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It's always been something of an enigma as to why a rabid technician like Jeff Loomis tied himself to a largely minimalist, occasionally progressive leaning act like Nevermore. His brand of fret board mayhem tended to entail a somewhat flashier version of Marty Friedman married to a down-tuned, groove oriented musical style that bears more comparison to the likes of Rusty Cooley than the Machine Head oriented craze that he jumped on board with in the late 90s. Now with pretty much all discernible ties to Warrel Dane being cut and a monopoly on songwriting duties, Loomis has returned to his solo endeavor and churned out an album in "Plains Of Oblivion" that showcases a mostly instrumental with the occasional sing-along groove fest that might be likened to a modern groove/progressive response to a typical Malmsteen album.
In many ways, this album listens like a half-way point between "Zero Order Phase" and the final Nevermore album "The Obsidian Conspiracy". The riff work largely functions as a percussive, heavily down-tuned support part for the drums, making way for an extravaganza of lead guitar noodling that occasionally comes off as Neo-classical, particularly insofar as the instrumental works are concerned. "Requiem For The Living" enters in on a heavily Malmsteen-oriented note, complete with all the usual sweep picking and Baroque era cliches out of the J.S. Bach playbook, but reinterpreted in the context of a dark, modernistic character that listens a bit more like a bleak, post-apocalyptic machine world. Indeed, Loomis' riff work could be likened to a slightly more elaborate answer to the sound of "Shovel Headed Kill Machine", leaning towards a very extreme form of progressive metal that bears little resemblance to most guitar hero outfits, save maybe Rusty Cooley's former project Outworld.
A familiar cast of characters are along for the ride this time around, though at times they seem to function more as window dressing for an otherwise single-person endeavor and don't add a whole lot to the equation. Ihsahn's vocal contribution on "Surrender" is a bit too by-the-numbers when compared to his heavily elaborate solo work, sounding more like an average melodic death metal shrieker than anything else and occasionally shifting into a clean vocal sound that attempts to mix Anders Friden's latter day In Flames work with a scant helping of King Diamond sounding falsettos that don't really stick in the mind. The would be lead vocalist of this album Christine Rhoades is a similarly plain sounding affair, offering up a reasonably serene yet largely plain vocal performance that is somewhat reminiscent of a number of symphonic/Gothic front ladies. In fact, the weakest song on here is the bizarre power ballad with a bluesy edge "Chosen Time", which almost listens like a post-grunge affair and drifting off into an unmemorable plain.
While far from being an overtly boring album, this doesn't quite strike the same chord that Loomis' first album did. It feels a bit spread thin, as if trying to bridge the two extremes of popular groove metal and the less accessible world of Steve Vai and Rusty Cooley. Essentially the instrumental material hits all the right notes, where as the songs with vocalists are a mixed bag, with "Tragedy And Harmony" being the best since it sticks to the Nevermore approach of technical grooving and avoids putting too much emphasis on atmosphere or vocals. It doesn't really measure up to the swansong that was "The Obsidian Conspiracy", an album that I truly enjoyed from a band that I otherwise didn't really care for most of the time. Those liking their metal cold and mechanical sounding but with lots of sugar on top should go for this, but don't expect an outright masterpiece.
Despite having only two full-length releases to his name, Jeff Loomis is no newcomer to the world of metal. Originally one of the founding members of the power metal turned progressive metal band, Nevermore, Loomis left the group in 2011 to focus on his solo career. In 2008, before parting ways with Nevermore, Loomis released a moderately successful, entirely instrumental solo debut album, Zero Order Phase. After a lengthy four year gap, Plains of Oblivion is the 2012 follow up to the aforementioned album and is my first review of the New Year, falling into a new segment which I will call "Shit I Wish I Had Gotten Around To in 2012 But Didn't" that will be dominating Volumes of Sin for the entire month of January. So, what new tricks does Loomis have up his sleeve and what friends has he brought along with him this time for guest spots?
