Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Steve Vai - Vai: Sex & Religion CD (album) cover


Steve Vai


Prog Related

3.17 | 102 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
2 stars The Grand Experiment Fails But....

At the time that SEX AND RELIGION was released, I had been a fully enmeshed guitar nerd for several years. I had Steve Vai's previous two solos records memorized as well as much of his sideman work. When I learned that Vai was assembling a new vocal supergroup which was to be progressive and pushing the boundaries, well I was extremely excited. I'd heard of Terry Bozzio and even T.M. Stevens before, but who the heck was Devin Townsend? The picture on the front cover was actually pretty encouraging. This seemed like a young art nerd rather than another big hair poser.

So I listened to the promo singles. Monster disappointment. Townsend's voice was actually really ordinary in tone, though holy crap he was willing to abuse it. The songs were pretty pop-oriented. The guitar playing wasn't anything I hadn't heard before. I borrowed the cassette tape from someone, lent it back, and never thought much more about this project. I was leaning toward blues and jazz at that point in my life, my shred lover phase was ending.

Fast forward to 2008 when I join this website. As I'm going through the charts I come to Experimental Metal and see Devin's name all over the album list. My reaction was "Holy Crap! That Guy???" Yes I had been in a hole for 10 years in terms of metal, guitar, and progressive music. No I had never heard of Strapping Young Lad. So bought Terria, was monstrously confused, and then it clicked. I am now a colossal Devy fanboy as most on this site know.

So here I am back at SEX AND RELIGION. It could have been amazing. But it's a mess. Hearing Devy young and raw is delicious as a historic reference, and in retrospect I don't know how other vocalists would have been able to tackle some of the wierdness on this disc. But all of the players are being forced to conform to the confines of Vai's compositions, and occasionally it works. Mostly it doesn't. If Townsend had been able to write melodies and lyrics this would have been a prog metal legend. The single song he did co-write, "Pig" sounded like massive noise at the time. But now it's delicious. Vai is being pushed out of his comfort zone, and Townsend's palette has been massively expanded. It alternates between an Extreme-like groove metal to Mr. Bungle with a PhD in music theory. To my knowledge, neither has ever produced another track quite like it.

The interlude tracks are also really good. When Vai is composing, rather than showing off, he's really quite good. The overture "An Earth Dweller's Return" and "State of Grace" are beautiful, quirky, and original. "Touching Tongues" is Steve's obligatory slow burn guitar solo piece and it's quite strong. But the core of the album is a slightly grooving angle on glam metal a la Extreme's Pornograffiti. "In My Dream With You" is frankly painful. "Still My Beating Heart" is nice enough but has an inane central melodic chorus and a painfully stupid outro. "Here and Now" is straight from Vai's Whitesnake or DLR bag of tricks. "Sex and Religion" and "Dirty Black Hole" are just trying way too hard by everyone. "Deep Down in the Pain" is probably the most successful of these kind of songs, with Devin being in his lyrical element. There are of course, yummy passages here and there throughout, but there is also a lot of stuff that just doesn't work.

One could argue that Devin Townsend was going to be part of popular music regardless of where he got his break. But I'm not so sure. Vai took a big risk with the kid and this band and for the most part lost. But the world won with Townsend getting big time exposure that has led to him now being one of the most important metal musicians of the last 15 years. Vai has gone on to do some work that it quite amazing, and some quite forgettable.

I would love to hear a mature project where these two musicians just go bonkers and push each other as far as they possibly can. It will never happen. This album is important historically but not particularly fun to listen to without very careful picking and chosing.

Thanks Steve for giving the kid a chance and introducing him to all of us.

Negoba | 2/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this STEVE VAI review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.