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3 stars This was the second CD of Steve Vai I got and after "Passion & Warfare" my expectations were quite high. Unfortunately this time Vai didn't win me. Let me tell you why.

"An Earth Dweller's Return" leads into the album like an erupting volcano, something Van Halen had done before on their debut album, even called it "Eruption" - and got away with it much better. Anyway, on "Sex & Religion" the sound and mood is set for "Here & Now", an up-tempo rocker with heavy guitars and without anybody telling you can guess that Vai meant this album to be played loud. "In My Dreams With You" steps on the breaks a bit, slowing down the drive with the drum pattern Terry Bozzio lays out, Vai only shortly taking the lead with his solo. "Still My Bleeding Heart" presents Vai on acoustic and electric guitars and up until then Devin Townsend is quite good as lead singer, which unfortunately changes on the title track "Sex & Religion": The piece is allright for the first few minutes, but after the first guitar solo Townsend seems to have forgotten his vocal abilities and hurts the ears with his screaming, which he continues in "Dirty Black Hole". Mind you, I think that Devin is a good singer, so why does he ruin those numbers in that way?

"Touching Tongues" is a quieter number, an instrumental, in which Vai plays a duet with himself on guitar and - if I'm not mistaken - on a synthesizer. Townsend joins him for a while producing some undistinguishable sounds. "State Of Grace" is an indian influenced instrumental and Vai plays a guitar that is tuned to sound like a sitar - an interesting effect. "Survive" gives T.M. Stevens the opportunity to show his qualities in playing "slapping" bass-lines whereas Devin goes back to singing - the track is about 1 minute too long for my liking.

And after that Vai makes it really difficult to follow. "Pig", co-written by Townsend, has tendencies of free heavy metal, as I would like to call it ("free" as in "free jazz"). The piece obviously is meant to show the despair of a slaughtered pig, but Vai utterly fails here. "The Road To Mt. Calvary" is just a mixture of industrial noises which - supposedly - can be understood when you read the text Vai has written to accompany the piece - I'm lost at that point, I have to admit. It leads to "Down Deep In Pain" with the title suiting me fine, because that's where I have arrived by now. Especially in the second half of the piece I have the nauseating feeling that Vai felt inspired by Frank Zappa to write this song, only that Zappa would have done much better.

In the closing piece "Rescue Me Or Bury Me" Vai picks up the acoustic guitar again and adds some synthesized strings. Townsends seems to have recovered from whatever it was that ailed him before and starts singing again. Two and a half minutes into the song the electric guitar sets in and we can listen to about 4 minutes of improvisation. To me it's not very inspiring, I find it mostly boring.

Steve Vai is - IMHO - one of the finest guitarists you can find. But unfortunately it seems that his qualities are more those of an inspired musician and not so much those of a good composer.

Report this review (#78883)
Posted Saturday, May 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
1 stars I was just a kid in high school, learning to play guitar when I first heard Steve Vai's Flex-Able and it was an instant favorite. The guitar work was stunning, the compositions fascinating, and the quirky sense of humor made it an incredibly entertaining album I still enjoy to this day. Passion and Warfare came out six years later and somehow he had managed to build on his previous style and make it even more grandiose. Then came the eagerly anticipated Sex & Religion. I was so sorely dissapointed I ignored his subsequent releases for the next 8 years.

I have pulled out this album from time to time over the years and even though I despise it slightly less than I did at first, it is still my least favorite Steve Vai release. Even though there are moments of brilliant guitar work peppered throughout each track, the vocals, and especially the lyrics, typify the worst of the late eighties and early nineties heavy metal this album aspires to emulate.

It's not that Devin Townsend is a terrible vocalist. He's pretty solid when he's not outright screaming (which he does a little too often), it's that the material he is working with is so trite. Had any of the vocal sections appeared on an Extreme or Mr. Big album, nobody would have found them out of place.

