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Let’s put it on the record that I'm a Jeff Loomis and Nevermore fan and when getting my copy of this album I was anxious to hear/listen what new impressive feats Jeff Loomis was going to do on this one. Though the album is not by any means a complete let down (the shredding is impeccable), I’m not sure this album hits the mark as an iconic solo effort. Let’s elaborate a bit.
The album is all instrumental shred clinic and by all accounts his trademark diminished licks are stamped all over this one. You can easily recognize his familiar runs and scale patterns that have made him a “guitar god” in most extreme music circles. Fans of albums like Marty Friedman’s “Dragon Kiss” or Vinnie Moore’s “Meltdown” can expect a lot of exotic scales/modes. However, I do not see any regular guitar playing enthusiast converting over this album.
Some songs sound just like extras that didn't make the cut on the last Nevermore album and just extended the solo part. Songs like "Jato Unit" have the same diminished runs he did on "This Godless Endeavor"'s outro solo. With other songs like "Miles of Machines”, you can hear a very similar lick used on "Ambivalent" from the Enemies of Reality album. These little details made the listen less attractive. Its not a complete sham or waste of time 'cause there are very good songs on this album and the ones mentioned above are really good instrumentals. It's just the “déjà vu” effect that some of theses songs bring you that ruins the overall experience. I do take in consideration that this is Jeff’s first solo album and that he probably was scrambling around with some material that he might have not intended to use with Nevermore at a point or time, but I still think he could had diversified a bit more or simply made a shorter version of this album. The difference between this album and any Joe Satrianni or Steve Vai solo album is that even though Satch/Vai have very familiar signature licks, I do feel that they use them in several contexts and different tunings, tempos, and musical contexts that almost make them sound like a totally different players.
Loomis is very comfortable playing this style and I do appreciate this fact, but a player of his caliber should be able to play a little more outside his comfort zone at a very good level. However, I'm NOT implying that Jeff Loomis should be playing Frank Zappa, B.B. King, or Hendrix, but a little bit of diversity and flavor would definitely put this album on another level.
Overall, I do think this is a pretty good album, but I can't say it blows me away more than any other Nevermore song/album. I feel all these tunes have been done already by Nevermore/Jeff in one or various different ways. Maybe us fans get a little too demanding and expect way too much from certain bands, artist, etc., but I can't sell this album as the best effort by Loomis if he plays exactly like he does in Nevermore and the songs sound exactly like every Nevermore album to date. That said, not too bad, just a bit predictable for my personal taste.
Let me just start off by saying that I'm a huge Nevermore fan. They've been one of my favourite band's ever since I first picked up "This Godless Endeavor" in 2005. The combination of Jeff Loomis' amazing riffs, Van William's inventive drumming, Jim Sheppard's solid basswork, Steve Smyth's creative chord work and intense vocals just made that album stick in my mind for so long. The band just knew how to write such epic songs. With all that in mind, this is what makes this album both interesting, and boring as watching paint dry. Jeff Loomis' first solo attempt enforces the utter and total power of Jeff Loomis, but also how much of a one trick pony he really is. When you listen to great solo albums (or even just instrumentals), the music should feel like it has vocals. The riffs should speak for themselves. It should never feel like it needs vocals, but that's exactly what Zero Order Phase feels like. It just feels like an incomplete Nevermore album. Don't get me wrong, Jeff shreds. Oh boy, does he ever shred. He shreds all over the place on this album, but that's all he does. He seems to have written an album made 2 or 3 riffs a song, and then tacked pointless shredding over the top. I think this album just proves how much Jeff needs the rest of Nevermore. Also, without space for vocals, he seems to have lost a bit of momentum with structure as some of the songs just downright don't work in the structure they're in. "Opulent Maelstrom" being a key example. Jeff Loomis is indeed a magnificent guitarist, but without Warrel, Jim, and Van behind him, that's all he is. A guitarist without a purpose.
