the 80s
The Modern Guitarist


The Eighties


Jason Becker

Marty Friedman

Frank Gambale

Paul Gilbert

Allan Holdsworth

Greg Howe

George Lynch

Tony MacAlpine

Yngwie Malmsteen

Vinnie Moore

Joe Satriani

Steve Vai

The following represents some of the players who made an impact during the 80s with regards to significant advances in style and technique. While some of these musicians actually began recording albums during the 60s and 70s (Allan Holdsworth, for instance), their inclusion in this section is dependent upon whether their most important works were recorded in the 80s; or whether they came to the public attention during said decade. For those who wish to further explore these players -- and their bands -- a number of recommended album lists are included in another section.


Jason Becker

Perpetual Burn (Shrapnel/1988)

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The first Cacophony album, Speed Metal Symphony is now regarded as a classic guitar record on the Shrapnel label; however, though it was the vinyl debut of 17 year old Jason Becker, his personal style was often hard to discern amongst the multi-layered structure that accounts for much of this ground breaking release. Perpetual Burn gave guitar fans a chance to fully appreciate the neo-classical supremacy, in both technical and compositional departments, displayed by this fledgling guitarist. Here was an album that would highlight Becker's wide-ranging classical influences -- Mozart to Paganini -- as well as other more unusual diversions.

There are a number of astonishingly mature compositions on Perpetual Burn, not least the ingeniously constructed 'Altitudes' and the intricate, Mozart-inspired 'Air', a piece played entirely on undistorted electric guitar. There's also the dramatic and classically-inspired title track (which really plumbs his virtuoso abilities); the ferociously driven 'Mabel's Fatal

Fable', whereby Jason explores several corrosive tempos over which he plays his classical and odd time ideas; and 'Opus Pocus', a visionary caper through dreamy atmospheric territory. Two of the instrumentals are co-written by Marty Friedman, who contributes raucous solo passages to the Cacophony-like 'Temple of the Absurd' and 'Eleven Blue Egyptians. The latter contains an abrupt change of pace during the harmonised solo section, both players lending unexpectedly frenetic blues chops to proceedings. Probably the three best tracks on the LP are also, co-incidentally, Becker's own favourites: 'Altitudes', 'Air' and 'Opus Pocus'.

Perpetual Burn could never be construed as 'just another neo-classical guitar album'. The quality of the writing; the fact that Becker chose to create music, not just backing tracks to solo over; the magnetic nuances in his playing and the various tempos -- power metal, rock, progressive -- all suggest an ambitious young player with a statement to make. Perhaps the most skilfully wrought 'neo-classical' release of the late 80s.

*The tragedy is that in 1991 Jason developed Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. There is no cure, but this degenerative nerve disorder didn't prevent the guitarist from recording a further solo CD in 1995 called Perspective. Guitarists and fans the world over wish him the very best in his future musical endeavours.



Marty Friedman


Dragon's Kiss (Shrapnel/1988)


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Marty Friedman's first solo LP was a notable release, in the vein of Cacophony's Speed Metal Symphony. It contained many of the same heavy progressive parts and meshed brilliantly with Deen Castronovo's powerful drumming. 'Saturation Point' is a great example of this, with Marty's exotic melodies stacked up in layers, in contrast to which he plays a beautifully expressive solo.

The title track explores oriental themes, the last section utilising the emotive undercurrent suggested by the melodies, and including solo passages that call to mind Uli Jon Roth at his best. 'Evil Thrill' punches in with some power-chords, before doubling the melodies, allowing the drive of the guitar and drums to keep the tune from losing direction and drowning in complexity. By contrast, 'Namida (Tears)' sets a more sedate pace which hints at the compositional integrity that would show itself on the next solo CD, Scenes (1992).