The solitary island of relief from the overall misery of this album is "Touching Tongues", a mostly instrumental track with a short, wordless vocal part that actually compliments the composition rather than destroying it. It might make this album worth picking up used or out of a bargain bin if it wasn't included in "The 7th Song", a very strong compilation highlighting Vai's otherwise fascinating career.

Given Steve Vai's monumental talent, it is stunning how miserably he fails to create anything memorable or compelling in this 13 track trainwreck. By the time we get to "Down Deep into the Pain", the second-to last track on the album, we're already there and the song does nothing to ease our suffering.

The only redeeming qualities in this release (other than "Touching Tongues") are Steve Vai's guitar work and Terry Bozzio's drumming. Perhaps if this album was processed through a karaoke filter, it might make for a halfway decent instrumental record.

Overall rating: Poor. Only for completionists.

Report this review (#89946)
Posted Monday, September 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars After Passion & Warfare (1990) my excpectation about the next work of Steve Vai was high... Sadly, at first moment Sex & Religion dissapointed me at the same level. But the years pass and you have to listen some albums from a differente perspective.

So that's happen to me with S&R a very underrated album into Vai's discography and one of the little jewels that I have in my "prog related" colection. Maybe this is one of the most melodic works that he done (specially on the first part) and for the first time in his career using a vocalist in almost every song: In My Dreams With You (an erotic and wild platonic love heavy ballad), Still My Bleeding Heart (a kind of life statement), the rude Dirty Black Hole (IMO the most "metal song of the album along with the first part of Down Deep Into The Pain) and Pig, a song that have some drops of experimentation with twisted guitars and a very hard drum base.

The last 3 songs of the album are the most close to the Vai style that his fans love. The Road To Mt. Calvary is a short and dark instrumental as an intro to the powerful Down Deep Into the Pain a mini epic with awsome lyrics and a few minutes of the classic divine observation of Steve. And for close, the sad and darkly poetic Rescue Me Or Bury Me with a guitar solo "a la" Flex-Able.

Not a bad album but no good. If you are a Vai fan maybe you will be dissapointed at first look but there are some great moments. Sounds a little strange to be a Vai album 'cos the most important parts not depends on guitar: Devin Townsend voice (brilliant on this album BTW) carries the rhythm and the worth of the album.

Anyway, a regular album with some remarkable moments. 3* just for the great work of Devin Townsend...

Report this review (#103724)
Posted Tuesday, December 19, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Supposed to be titled Dirty Black Hole .

Steve Vai has never been in my attention even though I have purchased almost all of his albums. Someone asked me to spin the CD, especially "Sex and Religion" and give my comments. Well, I am trying to put down my comments on this album.

The opening track "An Earth Dweller's Return" (1:03) serves as an overture with guitar solo in howling mode. It creates a promising nuance for the music. I really like this overture because it does rock! It then flows to energetic music in relatively fast tempo with "Here & Now" (4:47). I can hear clearly how good Vai's guitar work is. Devin Townsend vocal enters the music with his powerful tiny vocal line. Bass guitar is played in the vein like those played by Stanley Clarke. Steve Vai gives his guitar solo during music interlude - it's a stunning guitar solo. The next track "In My Dreams With You" (5:00) sounds like a programmed music with some sampling.

"Still My Bleeding Heart" (6:00) opens with an acoustic guitar fills followed by a groovy music which relies its pillar on riffs created from bass guitar work combined with acoustic guitar. The title track "Sex & Religion" (4:24) kicks off with Vai's guitar riffs but the music flows like a pop song and nothing likes rock music at all. It's quite disappointing with the fact that this is the album title track which supposed to be a well composed, well-written track. I can not find something beautiful from this a bit boring track.

"Dirty Black Hole" (4:27) has an interesting opening with music that bashes off with nice riffs followed with relatively fast tempo music accompanying high register notes vocal line. This song is quite energetic and as far as a listener, not a great fan of Vai, I would rather put this title as album name because it's much more attractive, musically than Sex & Religion. So, how about that Mr. Vai?