As an instrumental album, obviously there are no lyrics. That being said, as I pointed out earlier, a truly well written isntrumental album shouldn't feel like it needs vocals and this album does. It feels like one huge solo section from a Nevermore song. And in small doses, Jeff Loomis is possibly one of the guitarists in the world, but left to his own devices he just feels like another shredder with a 7-string.
I feel really bad, being so harsh on someone I idolise, but in all honesty, as someone who loves every single Nevermore song written to this day, I didn't enjoy this album at all. There are so many moments that are just perfect, and then they just disappear into a midst of shredding. So many sections where I expected Warrel to ascend through the mire and scream for salvation to the heavens, and instead I got some dork wanking the Harmonic Minor scale until it bled. The funny thing is, the best track on this album, "Miles of Machines", is the best track simply because it makes no pretences of being a song. It's just Jeff Loomis sweeping for no reason, over an awesome background. If the song was 2 minutes shorter, it would fit amazingly as an instrumental piece on a Nevermore album, or even a section in a bigger, longer full Nevermore song. All I can really say in summation is that the wait for Nevermore's next album really seems so much longer after this stumbling mess.
I am a big fan of Nevermore in general, in no small part due to Jeff Loomis' outstanding songwriting and potent guitar prowess--why he is not better known/acknowledged in metal circles is beyond me. While there is certainly a generous amount of Nevermore in the music on display here, it ends up being uniquely Jeff Loomis as well in the end, ultimately. There is an indefinable aura about this album that sets it apart from being simply Nevermore, Pt. 2 that shows clearly that Jeff's skills are not to be discounted in any sense.
Yes, this is an all-instrumental album, but it is not marked by the excess and wankery that often marked those albums in the 80s and made them such a butt of jokes (mostly from jealous grunge muffins who lacked the technical skill to match those players). But there was a good reason some of those albums were made fun of, the fact that some of them were mostly excuses to shred away with little regard for songwriting or taste, so there was some validity to those taunts. Jeff, however, avoids that trap in favor of intensely structured songs that just happen to lack vocals, but still have lots going for them in the realm of melody and even memorability as well as blistering heaviness and shred mania.
This reminds me of Joe Satriani in that respect, the fact Jeff insisted on writing actual songs instead of simply wanking away feverishly, and you can tell even at first listen that such is the case. Don't get me wrong, there is tons of shredding going on here, but it is well-balanced among tastefully-arranged riffing and atmospherics as well as actual melodic playing that is soulful as well as technically able. I give you "Sacristy" as evidence of this, featuring some incredibly beautiful melodic leads alongside blazing shred work, as well as densely orchestrated melodies in the background at various points of the song. What a beautiful piece of work this tune is!
The Nevermore influence rears its head straight away in opener "Shouting Fire at a Funeral", with its syncopated 7-string riffing and steady, thundering double kick work on the drum front. But it erupts into a lovely melodic chorus that has a wonderfully uplifting feel to it as only Jeff Loomis can write them. Another one that shows off that influence is the devastating "Race Against Disaster", featuring some fantastic headbanging moments as well as guest leads from former Nevermore/current Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O'Brien as they go head to head in vigorous fashion. He really gives Jeff a run for his money in the lead department.
Then you have the downright crushing "Devil Theory"--OUCH! This one is a hulking bruiser that will have you straining your neck muscles as it roars into a furious, chunky assault on your ears featuring equal parts tricky guitar madness as well as more of the intensely orchestrated and structured arranging Jeff is known for. "Miles of Machines" not only features manic arpeggios from hell, but even crosses effortlessly over into high speed thrash territory that is convincingly aggressive in its furious charge.
Then we have the more laid-back tunes on display that offset the metal madness, such as the interestingly titled "Cashmere Shiv", which features a more mellow feel complimented by legendary jazz fusion bassist Michael Manring's sweet fretless work and a slippery fretless guitar solo from producer Neil Kernon. "Sacristy", again, is a fabulous tune, and "Azure Haze" as well deserves notice. "Departure" is a soft and melodic ending to an album that really makes you stand up and take notice of Jeff Loomis' formidable skills as songwriter and unsung guitar hero.
