent solo projects.

05.] Anvils
Anvils is typical of Marty's unique guitar vocabulary of notes, techniques, and style. This song starts with atmospheric guitar chimes over a typical brilliant thumping guitar 'bassline', the chimes being more atmospheric than keyboards can usually muster, and a behemothically heavy bit of rhythm leads on to a very nice bit of Japanese lead that doesn't last for long. About half way through, the song effectively ends, but a long atmospheric outro commences. The idea of not repeating anything but simply playing the 'verse' and 'chorus' once and then ending the song is brilliantly creative and works excellently as a rest between the two slower and more reflective songs of Namida and Jewel.

06.] Jewel
This is a brilliant guitar piece that is sad, cold, and amazing. The scales used by Marty are definitely unique, and the slow pace builds up possibly the saddest sounding song in existence; yet I don't think it represents sadness. I think Jewel represents nature's beauty, for example of untouched rainforests or the incredible but deadly icy mountain ranges. Jewel gets to a point where it could seem too sentimental in unwise hands, yet through the sheer brilliance of Marty's sensitivity with the notes, he keeps the song from becoming melodramatic. Jason's contribution helps to inject devastating energy with multiple lightning arpeggios but fortunately Marty takes control most of the time, as I feel Jason had not developed, (or perhaps just doesn't naturally excel as much), as Marty's ability at this sort of sensitive song. Jason does make the sentimental notes sound melodramatic whereas Marty seems completely at home, as if he is part of the nature that he is depicting. It isn't surprising that Marty went on to release two solo albums in this vein, albeit with less dramatic styles.

07.] Forbidden City
Forbidden City is basically the epic of Dragon's Kiss and abounds in the Japanese style of this album, (although the Forbidden City is an ancient Chinese palace). The first section is a bit too sentimental for my liking; however, Marty is a sentimental guitarist a lot of the time. Many people disagree with me and like the layering of guitars and building up of textures used in the first couple of minutes, but I prefer what comes next. A low rhythm section underlies a distinctive Japanese riff that is one of the best I have heard, and is difficult to work out on guitar. The next few minutes of solos and changes are simply amazing and are distinctive of Marty in this era. The preparation that must have taken place has clearly paid off, and Marty is unique in the way that everything he plays sounds purposeful and directed, unlike much of the work from other guitarists such as Yngwie who are susceptible to improvisation a lot of the time. Marty somehow combines the dark Japanese and Classical guitar scales with style in a way unique to him, and he seems to warp the solidity of classical virtuosity into a jazz like audacity whilst maintaining complete credibility.

08.] Thunder March
This is the weakest song on the album by in a long way in my opinion. The skill of the playing is still up to a high standard, but this is Marty at his most cheerful and sentimental, and I find it a disappointing end to the album, and very seldom listen to it, (especially not at a high volume). The song itself is quite nice, being of Japanese style again, and sounding very optimistic; which unfortunately I naturally interpret as sounding melodramatic and annoyingly camp.

The album as a whole:
The album is riddled throughout with moments when I can't resist turning the volume down due to the melodramatics of the playing. There are some almost unparalleled moments of genius from Marty, but unfortunately his freshold for sentimentality and melodramatics is far higher than mine, and he breaches my personal freshold far too often. If I use headphones this is not a problem, but I still can't justify playing a lot of the stuff I don't like out loud at a high volume, as it seems to belittle the brilliance of the good parts of the songs. Ideally I would edit my own versions of the songs, just keeping the excellent parts in so that I would not have to stay alert for any volume changes or track skipping. The weakness of a seeming innate lack of judgement of when something sounds just too cheesy is the major Achilles' heel of Marty's work, and I can not rate him as one of the few best guitarists of all time as a result. This is slightly ironic due to Marty being responsible for some of the unquestionably greatest creativity, but the weakness is too apparent in almost all of his songs. To try and justify my strong opinions about this, I will offer some specific examples. Firstly, in Saturation Point, the song is incredible but does reach a stage near the middle of the song where cheesy sentimentality threatens the continuity of the song, and it feels so frustrating when I feel an urge to fast-forward to the next great section. Evil Thrill is nearly identical in it's downfall; the beginning is one of the most creative and addictive pieces of music I have heard, but then the sentimental cheesyness takes over abruptly, and the song doesn't seem to recover from the break. I think, had Marty worked out some similar section to the beginning one and a half minutes or so of Evil Thrill, and not employed the middle section but just let those sort of parts be used in full in songs such as Namida and Jewel, then Evil Thrill would be a serious classic. If the tune was continued in a heavier and darker perspective I believe it could have realised a greater potential. Anvils is perhaps the only song on the albums that doesn't suffer in part for cheesy sentimentality, (as I refer to it), yet this song is very short. I can forgive this cheesy factor with Namida and Jewel because the song is based on that sort of emotional and slow pace, (not that I like that style of Marty's as much). Forbidden City has it's problems at the start, where although the layered guitars are well constructed, the guitar line is simply too cheesy; it is a great relief when I hear the final diving note leading to the brilliant section. Thunder March is too cheesy to be brilliant from Marty, but at least it is not as frustrating as when a cheesy section pollutes a possible classic. Overall, about 50% of this album's running time is either slow and uneventful or too cheesy, but there is a good 30% of sheer classic material, (the remaining 20% being normal). I think that for the classic 30%, (including the middle section to Forbidden City, most of Saturation Point, and the first parts of Evil Thrill, for example), justify this album being high on anyone's CD wish list. If you are a serious guitarist, I feel that this album is near compulsory, as some of the best hidden treasures of Marty's career are to be found, and Marty was a lot better than most people think, having just heard Megadeth. This isn't the relentless metal masterpiece that I hoped for, but there are masterpiece sections in much of the disk.

It seems incredibly unjust that having completed such amazing guitar albums during 1987 and 1988, that Marty was in poverty, and he was prepared to join any band whatsoever just to be able to eat and live under a roof. I don't think things got quite as bad as my words imply, but Marty was open to any offers for a band, whether metal, pop, rock, or just any style at all. Fortunately he found Megadeth and recorded another superb album: Rust In Peace, in 1990. I find it interesting that all of what I regard as Marty's great works were recorded in chronological order, (unlike with Yngwie, some of his best work was in the mid 80s whereas some is very recent). In approximate date order, Speed Metal Symphony, Go Off, Perpetual Burn (guest), Dragon's Kiss, and Rust In Peace, are the albums I feel Marty did by far his best work with. This time frame of just 1987 to 1990 is very short, perhaps only about 3 years in actual time, yet these excellent performances paved the way for his success in the future with lesser and in some cases more commercialised releases. Other albums of his are not more commercialised, such as Introduction and Scenes, but they still don't compare to his outstanding work in from 1987 to 1990. After hearing Dragon's Kiss and Speed Metal Symphony I believed that Marty would be an authority in that amazing style of speed metal guitar of neo-classical and Japanese styles, yet it turned out that such inspired albums were few in number. I bought scenes and introduction together under the pretence that they would have some of the genius of Speed Metal Symphony and Dragon's Kiss, but they ended up being non-inspirational easy-listening music. Obviously opinions will differ from mine, but I consider Marty's guitar authority in his 'creative' period unquestionable.

Rating: 8.5
Highs: Some outstandingly creative guitar work. No abysmal singing.
Lows: A great abundance of sentimental imbalance, ('cheesyness').

Review by Edd-

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