Review Summary: Loomis further cements his legacy with another strong solo instrumental offering.
When Nevermore broke up (I’m sorry, went on an “indefinite hiatus”) in 2011 many fans feared for the worst. What good could possibly come from the separation of Jeff Loomis’ prodigy-like guitar skills and Warrel Dane’s unmistakably high-ranging vocals? Even though solo efforts by both musicians have been well-received, it is difficult to completely suppress the desire to see the legendary progressive metal band return to form. While Loomis’ sophomore album, Plains of Oblivion
, won’t entirely change that, it is rich, complex, and enjoyable enough to make us temporarily forget what we’re missing.
When taken into context, that’s actually quite a feat. Nevermore has been around since 1994, releasing seven records and making a unique imprint in the metal scene with each subsequent album. They accrued quite a following in the process, which in turn must be at least part
of the reason that Plains of Oblivion
is receiving the attention that it is – although that isn’t to say that Loomis hasn’t earned a sizable fan base of his own. Here, he once again puts his talents on full display in a fashion sure to satisfy old fans as well as new ones, even if the album doesn’t necessarily reach its creative potential.
In many ways, Plains of Oblivion
is the second installment of Loomis’ first solo release, Zero Order Phase
. Riffs knife through the air with ease, all the while never losing their acute attention to detail. The production lifts every ounce of textural beauty to the surface, resulting in a listen that is as clean as it is heavy. Songwriting skills are present to tie everything together in a way that is listenable but doesn’t detract from the instrumental work. It’s all here, just like it was before, only with a fresh batch of material for hungry fans’ ears to eagerly consume. However, Loomis adds a few new wrinkles to his sound…some benefit Plains of Oblivion
, and others take it a notch down.
One aspect in which Loomis has definitely improved is his arrangement of all the shredding. Zero Order Phase
, while thoroughly engaging in a technical sense, lost some of its staying power with a lack of cohesive song structuring. That issue has been completely rectified here, seeing how Plains of Oblivion
just may be the most listenable shred album you’ll come across all year (and perhaps even longer). One doesn’t need to look past ‘Requiem for the Living’, a clear highlight on the record, to recognize the brilliance of Loomis’ reconciliation of shredding passages with other instrumental contributions that bring balance to the song without causing it to lose a single ounce of aggression. Opener ‘Mercurial’ also has a distinctively unified feeling, presenting itself as something of an overture with its inclusion of a bombastic introduction, insanely technical guitar play, and a sound that progresses within itself without ever approaching “directionless.” In fact, most if not all of the instrumental tracks on this record mark a high point in Loomis’ solo career, displaying his clear mastery of shredding along with other intricate techniques that only the most skilled people in his profession are able to pull off. The main problem arises when the guest vocalists are invited to join him in the studio.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these tracks are easily the most infectious (i.e. memorable), but unfortunately their presence also translates into a nosedive in Loomis’ freakishly talented contributions. Where on other tracks he can be heard almost losing his mind with the way he manipulates his guitar, he falls into more of a regulated role on songs such as ‘Tragedy and Harmony’ and ‘Chosen Time.’ The former at least has an impressive solo towards the end, but most of the songs with a guest vocalist on board could have been performed by a number of artists. The songs are still quite enjoyable, and are probably more accessible than anything else on the album, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that they are taking away what could have
made Plains of Oblivion
such a special album – one where every moment was crafted by Jeff Loomis in only a way that he could. Still, Plains of Oblivion
by no means falters during these moments…it just simply allows Loomis’ expertise to take a back seat, which when you consider the album’s primary draw, is probably not a welcome change.
Plains of Oblivion
is an excellent album for fans of heavy metal/thrash. Loomis’ abilities are never in question, and the mixture of raw guitar playing ability with improved songwriting makes for one hell of a listen. The album doesn’t reach newfound heights in the way that many of us may have been hoping, but it would be ludicrous to imply that it lacks creativity. As long as he continues down this path, nobody can really complain about the quality of the material he delivers. Plains of Oblivion
is an intense tour de force, one that further cements Jeff Loomis as one of the greatest shredders of all time.