This really is the best instrumental shred album I've heard in a long time, second only to Michael Angelo Batio's "Hands Without Shadows", and it deserves your notice to say the least. Hopefully this will go a ways toward increasing Jeff's stock in guitar circles, as this is too good to show him off as anything other than a flat out monster of the napalm-breathing variety. Check this out and give it a chance.
If some wish to stress that hating Nevermore is the trendy thing to do in metal circles, and many of their fans do, then I count myself among the proud who denounced them from the start upon first hearing their self-titled debut back in 1995. Back then, as was the case with Pantera, I was blissfully unaware that they had been a different band with a much greater product to boast of, although in their case they were under a different name remembered more fondly by me as Sanctuary. Although the music itself bland and repetitive groove metal with competent lead guitar displays, the principle problem was Warrel Dane’s sloppy, throaty, quasi-in-tune vocal delivery that killed any potential.
I couldn’t really fault Jeff Loomis for the problems with Nevermore’s music, since he was sort of a saving grace for the band’s 90s material, but I didn’t see him as being anywhere close to spectacular given the format he was working in. But his solo offering “Zero Order Phase” gives me a reason to maybe rethink my premises about him as a player. Given that the last offering by his principle band “This Godless Endeavor” marked a radical improvement in the guitar display and vocal amenities of the outfit, I was able to approach this album with a degree of optimism. This proved to be the correct approach as Loomis truly shines without the specter of a vocal front man pushing his abilities to the sideline.
Much like the last Nevermore album, there is a stronger degree of speed metal and modern thrash elements at play that result in livelier songs. The general riff approach is augmented with the loud and abrasive distorted character typical of current metal, along with the sludgy tone and down-tuning that almost gives the guitar the quality of a distorted bass. It’s carried well on here as the drums and bass are properly mixed to give the arrangement the middle and the punch necessary to carry the lower end guitar sound. The riffs themselves tend to be complex, although often resorting to a groove tendency at times in between the rapid scale fragments and tremolo picked speed sections accompanied by some accomplished drum work.
Although much of the songs exhibit an agitated quality that mirrors albums like Testament’s “The Formation Of Damnation” and a few other Modern Thrash outputs by older outfits, Loomis’ lead ideas carry more similarity to Marty Friedman’s rock oriented solo material than anything else. It’s actually surprising the similarities that the melodies on songs like “Shouting Fire At A Funeral” and “Race Against Disaster” at times, despite the much heavier backdrop that they are laid on top of. It seems so out of character when considering how anti-melodic most of Nevermore’s music has been until just recently. “Azure Haze” shows even broader horizons as a tuneful ballad, taking time to travel between mysterious sounding sections and delightfully tuneful musical refrains. The technical display on “Miles Of Machines” actually leaves Friedman’s turf for that of Malmsteen, particularly that rapid paced classical guitar intro.
There’s very little that can’t be liked on here, the whole thing just flows very well and makes perfect sense without the need of lyrics. If Nevermore could apply some of this to their own music and if Warrel Dane could figure out how to get his voice sounding somewhat closer to what it was in the late 80s, they’d be a band to be reckoned with. There is a strong level of potential within the groove format when it’s augmented with other influences, and almost no one in the genre seems willing to occasionally lay off the monolithic and tribal aspects of the style to get it closer to that part of metal that curses drudgery and orthodoxy. “Zero Order Phase” accomplishes this to a large degree, and absent a truly stellar release out of Loomis’ main project, it will go down as the greatest album Nevermore didn’t record but might have.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on October 7, 2008.
