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This surprised the hell out of me. - 87%

hells_unicorn, October 7th, 2008

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.