The Story of Light
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars
Steve Vai’s demographic encompasses everyone from orchestra members to speed metal fanatics. The guitar wizard resurfaces on Aug. 14 with his 16th solo album, The Story of Light. Largely instrumental and epic in scope, the project is a classic concept album in the vein of “The Wall.” The 12 tracks follow the cosmic journey of a man driven mad by grief, intertwining tragedy, revelation, enlightenment and redemption. The album is intended to be the second part of a proposed trilogy that began with 2005’s “Real Illusions: Reflections.” It is a mixture of his trademark blazing fret work infused with textures, which, like the subject matter, range from delicate to heavy and complex. The album features two marquee guest vocalists. Aimee Mann appears on “No More Amsterdam,” which she also co-wrote. The Voice finalist Beverly McCellan adds a touch of gospel soul on the rocking “John the Revelator.” The track was inspired by a vintage recording of blues singer Blind Willie Johnson and his vocals are deftly sampled in the mix.
During his career, Vai’s influences have been many and varied. This album is categorized as metal.
Overall, the album showcases Vai’s signature high octane playing style, settling down only briefly on Track 7 with a gentle acoustic fingerpicking intro on “Mullach a’tSi.” He hypnotically sustains notes high up on the neck of his signature Ibanez for the remainder of the four minutes. But there is no rest for the weary as he follows with the scorcher, “The Moon and I.”
Now 52, Vai is enjoying the creative freedom that comes with age and having his own label (Favored Nations Entertainment). In a musicradar.com interview, he said, “I threw caution to the wind. Because really, what do I have to be cautious about? Age comes into play here. You start to think maybe I don’t have a lot of time left here so what do I really want to say? And what’s the worst that can happen? That I’ll fail? I don’t feel as if I have anything to lose. I don’t have to pander to radio or record companies, so I can stick to my own artistic sensibilities. If I stay true to what’s in my heart, that’s all the success I need.”
The final chapter of this proposed trilogy is still in the works and Vai’s goal is to “unravel the mysteries and reveal truths that swirl through the first two records.” He is a self-professed seeker of knowledge and spirituality. The great thing about great concept albums is that the artist does all the heavy thinking. You just need to listen and enjoy without reading too much into the material. That is easy to do here.