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When Warrel Dane announced he would be releasing a solo album, the main question was if Dane could hold up the high quality of Nevermore's music without Jeff Loomis on his side. I found myself not convinced either, especially because Dane's right hand on 'Praises To The War Machine', former Soilwork guitarist Peter Wichers, isn't exactly among the musicians I appreciate most. No need to worry though. Of course 'Praises To The War Machine' is nowhere near as brilliant as 'Dreaming Neon Black', 'Dead Heart In A Dead World' or 'This Godless Endeavor', but it's a great album nonetheless. Especially when Warrel surprises the listener.
Cleverly, Dane and Wichers chose to open the album with two tracks that are quite Nevermore-ish. I would describe 'When We Pray' and 'Messenger' as "Nevermore Light". The songs are simpler and slightly more melodic than Dane's main band and offer Dane more space to shine vocally, but are not unlike what Nevermore would do. Especially not considering that Jeff Loomis plays the guitar solo on the latter.
'Obey' is a mediocre track with a great solo section, but revenge follows with an absolutely brilliant Sisters Of Mercy-cover. I'm usually not too fond of covers, but guitarist Matt Wicklund's heavy arrangement of 'Lucretia My Reflection' is even better than the already amazing original. And that brings Warrel's count to 2, after Nevermore's rendition of 'The Sound Of Silence', which was a million times better than the originial by Simon & Garfunkel as well. The count will rise to 3, but I'll get to that later. The verses to 'Lucretia' are a pleasant first listen into the lower region's of Warrel's vocal registers. He sounds great this way.
After 'Lucretia', theres a trilogy of more Warrel Dane's more introspective side. 'Let You Down' and 'August' wouldn't have sounded out of place on one of Paradise Lost's later albums, with the exception that they would have been remarkably good maybe. It's a side of Dane we rarely get to hear in Nevermore and it probably wouldn't fit in the band either, but it suits the singer quite well.
In the form of 'The Day The Rats Went To War', we get another Nevermore Light-moment. The lyrics are less personal and more political and James Murphy lends a hand to the song by playing a wonderful guitar solo. The chorus is a moment of pure genius, especially because of Warrel's layered vocals and Dirk Verbeuren's subtle changes in drumming make every section have a punch of its own. This may be a nice place to start for people who expect something Nevermore-ish.
But then Warrel hits us in the face hard with one of the most personal and most beautiful things he has done so far. 'Brother' is Warrel's cry toward his brother, with whom he has a terrible bond. If the intro - with the brilliant haunting lead guitar in the background - doesn't send shivers down your spine, the way Warrel sings these lyrics will. The guitar solo is pure beauty and if this "semi-doom-ballad" doesn't bring you tears or at least goosebumps, you must have a heart of stone. This one struck me hard. And it's only slightly over three minutes.
And I promised to get back to something. The third better-than-the-original cover Warrel Dane lends his voice to is again one originally by Simon & Garfunkel, namely 'Patterns'. Once again, Warrel chose to keep the good of the song (Paul Simon's good and thoughtful lyrics) and toss away the bad (the incredibly boring music). The result is a great Metal track which doesn't sound like the original in any way. 'Lucretia' resembled the original, 'Patterns' doesn't. Great work by whoever arranged this.
After that, there's once again a bone chilling introspective song that moved the hell out of me. 'This Old Man' tells the story of an old man who was apparently had a big impact on Warrel's youth. Warrel himselfs once again uses his low voice, which gives the song a haunting atmosphere. In addition, you can feel the sincerity in the lyrics by the way he delivers it. Especially when he shortly lets it rip at the end of the third verse, it just rips your heart to shreds. Maybe it helps that I know someone similar in my life, but still, the song illustrates everything wonderfully. My compliments to the guitar work by Wichers and Wicklund, which pull you into the song and don't let you go until it's over. Just check out that brillianty dragging interlude riff...simply celestial...
The Matt Wicklund-penned 'Equilibrium' more or less brings all the elements of the album together - including an unbelievably killer Thrash riff in the verses - and therefore is the ultimate way to round off the album. Be sure to check out Dirk Verbeuren's drumming...just how many arms and legs does this guy have? And whoever plays the guitar solo is a genius.
If you have the limited digibook, you will get a bonus track named 'Everything Is Fading'. Not unlike 'Equilibrium', this song brings together a lot of the elements used throughout the album, just this time without any of the Thrash riffs. 'Everything Is Fading' is more of a Doomy song. Not bad at all though. And Warrel's lyrics are in the booklet as scans of his handwriting, pretty cool.
All in all, I can only say that 'Praises To The War Machine' is a fine addition to the collection of anyone who likes good music. It might throw some of the Nevermore-addicts (which I count myself to as well) off in the beginning, but give it some time and you will like it. Especially if Warrel's vocals are among the most important reasons for you to like Nevermore, as it is with me. Warrel gets more room to shine here than he will ever get in Nevermore. And isn't that exactly what a singer's solo project is for?