Nevermore - Dreaming Neon Black
Century Media Records.
Warrel Dane - Vocals
Jim Sheppard - Bass
Jeff Loomis - Guitars
Tim Calvert - Guitars
Van Williams - Drums
I'm sure we can all think of an example of a musician who's had a very hard life, or some horrible experience in their life, that has inspired them to become a musician and share their pain with the world. Nu-metallers will point to Jonathon Davis. Rap fans will be able to give any number of rags-to-riches stories, and any number of songs inspired by the death of a close friend. Older listeners will be able to tell you that Marvin Gaye's message of peace masked the war within his own family, and the domestic abuse he witnessed and suffered at the hands of his father.
Yet, you'll have to go a long way to find a case as unique as Warrell Dane, Nevermore's lead singer.
Dreaming Neon Black is a concept album. It concerns a young man whose long-term girlfriend joins an extremist religious cult. He gradually loses her to this cult, who eventually kidnap her, and kill her. It's a nice story for an album, right? Here's the kicker - it actually happened.
At least, Dane allegedly claims it did. And I, for one, am prepared to believe him, for one reason - the music. Listening to this, I can feel the man's pain, in his voice, and in the lyrics. The band make soundscapes that recreate the dark places Warrell must have visited inside his own mind, and do it while rocking like bastards caught in a swirling storm of thrash, power, and traditional heavy metal that has earned them the tag of 'The Heavy Queensryche'. Whether or not it actually happened is a moot point - whatever happened, this album came out of it. Last I heard, Warrell was also planning a novel of the same story.
Nevermore were formed in 1994, from the ashes of Sanctuary, another thrash metal band. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the dark concepts and moods expressed in their work, they hail from Seattle. Yes, the home of grunge. Grunge fans, incidentally, will find much to love here, particularly those who hail the likes of Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. Along with Warrell Dane and Jim Sheppard (ex-Sanctuary), the band contains the classically trained Jeff Loomis; for my money, one of the best in the business; and drummer Van Williams. On this album, they were joined by Tim Calvert of Forbidden; however, he left after this album, and they have recorded as a 4-piece from then onwards. They have toured with Death, Blind Guardian, Opeth, and more recently, labelmates Arch Enemy.
There's a wealth of great things to say about this album. Where to start? The guitars are fantastic, for one thing. Rhythm and lead are handled with equal aplomb. Most of the solo work is taken by Loomis, and if the songs on Dead Heart In A Dead World (the next release) are any evidence, he wrote most of the rhythm parts, too. Don't discount Tim Calvert's input though - he's no slouch. And don't expect it to be full-on driving distortion for the whole album - in fact, both of the album's highlights, for me, come when acoustic guitars are playing. The title track is a masterclass in how to write a metal ballad, and Deconstruction's acoustic solo is sheer genius. The heavy parts are dam
n heavy, though, courtesy of both guitarists playing 7 string guitars. I should hardly need to mention that this album could teach almost any nu-metal upstart how effective detuning can be (guitars are, by and large, tuned to Eb Standard, yet they sound more like Bb 7-stringers) - hell, it could even teach the Ammott brothers a thing or two. As Arch Enemy and Nevermore are on the same label and have toured together, it probably has.
As I don't play drums or (much) bass, I can't comment on the technical skill of the players. I can only tell you how good they sound - very good. One thing I do do, however, is sing. And my God, can Warrel Dane sing. Possessed of one of metal's strongest, most emotional voices, he's equally at home tackling atmospheric ballads (the title track, All Play Dead) as he is ripping up the hardest of the hard (I Am The Dog, Beyond Within, Poison Godmachine). His voice isn't quite as refined here as it is on Dead Heart In A Dead World, but it's close. His lyrics, too, deserve mention. Nevermore have often been lumped in with Power Metal, but whereas Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, Nightwish and their ilk sing lines taken from sci-fi novels, and of romantic longings that sound beamed in from the middle ages (and that's no bad thing), Nevermore sing of truths; of pain, of suffering, of the self-exploration that inevitably comes when you suffer like our protagonist does here. Of course, there's a difference between writing songs called Daddy and screaming that you want to die, and geniunely making the listener feel your pain and identify with you - and here, Nevermore easily fall into the latter of those categories. Not many metal albums geniunely manage this, track after track (metal, in my view, is built upon escapism anyway), but Nevermore do. It somehow makes them oddly untouchable. Even as, in the 80s, Metallica sang of insanity, and the pitfalls and horrors of war, and Slayer spun tales of Nazis, Nevermore somehow just feel that much more real
. This aspect of Nevermore has led to many a Queensryche comparison, yet even that doesn't capture it. And besides, Queensryche never have been, and never will be, this heavy.
Originally, I gave this album a 5/5. With hindsight, I realise it doesn't really deserve a perfect rating. Though, to be fair, I hated metal (or thought I did) until I heard this, and it's still one of my favourite metal albums ever, there IS better stuff out there, and people who have tried metal and found it's not for them are unlikely to have their minds changed by this (my problem was I'd never really listened to metal before). Furthermore, if you're looking for an entry into Nevermore's catalogue, Dead Heart In A Dead World is probably a better bet.
With The Genre - 5/5
Outside The Genre - 3.5/5