It is the heavy centre that distinguishes this album from many other instrumental releases of the 80s. This is never more obvious than in the case of 'Anvils', with Marty hitting the strings hard for the rhythm parts (making for a valid comparison with Speed Metal Symphony's 'Burn the Ground'); and sections of the epic 'Forbidden City'. Both are explosive power metal compositions, though Marty still manages to include some moving lead lines where speed is not half as important as the ability to convey anger, drama and sadness via the melodies.

Meanwhile, there is the more stately paced 'Jewel' (co-written by Jason Becker) and 'Thunder March', a majestic tune that sticks in your head and makes very little use of speed to enforce its point.

One of the best things about this album is the way Friedman skilfully structures his pieces in the manner of vocal songs, using bridge, verse and chorus; keeping the music in a constant state of transition whilst still referring back to his original ideas and themes. Definitely worth your attention


Cacophony -- Speed Metal Symphony (Shrapnel/1987)


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Cacophony: a disagreeable sound; discord of sounds

Speed Metal Symphony signified a major high point in guitar playing in the late 80s: One of the finest guitar duos ever performing on perhaps the heaviest guitar record ever made. Originally to have been a solo project of Marty Friedman's, the addition of the young Jason Becker to the band fanned the flames of an already audacious idea. It had been Friedman's intention to double as many lead parts as possible on Speed Metal Symphony in an effort to avoid boring moments and unnecessary 'vacuums' in the music. As a result, all of the compositions were carefully planned and rehearsed prior to recording. And it shows.

For instance, there's the opener 'Savage', a riff-heavy number with intricate harmonies that simply stun with their precision and orchestral resonance. 'Where My Fortune Lies' is a masterpiece of controlled pace: a chaotic, Stravinsky-like opening leads into the main theme and chorus, before the classically-inspired guitar suite of the second half takes over, including several mini-movements that emulate the themes of a traditional 'symphony'.

Yes, if you feel so inclined, it is possible to contrast songs like 'Ninja' and the title track with actual symphonies. The Guinness Book of Music (p.88) defines the term as:

(a piece that) is expected to contain the greatest and most profound thoughts of the artist, presented skilfully...


The symphonic work usually contains more than one movement, and can be used in the context of an instrumental introduction to a song or aria (a melody/tune for solo voice). Gosh, if one really wanted to pursue this -- admittedly tenuous -- comparison, then it's possible to split 'Ninja' into parts that correspond to the component sections of a real symphony. Theoretically, like this:

a) Exposition, being the opening of a symphony which introduces the two contrasting themes. In the case of 'Ninja', Marty's sensitive melody lines introduce the duel guitar motif, defining a Japanese theme.

b) Development, an exploration of the themes examined in a) or the introduction of a completely new theme. Well, the next part of 'Ninja' examines similar ideas, but with the addition of vocals.

c) Recapitulation, meaning, in effect, a repetition of b), or a transformation of the themes previously explored. The middle part of 'Ninja' pursues the Japanese content in greater detail, via the duelling guitar harmonies.

d) Coda, the end piece which ties up the loose ends. In 'Ninja' we witness a return to ideas already 'discussed', before the whole thing finally collapses into an explosive power-chordal/drum-based 'cacophony'.

Well, that's one way of looking at it; as is paralleling a real concerto -- an instrumental work which contrasts a solo instrument or small group of instruments, with a larger ensemble ('ensemble' implying a musical grouping of more than two instruments or parts) -- with Cacophony's version. 'Concerto' is sectional, and might be said to correspond, at least tentatively, with the make-up of a proper concerto. A concerto is traditionally composed of three movements: fast-slow-fast. Does Cacophony's tune compare? Kind of. Becker's opening solo (a Gary Moore-inspired work-out) is certainly fast; the middle section might arguably constitute 'slow' only in comparison to the opening. In this segment of 'Concerto' the two guitarists play against each other, and the 'orchestral' feel is invoked by the multi-faceted guitar harmonies and the rhythm section. And yes, the last part is slower, more relaxed.

