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It's the whole point of reviews to illuminate different ideas and areas of your favourite music. Nonetheless, here's a disclaimer, because I hope this isn't a total fanboy crusade or surface level ego trip like so many CD reviews. I'm probably extremely biased because this record was present in a difficult and remarkable part of my life, offering some aural imagery that has remained with me to this day, but the crystal clear truth is I have never heard a record so well capture the shrieking nothingness at the heart of depression. Ever.
Quite simply, "Dreaming Neon Black" is a total knockout. Nevermore effectively up the game from the already stunning "Politics Of Ecstacy", which boiled with political paranoia and claustrophobia, to make something darker still, more potent. This is their masterpiece, and, the public have spoken, one of the greatest metal concept albums in the history of this genre. Beyond that, I feel that standard reviewing tactics are little use...this is an album that transcends labels and petty boxes, and defies detailed analysis. Individual factors simply don't factor. The end result is one of staggering emotional depth and stabbing fury intertwined, one of those records you remember for its' impact on your existence as a human being.
So basically musical nirvana then. Nonetheless, here is my humble opinion.
You've probably heard the concept is based on vocalist Warrell Dane's girlfriend joining a cult and disappearing, except on this album these events gradually lead the (unnamed) protagonist on the long and lonely road to suicide. Dane's vocal range and precision matches the best in the business, as does his writing, creating a realistic and punishing journey. One can only imagine this is Dane in another universe, falling into his own beautiful world of delusion - just look at the title. It's horrible to hear the layers of his personality effectively peel off, self-control, belief systems, everything, until all that's left is nothing, the emptiness of his life. For a male frontman in a metal band, this is an extraordinarily gutsy thing to do. The delivery and lyrics leave no stone unturned for all to hear, and such open hearted honesty is the primary factor this record strikes me so deeply. For that reason alone I highly recommend this as listening for anyone who has a friend or partner going through loss and the resultant misery. Chances are it will lower their defences as easily as it did mine.
Musically, on one side we have spiteful thrash songs such as 'Fault Of The Flesh', and the classic 'Poison Godmachine'. It's frightening to hear Dane scream so atonally against such convicted thrash work, lyrics such as "We are embodiment of all the world's wrongs". Jeff Loomis' and Tim Calverts' guitar work, much acclaimed, is precise as a pinprick, challenging in odd times, dissonant without being self-indulgent, and still utterly venomous. It cuts through you remorsely and bludgeons you with all the subtlety of death metal at half the tempo, every note perfectly placed. I wouldn't call 'Godmachine' power metal by any stretch of the imagination: we may have the technical supremacy and the odd operatic vocal line ("We AAAAAAAAATE the poison!!"), but this is far, far, far from the fantasy realms of Stratovarius or Rhapsody, instead grounded in brutal reality, a dirty and frothing chastisement of the media lined up with a fabulous drum line and ripping main riff that, well, gets me totally psyched. Classic, in short.
On the other half are slower, richer songs which only serve to give the aggression more perspective and revelation through their confessions. The title track has now passed into metal legend. 'The Lotus Eaters' is the core of the album, a dirge that has, admittedly, left me on the verge of tears numerous times as a shattered Dane pleads to God. The instruments often play as if they were leading a funeral procession, extended open dirges that create waves of sound, and the notable inclusion of some acoustic guitar on the prowling "Deconstruction" provides some counterpoint to this. The highlight is the slow and convincing descent into a remarkable 4 song finale that approaches pure mood music, the fantastic culmination being in the startling "No More Will", where our hero woefully realises that "I see the world fade, no more hope inside, my life means nothing anyway...I still see you now through the pouring rain...I am the lover gone insane". Such an intimate portrayal of inner anguish runs the risk of incurring the sneers of male metalheads, but it's autheticity, though impossible to convey in writing, is undeniable, and one of the most powerful things I've ever heard. I hope all you so called "macho" posers are weeping at the end of this one, because I know you *do* cry. Pfft, you're the REAL pussies.
In a catalogue that's practically perfect, "Neon Black" is the crown jewel. The album slowly becomes a classic as the songs progress. Only a certain recent endeavour comes close. I know I said the individual elements don't matter. But it's got to help somewhat that the vocals, guitars, drums, production and songwriting are all so superb, and greater still that all these elements are so selflessly offered up to the final product. So I can't hit the "submit" button without giving kudos to one of Jeff Loomis' most subdued and nuanced performance to date, Van Williams' remarkable rhythmic drive, Jim Sheppard's sombre touches, Warrell Dane's explosive and painful delivery, Neil Kernon's thick bassy production, and Travis Smith's enriching artwork being the icing on the cake. For such an atmospheric, human, passionate gem, to all these men: Bravo.