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Utterly Breathtaking and Amazing - 100%

corviderrant, December 9th, 2008

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.