As a result of his day job with underrated metal soldiers Nevermore, main axeman Jeff Loomis gets called everything from 'one of the best metal guitarists around' to 'a ridiculously unmelodic wanker'. Though the majority of opinions from people in the know tend to be in the former camp, it's understandable why his style is a hard sell for some. The main culprit is the heavy usage of dissonance in his playing. For sure, anybody who's had a healthy exposure to some of the darker styles of music has probably learned to appreciate the importance of dissonance, the vital role it has in forming an air of oppression and turbulence and bringing out the contrast between the melodic pieces. Others are just more likely to go, “Dude, you're going off.”
Earlier this year, Nevermore frontman Warrel Dane released his own solo effort, which went too modern metal for his own good, and despite a few bright moments (including a guest solo from the Loominator), ended up falling flat on its face. However, any doubts about Loomis sharing that fate were quickly obliterated early into the album.
Opening with a triple whammy of in-your-face aggro numbers, Loomis flexes his chops and lets rip. It seems like he's always going for broke, never settling for the ordinary, as he jumps from one dynamic high-speed riff to another, pausing only for the occasional power breather (which is probably more for our benefit than his). With his lead guitar lines, you can feel the boiling tension right underneath, like they're about to burst free and go crazy at any time. Knowing the guy, that's not too far off the mark.
Some people tend to treat chops and speed almost as a liability these days, using examples like Rusty Cooley and Chris Impelliteri and going, “See? All speed and no feel!” First, those people are annoying assholes. And second, believe me, Loomis brings plenty of feel to the table – it's just an unpredictable, overwhelmingly violent kind of feel that doesn't sit well with people who grew up in guitar hero suburbia. There are plenty of instances where he has these inhumanly fast runs, and they're not there just to show you that he can pull them off. These lines are amazingly constructed, threaded through some insane passages and as you're hearing them, your mind tries to slow it down and unravel the whole tangle. Add to that how he can control his delivery and phrasing at that pace and keep the small touches like his vicious vibrato and superspeed slides going with the picking/sweep frenzy and you're left with no recourse but to think something along the lines of “What. The. Fuck?!” This is an unapologetic shred album, from one of the best out there.
That being said, the fourth song Azure Haze abruptly announces a diversion and heads back to more familiar territory (as far as guitar heroics go), something like a prog-fusion power ballad with enough unique personal touches and quirks to make it his own. Cashmere Shiv picks up the ball and abandons that path, melding jazz-fusion (featuring some cool bass wankery courtesy Michael Manring) and some pretty crushing metal segments to form a gloriously schizo beast.
The next surprise is Sacristy, where he hits the brakes and begins belting out a ballad-esque number that wouldn't be out of place in a Jason Becker or Marty Friedman album. As if there wasn't enough evidence of his versatility, here he flat out cements it, pulling off a complete change of scene masterfully. This is probably the best song on the album, and it's mostly down to his refusal to compromise on his style and getting the claws out when the occasion calls for it, instead of pandering to any ballad stereotypes.
Bringing up the rear, Miles of Machines smashes through like a neoclassical battering ram announcing the revenge of the arpeggios. While there's no shortage of harmonic minor sweeps, he's not afraid to mix it up, switching the pace and throwing different melodies and themes in there.
That's what separates this guy from the rest of the pack. Yeah, he's got godlike skills and technique, but he's also got a head for the music, an ability to write songs that keep you interested and to layer different passages intricately so that each piece only gives you a part of the picture. He manages to forge a distinctive identity for each song, while making sure his signature style is stamped over every single one.
The production by veteran soundmeister Neil Kernon (who also contributes a fretless guitar solo on Cashmere Shiv) does justice to the songs - everything sounds fierce and ready to rip your head off, but there's nothing that's buried in the mix. Add a bonus point for a guest solo by Ron Jarzombek and you're set.
In short, Loomis hasn't put a foot (or finger) wrong with this one. If you're a regular guitar nerd, this might take a few spins to start appreciating, but if you're familiar (and besotted) with his previous work, then this is a no-brainer. Now give us the next Nevermore album already.