Wow, Where do I start? ‘The Story of Light’ is the latest Steve Vai studio album and continuation of his acclaimed 2005 album ‘Real Illusions: Reflections’ (Vai’s most recent studio release) and in true Vai style takes you on a journey from the opening track ‘The Story of Light’ for 12 exciting tracks.
The Story of Light follows the journey of a man driven mad by grief, intertwining tragedy, revelation, enlightenment, and redemption. “I’m always pursuing knowledge, I’m a seeker of spiritual equilibrium and music is a big part of that,” says Vai. “I’ve been obsessed with these kinds of ideas for years.” Looking ahead, Vai envisions a third set of songs that will unravel the mysteries and reveal truths that swirl through both ‘The Story of Light’ and ‘Real Illusions: Reflections’. The completed trilogy, intended to be cinematic—even operatic—in scope, will include lyrics and narration.”
The opening two tracks are very epic sounding as you can probably imagine, both using 7 string guitars to get full sounding chords to build atmosphere. ‘The Story of Light’ is a very complex and layered track where the guitar keeps a simplicity that binds the parts together as the drums and keyboards jump around in the background with scattered rhythmic stabs. ‘Velorum’ on the other hand is a more uptempo rock track with singing harmony melodies and ethereal verse sections where a single guitar plays the melody, the chorus sections sound really heavy with the 7 string guitars being used and the syncopated breakdown is superb.
The biggest surprise for me was hearing a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘John The Revelator’, which has an amazing vocal performance from Beverly McClellan and also has Blind Willie Johnson’s vocals mixed in. I was instantly transported back to watching ‘Crossroads’ for the first time and seeing Jack Butler play blues with more aggression and venom than I’d ever heard. This track creates a live, club vibe with a single very dry guitar track. I absolutely love this track, this is how I remember Steve Vai sounding when I first heard his playing as a young teenager listening to ‘Eat ‘em & Smile’ on my Walkman. It’s not an over processed guitar tone, but rather a raw, gritty tone married with a flawless performance. The rhythm track also shares a style of playing with the track ‘Gravity Storm’ where Steve warps the pitch of the chords. I’ve heard Vai use this effect on single note lines many times over the years but it adds a particularly grungy sound to a distorted chord.
The second part to this song is ‘Book of The Seven Seals’, I looked up some info on ‘John The Revelator’ and apparently in the chorus John of Patmos, the traditional author of the Book of Revelation, is writing “the book of the seven seals.” In this song Vai keeps a traditional Gospel/Blues style complete with Gospel Chorus and his dirty guitars intertwined with the clapping and singing chorus. I know some Steve Vai fans might not like this song initially (unless they are Gospel fans) but it has some really great guitar playing and shows how you can fuse styles together to create something very original sounding.
Fans of Vai’s heavier side will love the track ‘Gravity Storm’, if you haven’t heard it already it is incredible. Vai pulls the notes around on the guitar bending chords and notes up and down like they are being affected by gravity. I assumed when hearing this track that Vai was doing all of this with the Whammy bar but in a recent interview with Musicradar.com he explains how he acheived this amazing effect. “The whole guitar is dropped down a whole step, and I used heavier strings. Even so, they were a little flappy. Playing this song was like bringing my fingers to the gym. You’re lifting and pulling, lifting, pulling – and a lot of the notes were bent with one finger. It was a workout.”
A highlight on this album for me is ‘Mullach A’tsi’ which sounds like a continuation of ‘Whispering a Prayer’, a simple but beautiful melody backed by acoustic guitars and harp with arpeggiated chords. The harpist is Deborah Henson-Conant and will be touring as part of Vai’s band supporting the release of this album later this year.
Another of my favourite tracks is ‘Weeping China Doll’, this is a classic Steve Vai track with heavy 7 string solo guitar building the intro before the densely layered backing track enters. The track is ballad style with some of Vai’s famous Wah effected solos and layered anthemic riffs throughout that reminded me of his work with Whitesnake mixed with ‘For The Love Of God’.
So you probably get the idea by now that there are many twists and turns on this album, for instance the Hawaiin inspired ‘Creamsickle Sunset’ which has a kind of 60′s sounding melody over a 70′s sounding backing track but unmistakeably Steve Vai the way the clean chords bend and slide in and out of each other.
When I first heard ‘No More Amsterdam’ I wasn’t totally sure if I liked it but it has grown and grown on me the more I’ve listened to it. The acoustic parts reminiscent of ‘Damn Good’ from Vai’s DLR days and Steve’s duet with Aimee Mann creates a great contrasting vocal performance. In fact I find myself singing along to the chorus everytime I hear it now it is a very orchestrated lush sounding track.
“On this track, I used my Ibanez Euphoria and a Taylor 12-string. I also played a cavakino, which is this four-string instrument I bought in South America. And there’s the Coral sitar that I’ve used on virtually every record. A ton of electrics, too: I used a Tele on one side, a Strat on another. The heavy rhythms, which are kind of buried, that’s a relic’d Les Paul. There’s a lot of dimensions going on.” (quote from Musicradar.com).
I had similar feelings about ‘The Moon and I’ when I first heard it way back when it was released as one of Steve’s VaiTunes but again it has grown on me and Steve’s guitar playing is so incredibly captivating on this track and capture exactly how he describes the impetus behind this composition. Following a period of depression Vai had a moment where his perspective started to shift, “During those dark, low periods, I would have these dreams in which I was free of all that emotional chaos. I would see things that were very pleasing and beautiful… these landscapes of planets and stars. They were ethereal and colorful and profoundly beautiful. During these dreams, I was floating and surfing in the cosmos in a state of complete freedom. I wrote the lyrics to The Moon And I based on how I was feeling during those moments of euphoria and bliss.”
‘The Story of Light’ is available for online pre-sales from vai.com, there are some special bundled packages available and each package includes an instant download of ‘Gravity Storm’. The Album is set to be released on August 14 and Vai’s North American tour begins on August 15 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.