Steve Vai's return to predominantly instrumental music is a welcome change from the guitarist's last few vocal oriented albums. Recorded over the span of his last world tour, this 2 CD set of all new material shows a more mature and experimental side to the guitarist. Many of the heavier aspects that were prevalent on albums such as Passion and Warfare or Alien Love Secrets have given way to more progressive song structures, and a greater emphasis on melody.
Not to say that the guitarist doesn't "burn" plenty on this expanded set. "Burning Rain" shows that Vai still has plenty of fire left in his belly, showering the listener with rapid fire burst of notes, whammy bar theatrics and wah-wah mayhem amidst a thunderous rhythm section. Along with co-hort Mike Kenealy, the two pay tribute to their former boss Frank Zappa on "The Black Forest", which features many Zappa trademarks, including a repetitive rhythm in which the guitarists can go nuts over. Serious Zappa lovers will hear Vai and Keneally using many tones and styles on this track that made Frank such an influential musician. It also seems that touring with Eric Johnson on the G3 Tours has influenced Vai a bit, as evidenced by the laid back blues of the catchy title track. "The Power of Bombos" is a perfect vehicle for Vai to use all the tricks up his sleeve, and features many whammy bar effects and lightning solo spots. One of the CD's catchiest and most memorable tunes is "Blood and Glory", which has a very majestic sounding melody and tight arrangements that feature the whole band.
Reading the liner notes, it seems that Vai wrote each piece dedicated to a particular country , and in some instances the themes carry over traditional sounds from that country. Alive in an Ultra World is a welcome return to what this master of the guitar does best.