Review Summary: Frailty, thy name is Warrel Dane
There are a lot of things to like about The Obsidian Conspiracy. The riffing, while it may not thrill the technical death heads out there, is aggressive and precise. The music is generally well written, even if it’s not the most interesting stuff ever produced. The band is tight, playing with the precision you’d expect. Generally, my impressions of the band were quite positive, having not thought particularly much of This Godless Endeavour.
But – ah, the inevitable ‘but’! – there is a problem, and it hurts the album cruelly. Frailty, thy name is Warrel Dane. On this album, as on This Godless Endeavour, Nevermore come off as a band that have never really figured out how to work with a singer. The reason that this is more of an issue in 2010 is my distinct impression that they’ve let Dane take a more central role this time around.
Dane isn’t a bad singer – far from it – but his style and bizarrely limited use of his exceptional range don't fit this style of music. Often the inclusion of vocals seems to have been treated as an afterthought. Not all that much attention has been paid to writing suitable vocal melodies, with the all-too frequent result that Dane’s slow baritone clashes with the music. The drawn-out low notes often don’t suit fast, sometimes high-register riffing. There’s not a lot of variety, which is a shame since Dane’s voice comes off strongest when he does something different. When, for example, he uses a slightly higher register and follows the chord progression on Emptiness Unobstructed, his voice actually fits in. Unfortunately this is ruined at the last second by having him hold his notes in an overwrought, operatic fashion.
It does not help that he has to deliver frankly abysmal lyrics (‘your poison throne is obscuring / the lesson required before the burning’, or, my personal favourite, ‘welcome to this planet hate / to this emotion I berate / yet some people force me to feed my violent seed’). The net effect is that Nevermore occasionally approach a kind of self-parody. That might work if they had imbued the album with sense of humour, but they didn’t. This bodes ill for metal bands, inhabitants of a genre that has given us dozens of groups more absurd than Spinal Tap.
Once one is in this critical frame of mind, other problems with the album become apparent. There are some great riffs, but there is also a fair bit of repetitive chugging going on. A more significant criticism is that Loomis's solos are somewhat missing in action. I am not sure if anyone else will agree on this point, but I feel the otherwise solid drumming is sometimes inexplicably restrained, with the effect that the guitar part has to give the songs their sense of pace.
Often songs will start well but fail to develop. Moonrise starts off like Awake or Train of Thought-era Dream Theater, but quickly loses direction. The blistering introduction to the title track shows the same problem: a promising beginning becomes an essay in wasted potential as the song enters the verse. From then on it meanders through sections of various quality until the conclusion of the album proper. Within songs, I see a definite reliance on catchy choruses for lasting appeal, but it’s not something that the album does particularly well. Moonrise gets it half right with Loomis doing his job admirably but Dane falling down. Other attempts don’t do even this well. The chorus on The Termination Proclamation, for one, botches everything that it is supposed to accomplish.
I’m not a frustrated died-in-the-wool Nevermore fan nitpicking at an album that didn’t live up to my expectations. I haven’t heard much of their back catalogue; I just wanted to enjoy this album on its merits. My overall impression is that there was a lot of potential here, but the constituent parts were put together in a haphazard way. What good stuff there is becomes difficult to enjoy when it is overpowered by poor execution of the vocals. The real shame is that this could have been a whole lot better if Nevermore had used the long gap since their last record to better plan out their arrangements.