Steve Vai - Passion And Warfare
Relativity Records Inc.
Shred Guitar Rock
14 songs (53:23)
Release year: 1990
Steve Vai
Reviewed by Aleksie
As Crash so aptly put it in his review, back in the era of shred and the likes of Shrapnel Records pushing out young, fleet-fingered fretboard studs by the dozens, there were two guys who stood above the pack in both quality and success – Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Surfing With The Alien already got the appropriate MR-treatment, so let us take a look at the other half of the album duo that to me will always define the “guitar hero” solo album.

First off, where I’ve always seen Surfing as a very versatile rock album that has a relatively “no frills”-approach to the tunes it contains, Passion And Warfare is a blitz on the senses. It relates logically to the respective players’ styles. Satriani always has seemed like the kind of laid back surfer dude who mostly just wants to rock out. His songs usually have a very straight-forward hard rock-drive where the guitar acts like a vocalist, carrying melodies like a singer would. Vai does that too, but the diversity of his musical background – along with the great interest in different kinds of spiritual and mystical forces of the world that he has worn on his sleeve for a long time – really shines through in his more complex material.

Considering that this is a guy who worked as court transcriber to the almighty Frank Zappa at the age of 19 (!!!) and soon after acted as his “stunt guitarist” in the man’s live band, it’s no wonder that his solo material is more than a bit quirky. Vai’s ample hard rock credentials that he had amassed as a member of Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth’s solo band and Whitesnake are surely audible in the most muscular riffs (and there are plenty of those goodies), but overall the album is oodles more challenging than your above-average cock rock technique display. Vai goes well beyond blues-based western music to dig for his melodies, being especially keen on eastern influences.

It’s downright redundant to try and modify the sentence “there’s an amazing guitar solo” to apply differently to nearly every track here so let’s take that for granted and delve more into the mood of the tunes. Liberty opens the album as a soaring piece of layered guitars that even feels like it’s aiming for a symphonic feel. Erotic Nightmares and The Animal bring a vicious yet delightful groove as skull-thumping bass licks are provided by the “Eddie Van Halen of bass”, mister Stu Hamm (if you want some awesome and tasteful bass shred, check out that guy’s solo stuff). The latter of these tracks also beings the heaviest moment on this album as the riffage is downright crushing.

From there on out, the smorgasbord opens up with different treats following the previous serving. Answers, I Would Love To and Greasy Kid’s Stuff pass out the straight-forward hard rock vibes, or at least “straight-forward” with that kooky Vai-flavouring. The Riddle grooves some more with grandiose speech-samples mixed in throughout the song. It’s notable that this album shouldn’t be called “instrumental” due to the ample amount of speech parts that are sprinkled on many tracks, even though there isn’t a single song with traditionally sung vocals.

Blue Powder and Sisters show Vai’s mellow chops with clean guitars dominating to soundscape with an orgastic tone. Ballerina 12/24 and Alien Water Kiss are the oddballs of the group where Vai goes crazy with the Eventide-H3000 Harmonizer effects processor. They, along with the frantic album-closer Love Secrets, are the clearest Zappa-homages on this album to me. I’d say they bring sounds reminiscent of the man’s Zoot Allures-era instrumentals but with the freewheeling attitude of his Jazz From Hell-years of experimentation.

This leaves two tracks unmentioned, the best two tracks within that anchor the middle of the record. First is what can be referred to as Vai’s “biggest hit”, the epic and mind-blasting For The Love Of God. It starts off with a beautiful and really emotional guitar lead that builds and builds until it launches far through the ionosphere into a blissfully fast and gripping solo flurry that definitively proves that you can indeed solo fast in a slow song and make it work. I keep remembering a tidbit that during the recording sessions, Vai fasted for at least a week or so for this song, probably to achieve the right state of mind and body to record it. That may sound cheesy or plain weird or whatever to you, but dedication like that can easily be heard in this one tune.

Then for my favourite and possibly the greatest song Vai has ever pulled from his strings, The Audience Is Listening. If For The Love Of God has a clear spiritual element that evokes something deeper on the level of the soul, then The Audience Is Listening is the polar opposite – an in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall shredfest and an unbelievable party tune. What’s coolest is that it’s structured almost like radio theatre. The tune opens with a old-timey teacher instructing “little Steve Vai” right before he’s about to perform a guitar piece to his class (probably elementary/secondary school level). Against the teacher’s wishes, little Stevie’s piece is a lot wilder than she expected and the ensuing hurricane of riffs and molten shredding is filled with soundbytes of the teacher trying to restore order in the midst of the students partying it up and Vai telling her in different ways to eat his shorts. What’s MOST cool is that the guitar sounds like a bratty young kid disobeying the orders of his supposed superiors. The guitar melodies are written perfectly for the mood. The wild ride is brilliantly topped off by the teacher mockingly predicting that little Steve would grow up to be a prison-bound bum while simultaneously in the background we hear an arena-sized crowd cheering for grown up Steve Vai, who is thanking said crowd with glee. Something tells me this track isn’t just awesome but quite autobiographical.

Fhew, so there you have it. Backed by Vai’s own stellar production job, Passion And Warfare is one of the best and most important guitar albums ever recorded. In addition to being just plain catchy and rocking, this album definitely showed new ways to handle and display modern rock guitar. It brings beauty and sophistication just as masterfully as it brings down-n-dirty audacity. You like the sound of a guitar? Then you need this album.

Killing Songs :
Liberty, Erotic Nightmares, The Animal, Answers, For The Love Of God, The Audience Is Listening, I Would Love To, Blue Powder, Greasy Kid's Stuff, Sisters & Love Secrets
Aleksie quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Steve Vai that we have reviewed:
Steve Vai - Sex & Religion reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 93 / 100
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