"Touching Tongues" (4:33) is a mellow song with guitar as lead melody. I think, Vai's guitar solo is good even though nothing special to my ears. It's probably the parts which sound like keyboard are the best parts. "Survive" (4:46) combines guitar effects and groovy music. It has vocal line and tight bass lines like Stanley Clarke's style. "Deep Down Into The Pain" (8:01) is essentially a rockin' track with unique guitar work and vocal line. "Rescue Me Or Bury Me" (8:25) has a good acoustic guitar work plus some guitar solo.

Overall, this is not a bad album at all but I do not consider something really unique from all songs offered in this album. It's probably this is not the kind of music that I enjoy most. Some people consider that this album as Vai's best album. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild ...

Report this review (#152872)
Posted Monday, November 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Are you ready for the here & now?!

Sex & Religion really stands out in Steve Vai's discography. Indeed, it isn't a Steve Vai solo album, but credited instead to the band simply called Vai. As such, it is much more of a band effort instead of Steve Vai's usual individualistic guitar pyrotechnics. Here we have a strong set of proper progressive Metal songs with Devin Townsend on vocals. As is commonly the case when an album is different from its closest relatives, it gets a somewhat mixed reaction: some love it, others hate it. Personally, I really like this album and strongly prefer it over any Steve Vai album. There are admittedly a few very annoying moments here and there, but they are rather short and far between and can therefore be forgiven. Though, I initially gave this album a lower rating, it has stood the test of time and I have upgraded my rating to four stars.

The weakest part of the album comes towards the end with Pig and The Road To Mt. Calvary standing out as rather pointless. But these moments are in the end bearable in the context of and outweighed by the good music that dominates this disc.

There is overall a nice balance between rockers and ballads and between vocal and instrumental material. Vai's guitar work is, of course, fantastic, but it is the vehicle it gets through the band format and proper songs that really makes it gel. Devin Townsend does a good job behind the microphone and ranges from soft to harsh (though, a bit less of the latter would be good for me).

If Prog Metal is your favourite subgenre, this album is essential, especially given that it was released in 1993 when the genre was young. Sex & Religion is an underrated album that was before its time.

Report this review (#228089)
Posted Thursday, July 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Crow
4 stars Just my favourite Steve Vai album!

Ok, I've not have heard all his studio albums yet, but "Sex & Religion" is just great... In this album, the awesome guitarist made a true band, and we can hear it through the songs. They sound really cohesionated, with protagonism of every insturment, not only the Vai's guitar.

And of course, here we have also the Devin Townsend's presence... It's his first official recording, and he has only 21 years, but he sounds really mature. His singing is just savage here! So variated as he would later offer us in his albums, but less restrictied, totally wild, sounding really spectacular. And Steve Vai gave him a lot of protagonism, letting his voice and screams sound in almost every second. For die hard Vai's fans, it can be annoying... But I really enjoy Townsend's voice, so I find it just great!

Nevertheless, people who want to enjoy the Steve Vai's guitar playing, will also have lots of reason of hearing this album... On every song we can enjoy the incredible speed of his fingers (he is the fastest guitarist in the world...), and his adventorous guitar tricks and melodies. You just have to hear the guitar solo in Here & Now... Songs like Touching Tongues and Rescue Me or Bury Me are perfect examples of his instrumental side, while in the rockier track his playing is also very enjoyable to fans of virtuoso guitar.

Best tracks: I really like every track in the album... I think every song has enough details and interest to be enjoyed. The rockier and hard rock oriented tracks (Here & Now, Sex and Religion, Survive...) the poppier ones (In my Dreams With You, Still My Bleeding Heart...) , the instrumentals and the most experimentals and proggier (Down Deep Into The Pain, Pig...) are great!