Plains of Oblivion starts off with a gradually inclining cinematic styled intro before bursting into an earth-shattering pandemonium of frenzied, technical guitar wankery backed by driving blast beat drumming. The first three songs, "Mercurial", "The Ultimatum" and "Escape Velocity" are packed with powerful, high energy guitar riffs and leads that take the listener on an audible roller-coaster of epic proportions. Unfortunately, this velocity does not extend for the entire album, as the madness begins to dissipate around the fourth track and the album finds itself gradually declining from there onward; the only exception being a couple of tracks later down the road. It is also during the fourth track, "Tragedy and Harmony", where vocals are introduced for the first time, leaving Loomis' solo project to no longer be considered as 'instrumental only' work.
Unlike Zero Order Phase, Jeff Loomis has enlisted the help of some more well known musicians, most of whom he has worked with on various projects in the past and whom have also gone on to develop their own solo careers. Marty Friedman (ex Megadeth 1990-1999) lends his guitar talents to "Mercurial", Tony MacAlpine shows masterful fretwork in "The Ultimatum", Christine Rhoades (ex Nevermore 1999) lends her harmonious vocals to tracks 4 and 8 (also 11 and 12 in the deluxe release), Attila Vörös makes his mark helping with the guitar work in "Requiem for the Living", Chris Poland (ex Megadeth 1984-1987 + 2004) can be heard lending a few solos on "Continuum Drift" and the mighty Ihsahn (ex Emperor), who released his own solo album in 2012, can be heard mixing up growls and clean vocals for "Surrender". With this all-star roster of talent, Plains of Oblivion should find no room for failure, but sadly it still falls short of anything particularly spectacular... but why?
As awe-inspiring as the guitar work on this content is, especially to those giving this album a first-time listen, there aren't many actual melodies or song structures. This leaves the material with a heavy amount of pure shredding and no firm grounding, instead it is filled excessively with typical Loomis and friends styled ear candy guitar work that comes with a plethora of sweeps, tremolo picking and everything in between. This isn't a bad thing necessarily, however the gimmicks portrayed get slightly stale later into the album and become predictable; sweep, solo, whammy bar, rinse and repeat. The second issue is indeed the new addition of vocals and lyrics, both of which bring the album down greatly to a sub-par melodic metal experience. While Christina Rhoades boasts decent and harmonic clean vocals, her vocal style doesn't suit the overall atmosphere of Plains of Oblivion nor does she empower the tracks that she is featured on. In fact, she does quite the opposite and may very well lull the listener to a catatonic state. Sandwiched between the two Rhoades sung tracks is "Surrender", which features Ihsahn on vocals. This is another element that throws Plains of Oblivion for an awkward loop, as the rest of the vocal work featured on this album is both female and clean sung. Ihsahn starts off making use of his growling vocal talents, leaving his clean vocals for the chorus, but still he fails to come off powerful or even enthralled with the work that he is creating. Dampening this song even further is the presence of Rhoades' ghostly voice lingering in the background during some parts of the track. The vocal tracks are also not helped by the fact that the lyrics feel tacked on and are of the cookie-cutter variety; offering little thought provoking depth and making the most of whatever words will rhyme.
On the bright side, the album is presented in crystal clear sound quality and the mixing is decent; the only gripe being that the bass is mixed very low and the guitars sometimes overwhelm what little song structure is kept in place by the drums. Overall, Plains of Oblivion is a great album to throw on for background noise or a casual listen here and there for the guitar work in itself. Sadly, the more one listens to this album the more it loses its touch and repeat listeners are more than likely to pick out the non-instrumental tracks. "Mercurial", "The Ultimatum", "Escape Velocity", and "Continuum Drift" are the highlights of this material, "Continuum Drift" being one of the most stand out tracks simply due to its refined, contemporary style. A fun ride while it lasts, a recommended listen, but rest assured that this album will wear out its welcome rather quickly.
