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Supreme unapologetic shred - 95%

chaxster, September 20th, 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.