Even if you can't hear the classical parallels, there's still much to enjoy in the ever-changing nature of the music. 'Burn the Ground' is a delight of aggression, innovative melodies and time changes, whilst the title track is a staggering exercise in precise counterpoint soloing and labyrinthine arranging (written half by Jason, half by Marty).

The experimentation, odd meter time, progressive melodies and rhythms -- not to mention the ability required to execute such an ambitious tour de force -- all gel to make Speed Metal Symphony an impressive achievement indeed. It was the album that would promote the name of Marty Friedman, giving him much-deserved publicity; it would also introduce the unknown talent, Jason Becker to an appreciative audience. Theirs is a record that continues to confuse and intrigue, even after multitudinous listens, and this is the highest compliment one can pay such a perennially rewarding guitar-a-thon.


Cacophony -- Go Off! (Shrapnel/1988)


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The second Cacophony release, though not as important in terms of impact, still commands a high profile amongst guitar fans due to its combination of traditional metal sounds and intricate, inspired guitar passages. This record was far more song-oriented, with the vocal lines often given equal weight alongside the guitar work. In short, this meant more space in the finished product.

'X-Ray Eyes', for example, is not as frantically structured as the material from the first album. The solos sound more 'improvised' than those on Speed Metal Symphony; both solos demonstrate the individual styles of the two guitarists: Marty's is typically exotic and enchanting, Jason's is faster and utilises the tremolo arm. 'E.S.P.' is similarly loose in structure, helped immeasurable by Marty's charismatic string-bends and phrasing in the introduction; only the middle section harks back to the debut.

The highlights of Go Off! include the title track, a fast, fun and rapidly changing tune that allows the two guitarists to exhibit their very different styles to great effect; 'Black Cat', a song with several Japanese references and exciting arrangements; and the heaviest track, 'Sword of the Warrior' (equivalent to Speed Metal Symphony's 'Savage') which contains a vaguely Russian-sounding harmony solo, an expressive contrast to the exhausting pace of the rest of the song.

To round things off, there's the Becker composition, 'Images'. A telling contrast to the merciless pace of Go Off!, this Debussy-inspired instrumental has a flute-like finish which showcases Becker's ability to write melodies which are delicate as well as menacing. As such, it compares favourably with 'Air' from his solo LP Perpetual Burn.

In that both players were beginning to pursue song-writing which accommodated the band unit and not just the guitarist, it would've been intriguing to have seen the idea developed further. Sadly, this wasn't to be -- both guitarists went on to other things. However, Go Off! is still a very fine accomplishment, one which does justice to the experimental headway engendered by the debut, and for that reason is still well worth a listen.


Frank Gambale


A Present for the Future (Legato/1987)


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One of the best of Gambale's back-catalogue; A Present for the Future is a good representation of the sort of music the guitarist has written for most of his career whilst, at the same time, eschewing the somewhat faceless character of his earlier solo releases.

A Present for the Future is full of controlled, simplistic yet memorable instrumental music. At the same time, the trademark elements of the guitarist's compositional style prevail throughout: imaginative chord-progressions, introspective melodies and challenging solo extensions. The latter especially are what make A Present for the Future worth paying attention to, consisting as they do of fluid sweep-picking sequences and warm, saxophone-like solos that develop the moods suggested by Frank's fusion-esque melodic ideas.

'Lazy Passion' is a relaxed number, containing typical Gambale-isms; for example, the saxophone derived guitar lines which contrast the saxophone solo at the end. 'Spike's Song' is even more laid back, and the melody is again reminiscent of the guitarist's favourite wind instrument; the solo begins slowly, throwing in slides and sweep-picking ideas in a way that is unique to Frank. (It's also similar to the sort of melody he would write on the MVP albums {1991}.)

Other cool tunes include an enticing saxophone/guitar trade-off in 'Resident Alien'; an unrestrained, sweep-picking assault in the otherwise bland 'The Natives Are Restless'; and the extended instrumental, 'Legends'. The latter features a soft, almost flute-like central melody, with acoustic and synthesised guitar solos that help focus the themes of the music. Excellent.