Conclusion: if you are a fan of virtuous guitar playing, experimental hard rock, or just good rock music... You should give "Sex & Religion" an opportunity. The hard rock and pop orientation (Desmond Child helped with In My Dreams With You) are also special in the Vai's discography... Mainly because Steve Vai was able to form a real band for this one, and it's noticeable in the protagonism of every instrument, and the very valuable presence of the awesome Devin Townsend, who was an essential part of the soul of this album. Strongly recommended!

My rating: ****1/2

Report this review (#230169)
Posted Wednesday, August 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars High energy, deceptively complex, rigorously creative, and rousing from start to finish, "Sex and Religion" is one hell of a rock album.

Vai's songwriting is instantly appealing, catchy, and spirited. Most of the songs have a straight- ahead rock vibe, sometimes approaching pop status, but underlying all of it is a nuanced production and truly dense sounding performances. The listener is constantly hit with infectious melodies, technical flourish, and razor's edge guitar work; these songs will stick with you. Vai's virtuosity is present everywhere with sonically creative and exciting solos, but never so overwhelming that one would guess that this is a "solo" album. "Sex and Religion" is very song-oriented, with each member contributing equally to the overall effect (and what a rhythm section!). Well... except one member...

If "Sex and Religion" will do one thing, it will either remind/initiate the listener into the loving fandom of Devin Townsend... or affirm the listener's relentless hatred of Townsend's powerfully excessive vocals. I LOVE Devin's screams, squeeks, wails, croons, and sustains, and am more than satisfied-- he is more crazy here than on most of his solo albums. How he hasn't suffered an aneurism from these screams is beyond me. He belts out Vai's engaging lyrics with passion and wild abandon, giving "Sex and Religion" a memorable and distinguishalbe stamp of style and pizzazz that only Devin can deliver. He almost passes out at the conclusion fo the title track (seriously). Recommended!

Songwriting: 3 Instrumental Performances: 4 Lyrics/Vocals: 4 Style/Emotion/Replay: 4

Report this review (#255810)
Posted Sunday, December 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
2 stars So. Steve Vai assembled this band, and recorded this album with them under the name "Vai" (I suppose like the band "Bruford"). Essentially it's a power trio of Vai, Terry Bozzio on drums and T.M. Stevens on bass. Devin Townsend, apparently in his recording debut, provides the lead vocals, and does a fine job. So it's established that there is a lot of talent here.

The cover makes this album appear to be metal. But for the most part, it sounds like Vai was channelling his time with Whitesnake. There are a few very good songs, mostly where the energy is amped up (Vai does this better than just about anyone). But the majority of the songs are very well played arena rock.

I just don't come back to this album very often. And time after time, it doesn't live up to expectaqtions.

Report this review (#561225)
Posted Wednesday, November 2, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#652128)
Posted Friday, March 9, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Sex & Religion is technically an album by a band called Vai, distinct from Steve's solo work. The album features Devin Townsend on vocals, which is what initially made me excited to listen to this album. However, the actual music, while played by talented musicians and a talented vocalist, remains at the lower end of Steve Vai's output. I think the main problem that prevents this album from moving beyond "passable" is how over-indulgent it is. In many songs, Townsend nails a vocal section and then goes all over the place, mindlessly doing vocal runs, screaming too much, or simply over-selling it. The song-writing is average, with no real inspiration but an abundance of screeching solos that are often musically unrelated to the rest of the song.

Sex & Religion is an overly ambitious album by talented musicians with one foot in the 80's and the other sliding all over the place. If my review sounds more like a 2 star than a 3 star review, it's because despite these flaws that I mentioned, the album still intrigues me. The fact that two now legendary musicians like Vai and Townsend played together makes this worth checking out. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that for someone who is more than a casual fan of both of them, this album is essential. In any case, it's interesting to see the immature but undeniable attempt at greatness on the album, and at some points, the band Vai pulls it off.

Rating: 6/10

Report this review (#921245)
Posted Friday, March 1, 2013 | Review Permalink

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