Sound — 8
"Shockwave Supernova" is, perhaps unbelievably, the 15th studio album by proven guitar god Joe Satriani. It shouldn't be understated by how much his playing style has influenced all forms of guitar heavy rock, and his trademark style of vibrant, characterful, bluesy playing still has much of its life left.
This album in particular, feels somewhat more special than most of his recent efforts. Having a crew of musicians who in their own right are all accomplished (and famous for it) at their roles, Satch drives us through a dreamlike realm of intuitive musical expression, one that reflects the man himself as much as it conjures up its own scenarios.
The aforementioned band members: the Satchsquatch himself, obviously, but on bass, the grooving, detailed pulse of Bryan Beller, on drums, the grounded and flexible rhythmics of Marco Minneman and last, on keys, multi-instrumentalist crazymanbloke Mike Keneally. Combined together, they bring real character to Satch's artistry, bringing the tightest rhythm section imaginable together with the more left-of-field backdrop of Keneally's keys, topped off with the joyful noodlings of pure Satch.
This feels like slightly newer territory for Satriani, something that his more recent albums needed to do delve into a bit more. Little details such as the synth tones, various "in vogue" modes and scales and an appreciation for genre fusion that offers a weighty but diverse collection of tracks.
Perhaps the most indicative track of this summation is "On Peregrine Wings," an astoundingly moving piece characterized by its dorian leanings and the most emotive interval ever (said without regret) of its opening chords. We move through the cloud cover seeing patches of the land beneath us but with our target dead in sight, the journey escalating every moment.
A good portion of these tracks follow in a similarly picturesque vein, "Lost in a Memory" for instance, which elevates its scope a few thousand miles higher in the air, and "Goodbye Supernova" which adds a formless quality to the mix thanks to its difficult time signature.
Some songs blend more familiar territory together in interesting ways. "San Francisco Blue" feels like "progressive blues" in a sense, somehow really hitting the hammer on the minor key aspect of the blues feel while keeping the mood floaty, positive and enjoyable. "Cataclysmic" is a vast combined effort of riff and atmosphere that feels like it should be heavier, but still delivers never-the-less.
And Satch himself still hasn't lost his touch, even after a near 30 years of album releases. His familiar phrasing, vibrato pyrotechnics and rhythmically bursty style of playing gives much more character to the base tracks than they'd otherwise have.
Some criticisms: there's still an air of the '80s being flown around some of the songs, often times these feel like revisits to past familiarity rather than new ideas. It dampens some of the tracks in their likability. This is also a fairly long album: 15 tracks of over an hours worth of instrumental rock, there's a lot to like but the odd filler does come around as well, examples being "In My Pocket" and "Scarborough Stomp." Still, this is shaping up to be a very lovingly crafted piece of soul from Satch.
Lyrics — 8
As this album is entirely instrumental in nature, there's no vocal performance to comment on as such, but it's easy to posit that the guitar does all the talking. The control that Satriani has over the guitar is undeniable and instinctive, to a scary level.
He knows exactly what to play, how it's meant to sound and with what minor detail of phrasing to express his will. To be cliche, his instrument really is just an extension of his physical body.
Overall Impression — 8
While perhaps not as whacky as like Steve Vai or as classically indulgent as other '80s-centric guitarists, Satch remains expressive and eloquent in his playing, knowing exactly how to make the most of his backing band and bring life out the fretboard.
Songs to look out for: "Lost in a Memory," "On Peregrine Wings," "Cataclysmic," "Keep on Movin'," "Stars Race Across the Sky," "Goodbye Supernova."