Steve Vai : Inviolate

There’s just a handful of guitarists that have made the journey from 80s master shredders to distinguished 21st century artists. Musicians that have aged with grace, dignity, and somehow transcended their younger spitfire selves to make the rank of icon.

I’ll keep my pics on that shortlist secret except for one name, Steve Vai. He was the first guitarist to truly rewire my brain as a 12-year old hearing “Elephant Gun” off Diamond Dave’s Eat ‘Em And Smile in 1986. His time in Crossroads as the devil’s guitarist Jack Butler was short but pivotal in my desire to master the 6-string. Of course I never mastered it because I then heard Vai’s Passion and Warfare and pretty much said no way I’m done.

I kept playing and did my own thing, but I also continued to listen to Steve Vai. In my 30s it didn’t seem cool to be a guitar shredder, but as I’m nearing 50 I’ve rediscovered my inner guitar dweeb and Steve Vai. I’m obsessed with watching live videos of Vai, and found out he was recording a new album. That new album is out and it’s called Inviolate. It’s another stunner from the man with the golden fingers. It might be his best album in years.

There were some albums in Steve Vai’s discography that didn’t really agree with me. There was a run of albums with a vocalist that I never quite unlocked. And there were times when Vai’s eccentricities got in the way of me finding a melody to chomp down onto. But whether I got what he was offering it was always interesting and complex. Inviolate, to my ears, sounds more like Passion and Warfare-era Vai than anything he’s done in two decades.

Steve Vai cuts down the heady compositions in lieu of melody, groove, and of course his exquisite and otherworldly lead playing. About halfway into Inviolate the track “Candlepower” drops in. It grabbed me immediately. It’s funky groove, Law and Order-esque bass, and the bending notes on Vai’s guitar. The guitar is clean and jangly and feels looser than anything he’s done before. Playful and quirky, but in a fantastic sort of way. “Apollo In Color” is frantic, but in a good way. Busy drums and Vai’s guitar layering gives the proceedings an ethereal, cosmic sound.

Album opener “Teeth of the Hydra” opens in a menacing wave of noise but quickly settles into a mystical sound. New Age-y, but with, well, teeth. “Greenish Blues” is absolute bliss, smooth-as-silk guitar and a jazz club vibe all around, Vai showcases his ability to use subtlety as a weapon. “Knappsack” is an all out rocker with a touch whimsy and Vai’s knack for intriguing chord changes. “Zeus In Chains” has an almost pop flavor to it.

Steve Vai has always approached his music as a composer and sound curator, as opposed to a guitar slinger. That’s what’s given him that lasting quality. He learned a lifetime of knowledge working with Frank Zappa in his early 20s, and has taken that knowledge and Zappa’s quirky sensibilities and used it throughout his own career. Steve Vai is an overflowing fountain of musical creativity, in both his compositional skills and his prodigious guitar playing. Inviolate is further proof why Steve Vai is one of the six-string greats.

6 thoughts on “Steve Vai : Inviolate

  1. “Steve Vai has always approached his music as a composer and sound curator, as opposed to a guitar slinger. That’s what’s given him that lasting quality. ” I’m so glad you said this because it nails it completely.

    Liked by 1 person

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