There's something about this album that grabs you. The melodies are pleasant but avoid anonymity; the guitar playing is forceful but doesn't monopolise. In effect, A Present for the Future shows off Frank Gambale's great talent in the context of some enjoyably inoffensive guitar instrumentals. A good introduction to the musical ideas that motivate this very individual guitarist.


Paul Gilbert


Street Lethal (Shrapnel/1986)


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'I had a lot of songs which were more or less straight rock tunes, but Mike (Varney) just went, "No, no, no, put those away, I just want non-stop guitar over the whole thing." I thought, "Well, OK, I can do that.'' ( Paul Gilbert on Street Lethal; G-Force, Summer Special, 1991 {p.25})


Much of the O.T.T. nature of Racer X's debut is due to the liberty given to a young guitarist with a lot to prove; indeed, Gilbert's amazing playing on the album was impressive enough to coin the phrase 'terrifying guitar' for the first time. Here was the guitarist to inject vehemence back into 'shredding', with songs structured after the likes of Judas Priest and Van Halen. Gilbert's clean, precise, very fast solo parts (he was just 18 at the time) made a huge impact on an audience hungry to hear technique taken to the limit.

This was not least due to the opening solo, 'Frenzy', which introduced the listener to Gilbert's complete command of alternate picking, tapping, legato and tremolo bar techniques, and announced the arrival of an uncompromising talent. The title track further showcases his fretboard expertise, whilst 'Blowin' Up the Radio' contains a catchy riff and authoritative picking -- at the lower end of the neck -- with chaotic tapping bringing the solo to an explosive close.

'On the Loose' betrays Paul's neo-classical leanings; 'Dangerous Love' is both tuneful and radical in its virtuosity; whilst 'Rock It' is reminiscent of early Van Halen. A real highlight is the instrumental 'Y.R.O.' (which, believe it or not, stands for 'Yngwie Rip-Off'!), an allusion to the neo-classical guitar arena wherein Paul plays some truly hair-raising lines against bassist John Alderete's equally solid contribution. There's even a cheeky nod to Paganini's 'Moto Perpetuo'!

Three keywords best describe this album: aggressive, unrelenting and tight. Aggressive, both in the music and the musicians' contributions; unrelenting, due to the distinct lack of a boring moment; and tight, with regards to the band as a cohesive unit. All combine to make Street Lethal a landmark release in the early Shrapnel catalogue, one which simply must be owned.


Allan Holdsworth


Metal Fatigue (Enigma/1985)


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In 1985, just before taking up the oft maligned SynthAxe, Allan Holdsworth recorded one of his most accessible albums to date. Metal Fatigue was especially satisfying because it combined traditional rock chord-progressions and arrangements with his usual jazz fusion ideas. The vocals (by Paul Williams and Paul Korda) also gave it a more 'commercial' appeal. The title track, for instance, sees Allan cutting-in with some unexpectedly heavy chords which soon give way to his customary complex chord-progressions. The harmonic lines are compelling, a little reminiscent of, of all people, Steve Vai, the whole thing rendered both enigmatic and simplistic by the strange tonal centre, and calming vocals of Paul Williams.

'Home' is a relaxed instrumental, with an attractive acoustic solo, a strange and atmospheric number that could have been written by no-one else. 'Devil Takes the Hindmost' -- one of the guitarist's most popular instrumentals -- differs from other Holdsworth tunes in that it has an uncomplicated rhythm structure. However, it is Allan's articulate extended solo that really makes it stand out. Featuring a strong tone, typically 'outside-the-scale' note selection, and a flowing, saxophone-like structure, it remains one of the most interesting solos he's ever recorded.

'The Un-Merry-Go-Round', a fifteen minute piece dedicated to his father's memory, certainly lives up to its title; a loose, improvisational tour de force which features both drum and keyboard solos, as well as excellent guitar-work from Allan himself. However, it's the track's harmonic supremacy which wins through in the end.

