Jeff Loomis // Plains of Oblivion
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Better sans vocalist
Label: Century Media
Websites: |
Release Dates: US: 04.10.2012 | EU: 2012.04.12

Jeff Loomis - Plains of OblivionI apparently distinguish myself in the metal scene by not having been a fan of Nevermore. Frankly, I could never deal with Warrel Dane, who while he doesn’t belong in Ripper Owens Hall of Shame kind of territory, definitely rubbed me the wrong way. That’s a shame, however, ’cause this Jeff Loomis dude is a fucking beast of a guitar player. And as a ‘sconnie from the Fox Valley area, I have to say that he was also a bit of a local legend since he went and did something with himself in professional music (and almost joined Megadeth—not once, but twice). But I can say that I did check out Zero Order Phase after it came out in 2008 and while I dug it, I never really came back to it.

Shred records are sort of a touchy subject. On the one hand, I really think that metal musicians put way too much focus on vocalists and vocals, particularly when the lyrics are redundant, stupid or the vocalists are just stupid. On the other hand, I’ve long associated shred with a particular form of flamboyant jackassary and therefore have attempted to avoid it. But, as a reviewer, one is sometimes forced to stumble onto the Plains of Oblivion for the sake of the metal community. And, actually, Loomis should be commended for not having a cross necklace and poofy shirt. Not even sunglasses! No sir, this humble, downhome Wisconsin boy just shows up with his guitar, wicked riffs, a grimace and some extraordinarily honed fine motor skills and shreds your fucking face off.

If one were to typify the tracks, most of them are built around a solid groove riff, the likes of which most Nevermore fans are familiar with, and that make the backbone of any good metal song. And then the finger gymnastics follow: tapping, sweeping, and a million notes a second. These tracks can be sort of melancholic, like parts of “Requiem for the Living” (which features ex-Nevermore and current Warrel Dane guitarist Attila Vörös), or classically influenced a la Malmsteen or (in this specific case I am strongly reminded of) Symphony X on “The Ultimatum,” which features amazing neo-classical arpeggios contra crushing riffs that wander towards the more brutal sides of things at times. And, as you can probably tell, the neo-classical really appeals to me personally, so the acoustic track “Rapture” moved me greatly and is one of the highlights of the album.

Jeff Loomis 2012But part of what kept me interested here was the use of Christine Rhoades and Ihsahn for vocals. These vocal tracks break up the feel enough to make coming back to shred tracks perfect. “Tragedy and Harmony” sounds lyrically like a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde theme and Rhoades’ voice is well suited to the style. While I’m less of a fan of “Chosen Time,” which is a ballad, I’m a fan of her voice and I’m glad to hear her involved in this project. For me, though, the real shining moment comes on “Surrender,” which is easily the heaviest track on the record and which Ihsahn graces. Needless to say, both his screams and clean vocals are immense and perfect for the track, but the riffs hit the listener like a ton of bricks and Loomis is at his best. For Loomis’ style, I think working with a black metal vocalist is actually a tremendous boon. It allows him to do the interesting and melodic stuff on his guitar and then trade that off to a vocalist when things simplify, leading to the best possible blend as opposed to the often amelodic Nevermore outcome. Whether or not you agree with me (I suspect most of you don’t), this song may well be the record’s high point.

But don’t let my fawning over “Surrender” imply that the rest of the album isn’t up to this standard. The tracks are fun to listen to, and guitar envy inducing, and the guest guitarists add a dynamic that I think Zero Order Phase didn’t possess. Having the neo-classical influences of Vörös and Tony MacAlpine (not to imply that Marty Friedman and Chris Poland’s contributions aren’t as good), definitely locked me into these songs a little tighter. So if you’re at all a fan of shred records, Nevermore or good thrashy and borderline extreme music, you should check this out. It’s well worth your time.

  • punman

    Was fun to see Jeff live this past Tuesday, the day the album came out, here in Milwaukee, WI.  Got to shake the man’s hand, too.  And the rest of the bands weren’t too shabby either.

    Every time I play this CD I hear something new, which is, to me, one of the signs of well-composed music.  Thought maybe it’d be worth more than 3.5/5. :)

    • I weighed four, but went 3.5 cause I didn’t want to inflate. It’s a very good album, but I’m not sure if it’s *great*, despite the man’s immense talent.

  • I’m not usually a fan of instrumental albums, his last bored me but this is way better. Perhaps it’s helped by breaking things up with a few vocal tracks. Still, I just wish he’d go back to Nevermore, miss that band so much. This Godless Endeavor is my favourite album of the last 10 years!