- Villi Thorne
Being the second album that Jeff Loomis has released since his departure with metal legends Nevermore, Plains Of Oblivion has some empty spaces to fill. This album fills that gap with the sweet guitar playing we all have come to love along with drummer Dirk Verburen (Soilwork, ex-Aborted) providing the skin beating. Jeff Loomis is one who is more than capable of carving out a successful solo career.
The album’s first track, “Mercurial,” is a complete riff fest between Loomis and guest guitarist Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth). It starts out with a droning intro that throws you into the insane sweep picking and groove combo that is familiar with Loomis’ sound. Verburen provides a nice, clean slate for the guitarists to do their thing by playing at a simple touch and go speed rate. There are some acoustic guitars as well, but when they end, the solo played on the electric guitar is a swanky yet speed metal kind of riff. Random history fact: Loomis was the one who told Friedman to audition for Megadeth, the band he played in from 1990 to 2000.
If you thought that last song sounded insane enough, wait till you get a hold of “The Ultimatum,” which has Tony MacAlpine (Planet X) trading guitar duties. Basically, take the riffs from the previous track and speed them up by ten times. It’s eras worth of excellent guitar experimentation that these two guitarists have incorporated into something entirely new. Everything is played at a breakneck speed, mainly noting the solo a minute and twenty seconds into the song. Twice in the song, the insanity is quelled by a heavy wall of synchronized groove between all of the band members. It’s yet another example of the song structure Loomis is best known for.
This album almost reads like a history book of interconnections between the members. “Requiem For the Living” has one of Nevermore’s live guitarists, Attila Vörös. This particular song is played on higher notes than the previous ones, but still features in-your-face solos. “Continuum Drift” has Chris Poland of OHM doing some guest guitars. It’s easily one of the calmer tracks, but that’s like saying there’s a tame shark.
For those who like female-fronted metal, Christine Rhoades sings on “Tragedy and Harmony” and “Chosen Time.” The first is a lot faster paced than the mellow music of the latter. “Tragedy” matches the rest of the album more because of the similar structure of the other songs. “Chosen Time” is one where there are hardly any solos and they turn the amp down to two. But this really showcases Rhoades’ sultry and inviting voice that needs to be heard.
People are afraid that once someone who is a respected individual in one band goes off and tries making music with another band, that it doesn’t live up to the previous group’s hype. Well, this album certainly does and is easily on par with anything Nevermore has done so far.
I have been awaiting the release of this lp with almost fervent enthusiasm, which to this extent is quite rare for me nowadays. The reason for such fervour on my behalf is founded on both the absolute brilliance of Jeff`s previous solo lp called Zero Order Phase coupled with his superb work with both Nevermore and Experiment Fear [demo only].
Since I first got into rock and metal music many many moons ago, supreme guitarists have always captivated me regardless of the style, with a few sticking out as just that extra bit special such as Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore etc etc.
Jeff Loomis is already releasing music that is at least as exciting, invigorating as enjoyable as most of his contemporaries. Indeed he has even managed to selflessly managed to secure the talents of some of the modern classic guitarists to contribute guest solos on here, including Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, and Tony Macalpine. This could in theory be a risky tactic, with the possibility that the extremely gifted guests could in theory outshine the main mans contributions, however thankfully this is not the case on here. Jeff`s prodigious talent is not threatened by the inclusion of the previously mentioned three axe masters, although the compositions here are possibly enhanced by the inclusion of their material. All the guests have their own indomitable and individual styles which are very enjoyable and highly impressive in their own rights.
My only very marginal gripe at this early stage of letting this release sink into my soul, is the surprise inclusion of vocals on a few of the tracks. Whilst the vocals of Christine and Ihsahn are cool and certainly impressive in their own right, I`m not totally convinced that they are necessarily positive additions in this text. Maybe I`m initially feeling just a tad old school in my expectations here, where a solo lp should be just that, and album consisting of instrumental compositions. Having said this, I am fully aware that I was still appreciating new and alternate aspects of Zero Order Phase many months after first listening to it, so maybe it`s just a case of becoming attuned and accustomed to a new approach to this style.