The album comes to a close with a vocal number, 'In the Mystery', featuring a legato solo which would require most guitarists to utilise tapping, but here is effortlessly realised by a player for whom the left hand is boss, and who plays lines that many guitarists would have difficulty performing with two hands, never mind one! Metal Fatigue is recommended to those who relish tasteful technical facility within the confines of instrumental music. It is also one of the best introductions to the conundrum that is Allan Holdsworth.


Greg Howe


Greg Howe (Shrapnel/1988)


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The initial press-release for Greg Howe's debut album went as follows:

This potent debut album combines bluesy elements with Greg's own incredible state-of-the-art technique.


An exclamatory observation; but did the record live up to its hype? The answer is a resounding 'Yes'! What impressed about the album -- as opposed to many Shrapnel instrumental releases of the time -- was that its creator made a conscious decision to avoid the congested neo-classical road and instead concentrate on writing energetic blues-fusion compositions. As a result, the album would proclaim Greg Howe as one of the best translators of so-called 'neo-blues' in the late 80s.

'Kick it all Over', for example, concentrates Greg's ideas into loosely structured arrangements over which he plays some very high-tech parts. Speedy arpeggios and sweep-picking passages abound, but with a strong blues feel and phrasing. 'The Pepper Shake' is correspondingly structured and features a clear, compelling tone -- though even during the most accomplished passages, Greg maintains a strong blues presence.

Other high points include 'Bad Racket', which showcases Howe's vociferous command of technique; 'Red Handed', the main riff of which brings to mind George Lynch, with Greg constructing an imaginative vista of 'neo-blues' soloing throughout; and 'Straight Up': precision picking combined with blues-bends and vibrato to modify the emphasis on technique.

The LP also sees excellent counterpoint contributions from Billy Sheehan (bass) and Atma Anur (drums). Just some of the reasons to hear one of the best blues-rock guitarists in blazing form on his influential and well-received instrumental debut.


George Lynch


Under Lock and Key (Elektra/1985)


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Mid-way through his career with Dokken, George Lynch played guitar on the most rounded of the band's releases, Under Lock and Key. Quite apart from the guitarist's considered input, the album boasted perfectly balanced vocal-harmonies, a quality rhythm section and clear production values. Within this set-up, were to be found Lynch's hectic assembly of lead runs and truculent rhythms. And it was arguably this playing that helped distinguish this record from many other commercial rock albums of the time.

Take, for instance, the riffing on 'Unchain the Night'. Lynch's slightly malevolent phrasing, both in the rhythm and solos, is something which would infiltrate Dokken's song-writing for years to come. The solo in 'Unchain the Night' is also worth mentioning as it contains ideas unique to the guitarist. These include effective string-bends and vibrato, combined with a thoughtful and economical use of speed-picking and pull-offs. Other tunes that make use of these elements include 'In My Dreams' (which also utilises a catchy chord-progression, in tune with the accessibility of the song) and 'Will the Sun Rise', classic Dokken made all the more memorable by Lynch's emotive solo.

Further points of interest include the addictive opening riff to 'It's Not Love', coloured a somewhat schizophrenic shade by the guitarist; the self-duel on 'Lightning Strikes Again'; and the solo in 'The Hunter'. In the latter, Lynch mixes bends and vibrato with an unique melodic structure, which makes for riveting listening. It would be hard to confuse Lynch's playing on this track with any other guitarist of the last decade.

On later LP's, Lynch would make further use of his expanding vocabulary of techniques. Here however, the balance of song and solo, rhythm and voice was as close to perfect as a 'commercial' band like Dokken could ever hope to achieve. Recommended.