  • I’ve got to say I utterly agree with you re: Loomis’ solo stuff vs. Nevermore. I’d have enjoyed Nevermore a whole bunch more without the presence of Dane’s posturing. It’s a chemical thing, like sometimes you meet people you instantly dislike. “Rubs me up the wrong way” is the perfect way of putting it. He should form a band with Malmsteen, I feel like they’d get on well…

    • Two egos of that size in a single room.. Someone would “feel the fucking fury” alright.

  • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

    Glad to see there’s someone in the world besides me who wasn’t super-impressed with Nevermore. And for the record, I actually prefer Ripper to Warrell Dane. That’s how much I dislike Warrell Dane. 

    • Woah. No way. Ripper fucking sucks. At least Dane was moderately original and talented in his own right. Ripper is just a rank fucking amateur with no feel for the music at all. It’s pathetic.

      • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

        Ripper may be a total hack, but he at least sounds good. Dane sounds like a fat drunk version of Geoff Tate.

        • No, Ripper doesn’t sound good. Hence: Hall of Shame. :P

          • ZacP

            Officially standing up for the guy. He’s not the greatest, but I never understood all the Ripper hate out there. His voice was very suitable for and especially good on those couple of Iced Earth albums. Nice person too

  • A.J. Specia

    You’re not the only one who could nevermore get into Nevermore. They seem like they know what they’re doing and they’re clearly doing something interesting, but it just isn’t my kind of interesting. Guess that means I’ll be giving this CD a listen in the near future.

  • Kalsten

    I would like to have the term “Ripper Owens Hall of Shame ” developed. I’m really intrigued about it :P

    • There are really so few who live up to that … Lack of quality.

  • I saw Nevermore a few times back in the day, and I enjoyed the guitar work. However, the vocals completely killed it for me. Their singer is awful. I’m looking forward to checking this one out, especially with Ihsahn as a guest vocalist. 

    • Yeah, he wasn’t just annoying, I always thought Dane was flat out bad. Like, his vibrato was non-stop, stupid thick and so broad that it made him go out of key. No good.

  • ZacP

    JUST got back from the tour Loomis is on right now. The man set thrusters to Shred and didn’t let up for his entire set. Great live guitarist. I am definitely getting this

  • Well, well, well. Don’t we have a little club of “I just can’t get into Nevermore” people here. It seems however than the better part of that band is keeping himself very sharp, will definitely check out this.

    • Yeah. I always thought they were overrated. Not the musicianship, of course, but cause Dane is just not a likable vocalist in any sense.

  • Kunal Batra

    Requiem for the Living DOES NOT feature Warrel Dane. Get your facts right.

    • Ah, that was a misunderstanding of what I wrote: Vörös plays guitar in Warrel Dane. I’ll correct it so that it’s easier to understand. 

      But you’re a douche for how you said this. “Get your facts right.” Get some reading comprehension lessons and then go fuck yourself.

      • Kyle McDonald

        Agreed, AMG.  One little fact being off doesn’t hurt the review.  You do a great job on this website and the only people who would be affected by a mistake like that are those that already know.  Keep up the good work man.  

        • I saw the original reply and I must attest it was properly angry and metal.

          • Flaming readers is probably unnecessarily. I’m Angry Metal Guy not Trolling Metal Guy. 

        • OzanCan

          I FUCKING AGREE! All hail AMG!

  • Bought the album. Too much twiddle, not enough riffing. Wouldn’t have minded if his rythm guitar tone wasn’t the awful “boing, boing, boing” sound so popular in metal these days. Whatever happened to “chug, chug, chug, kraaaaang.” 

    • Aroo? I heard no banjo or jaw harp on this record…

      • I had to laugh at this comment because I read banjo and thought Panopticon, and I read harp and thought Wolves in the Throne Room. These are strange metal days.

      •  JAW HARPS are a true metal instrument thanks to moonsorrow

  • Warrel Dane’s vocals are unique and awesome.

  • Axel Don Pari

    Next to nobody knows Nevermore in Germany and those who do don’t like it… except me. I distinguish myself from the local metal scene by actually liking them. Especially – yes I dare say – Warrel Dane’s voice. Also, wtf about Tim Owens? I like him way more than that other guy everyone seems to love so much, what was his name again?
    Also, while I even was a fan of Into Eternity, I don’t really like Stu Block in Iced Earth, because he’s mostly doing this low crappy stuff…

  • Axel Don Pari

     Sorry about the non-album-related childish post, but I somehow had to speak my mind about this. Do “rip” me apart about the “Ripper”, if you wish.

  • Speaking of non-album related stuff (at least not directly), I liked what Jeff Loomis did for the new Ihsahn record, it was the single most distinctably great stuff from the whole thing. Perhaps they should stop fucking around with just guest appearances and form a proper band

  • i liked dane, his voice was extremely unique for a band that was borderline power metal.