The album certainly boasts an excellent heavy and clear production with the guitars and drums really hitting your ears with a powerful clarity requisite for the music contained herein. In fact I have to say that this is probably the most powerfully produced solo guitar album I`ve ever heard. I guess this isn`t too surprising when you consider the very powerful music that Jeff was previously writing in prior band contexts.
I`m going to mark this release as a 95% with 5% deducted for the inclusion of occasional vocals, and even at this early stage, I`ve only had this album for a couple of days, I certainly wouldn`t be surprised if this is ends up as either my release of the year, or if not, then certainly in my top 5. Jeff Loomis` previous lp Zero Order Phase was my overwhelming no1 pick of 2008 - 2009.
Exemplary stuff again from the new[ish] guitar god on the solo album block.
I'm just going to say right off the bat that I don't know where to start with this album here. The one and only Jeff Loomis has released another piece of material known as "Plains of Oblivion" and considering that Loomis is a dedicated and talented guitar player we could expect something good from this instalment. This album contains several tracks with some guest musicians ranging from Marty Friedman and Chris Poland to Isahn and Christine Rhoads, some sounded really good and others just fell flat on their faces.
For one, Loomis' riffs and shredding ability are absolutely mind blowing on this album and they can really get a groove going, having that along with guitar wankery from Poland and Friedman added a nice touch. Isahn delivered some powerful vocals and some unknown artists (to me at least) made a wealthy contribution. Although to every instalment there's always some sort of flaw, I'm really not feeling the love with the Christine Rhoads tracks because I feel that they're way too soft for an album such as this, catchy perhaps, but not the best I've heard.
Finally, this album is so predictable that it hurts. Every track is just guitar wanking and maybe if we're lucky we'll get some vocals on there mixed with the shredding. There's nothing new and let's be honest, we want more of the cool shit, but less of the fuckery displayed on every track. Loomis has so much capability and he's a talented musician, no mistake about that. I must stress, however, that he should stick to being in a band rather than playing on his own, he'd get more attention that way and a bigger fan base.
I guess that most of nowadays metal heads have a clue about 'Nevermore' and how the mighty Jeff left that band in order to become a modern guitar hero. 'Zero Order Phase' was an average shred album, it had a sufficient amount of technical exhibition and lots of...well, uh, nothing. 'Plains of Oblivion' is no different.
Even a prestigious guests line up including: 'Tony Macalpine', 'Marty Friedman' 'Ihsahn' and other metal celebrities can't make this album worthy. There are three vocal driven tracks in this album which doesn't rise above the "metal by numbers" area. 'Tragedy And Harmony' and 'Chosen Time' consist of female vocals and goes nowhere. Bland vocals and boring riffs, nothing worth hearing. The Ihsahn's track sucks as well, I could easily think of it as another youtube modern death metal band if it wasn't included in this album.
'Jeff Loomis' is a popular metal guitar player that doesn't have any concept behind him anymore. Alright, so you know to play fast, we got it, what else? It seems as if Jeff couldn't come up with a decent melodic guitar line even if his life were depend on it. If you lower the tempo of this album or just listen to these fast guitar solos carefully, you'll notice that there is just nothing going on there. There are no coherent melodies or anything creative about this album. Yeah, if I was a 9 years old kiddy who never heard the word shred before, I guess I would get excited about hearing someone playing guitar fast, but I'm not.
'Plains of Oblivion' is just another modern metal package with zero creativity and without any artistic value. Everything is predictable about this album: here comes the thrash metal riffs, here comes the fast guitar leads, here comes the "not saying anything' bland vocal lines and here is another fretboard wankery for an ending of this headache producing product of garbage.