Tony MacAlpine


Maximum Security (Squawk/1987)


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1987 saw the release of arguably the finest neo-classical album ever recorded, and certainly the high point of MacAlpine's career. Amazingly, Tony exhibited even greater command over technique on Maximum Security than on the debut, Edge of Insanity, and his melodies were even more memorable. More geared towards classical -- the first album having experimented with fusion as well -- Maximum Security is neo-classical metal at its best.

The arrangements on Maximum Security demonstrate MacAlpine's inherent musical awareness and knowledge of complex musical structures. Take, for instance, the opening number 'Autumn Lords'. With the urgent counterpoint of guitar and keyboard and a powerful main melody, it makes for intensive listening. Technique is represented throughout as a complement to composition, not as an isolated commodity. Check out the evocative 'Tears of Sahara' (which features George Lynch's melodic contribution) or 'The Time and the Test'. Not only is the latter one of his strongest pieces, but it also contains some of his most jaw-dropping playing.

Other highlights include the classically-inspired 'The King's Cup' (with impressive leads from Night Ranger's Jeff Watson); the nostalgic 'Sacred Wonder'; and the furiously paced 'Hundreds and Thousands', which gives the guitarist licence to pull off almost every guitar trick in the book, all at blinding speed and with great dexterity.

As a whole, Maximum Security reflects those qualities highly valued in instrumental albums: drama, tension, melody and technical expertise. With this record MacAlpine recorded an exercise in cohesive perfection, one which he would never again be able to emulate.


Yngwie Malmsteen


Trilogy (Polydor/1986)


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Yngwie Malmsteen's first few releases, both his band (Alcatrazz/Steeler) and solo projects (Rising Force), are influential in terms of altering the direction in which guitarists would go, with Yngwie's blazing technique opening many people's eyes to the concept of classical music being set in a rock guitar context.

Trilogy was perhaps the final time that Yngwie would write such purely neo-classical songs; the albums to follow contained the usual classical structures, but with the addition of commercial accessibility, resulting in more immediate, less complex compositions. Trilogy also featured some of Malmsteen's finest playing to date, whereas later releases would often showcase less thoughtful lead breaks and re-hash several musical ideas.

So, what makes this such a landmark album? The first track, 'You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget' is classic Malmsteen, containing all the elements that constitute great neo-classical guitar music: epic harmonies; soaring vocal lines; and, of course, a ripping guitar solo. 'Liar', 'Queen In Love' and 'Fire' are similarly impressive. As with previous releases, Trilogy makes room for two instrumental numbers, namely 'Crying' and 'Trilogy Suite Op: 5'. The latter superbly contrasts the arcane 'Dark Ages' whilst at the same time reflecting its picturesque themes. The opening picked section is clean and fast, and is as good an example as any of Malmsteen's mastery of the instrument.

This excellent release displays one of our finest 'shredders' at the peak of his abilities. It never fails to inspire, and should act as a blueprint for anybody wishing to get a taste of what neo-classical rock is all about.


Vinnie Moore


Mind's Eye (Shrapnel/1986)


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Several guitar albums in the mid-to-late-80s would set the scene in terms of sound, concept and, of course, technique. 1983 saw the release of Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, followed in 1986 by Tony MacAlpine's ground breaking Edge of Insanity; 1986 further introduced the world to Paul Gilbert with Racer X's Street Lethal, and that same year gave us Mind's Eye by Vinnie Moore. Guitar magazines talked about the imminent release of Mike Varney's latest Guitar Hero (even though he had performed on Shrapnel's Vicious Rumors CD, Soldiers of Fortune), and one even provided a floppy-disc sampler of the music to come. The guitar community was ready to welcome another guitar hero into its ranks.

Side one begins with 'In Control', an accurate description of the guitarist himself: extremely fast, clean picking, epic melody lines, and perfect timing all point to an astounding command of his instrument. 'Daydream' is an example of how to write the perfect solo: beginning slowly, Vinnie teases the listener with an imminent explosion of energy that eventually impacts when that fiery picking takes over; using timely string-bends and instinctive choice of notes, and incorporating powerful melodies into the whole equation, he constructs a solo that most guitarists would kill to be able to play. The result is an emotional statement using speed, where necessary, to accomplish a musical goal.

Other highlights are 'Hero Without Honour', a tour de force of several competing parts with a beautiful solo at the close; 'Mind's Eye', with its colourful melodies; and the epic 'Shadows of Yesterday', which features perfectly executed sweep-picked arpeggios, great legato and fluid alternate picking.

One of the most endearing releases on the Shrapnel back-catalogue, Mind's Eye remains as fresh and inventive as ever, even upon the hundredth listen.


Joe Satriani


Surfing with the Alien (Relativity/Food for Thought/1987)


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Joe Satriani's first album, Not of This Earth, introduced guitar fans to a musician with a very personal approach to music. With the second release, Surfing With the Alien, the rock and the guitar community were given the opportunity to hear music which was both accessible and challenging. A record which skilfully combined technique and compositional ability, and where rock fans as well as musicians could appreciate the fascinating material on offer.

The title track, for instance is so catchy you can almost dance to it! At the same time, Satch doesn't neglect the hard-core guitar fans, combining tremolo-arm abuse, string-bends, tapping and sound FX to great effect. The same is true of 'Ice 9'. Here he constructs a deceptively simple melody, but surprises his audience with an explosive solo section utilising lots of very individual-sounding legato, tapping and tremolo techniques. 'Always With Me, Always With You', a quieter, more introspective piece, combines modern techniques with an appreciation for 'space' in the music (uncluttered arrangements; reflective moments).

There's the visual, almost cinematic 'Hill of the Skull'; the unpredictable 'Circles'; and the up-beat 'Lords of Karma', whose solo is a real high point. 'Midnight' -- an obvious cousin to Not of the This Earth's 'Brother John' -- is a finger-picked/chord-tapped delight, a Satriani-homage to pseudo-flamenco music, whilst the legato masterpiece, 'Echo' is all the more effective for its comfortable tempo and uncomplicated central melody.

Surfing with the Alien is a giant slap on the face for those who argue that 'shred' is all flash and no substance. A real highlight of the Satriani career, this is the place to start if you've never heard technical guitar playing before. Give it a try.


Steve Vai


Passion and Warfare (Relativity/Food for Thought/1990)


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This is Steve Vai's most thematic and structured, not to mention commercially successful album. Passion and Warfare sees the guitarist channelling his versatility and intriguing ideas into a far more cohesive whole than on previous solo attempts, Flex-Able and Flex-Able Leftovers. He's also at his most creative here; from start to finish Passion and Warfare is an exhausting listen, due in the main to the highly idiosyncratic nature of the compositions.

After the orchestrated opening, 'Liberty', the listener is assaulted by the virtuosic 'Erotic Nightmares' where the amazing technical apparatus include deft control of the whammy-bar, impressive tapping and legato, plus an assortment of sound FX and fast harmony lines.

'Answers'- driven by its computerised-sounding drum-patterns -- immerses the listener in a cauldron of sound and dynamics; whilst 'The Riddle' is a change of tempo, signifying a move to explore acoustic, hard rock, even eastern variations.

Diversity is the key here. 'Ballerina 12/24' sees Vai teaching his guitar to mimic a musical jewellery box; 'For the Love of God' reaches out to some undefined mystical apex; whilst the ballad 'Blue Powder' sees Vai playing a knockout solo alongside Stu Hamm's slap-happy bass lines. There's the harmonically weird 'Greasy Kid's Stuff' (which contains themes reminiscent of the likes of Flex-Able's 'There's Something Dead in Here') and the intricately arranged 'Love Secrets' with its smooth guitar parts (which again hark back to Flex-Able-era experimentation). An album to own and forever be inspired by. But be warned: it's a very tiring ride.


Taken from The Modern Guitarist: A History of Rock Guitar Since the Seventies, Mad Matt Music Publishing 1995




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