Zero Order Phase
posted on 10/2008 By:
Hot on the heels of Warrel Dane’s debut, Nevermore guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Loomis has graced us with a solo outing of his own. These kinds of albums can be tricky; I’ve often found that the solo album (particularly for guitarists) is either a way for a musician to explore musical ideas not possible in the context of their other projects (good), or merely a means to show off technical prowess without having to worry about hogging the spotlight from the rest of the band (bad).
Zero Order Phase strikes a very enjoyable balance between these two. Let me start off by saying that, on a purely technical level, this album is incredible. For those who aren’t familiar with the greatness of Nevermore, Loomis is truly a modern day guitar god, slinging together riff after technical riff while effortlessly coating the whole thing in a never-ending matrix of blazing shredding. The precision drumming of Mark Arrington (formerly of Nevermore as well) and the bone-dry production make for an extremely tight, technical sound, while the subtle keyboard accompaniments add to the spacey, futuristic atmosphere in effective fashion.
Jeff Loomis’s first attempt at band leading is an admirable one, as he constructs the songs in a manner that is varied but digestible, making for an overall listen that is surprisingly more interesting than a lot of instrumental shred albums. The main difference here is obvious to anyone who’s a fan of the man’s main project; Loomis is just as talented a songwriter as he is a technician, which is a rare thing indeed. As such, the riffs and transitions retain the high quality of Nevermore (and much of the sound as well) but with Loomis’s wailing leads taking the place of Dane’s vocals in the spotlight. Every song on here, from the brutal stomp of “Shouting Fire At a Funeral” to the epic “Cashmere Shiv,” is a great showcase of the guitarist’s incredible technical prowess, each track containing several mind-bending lead passages that are over-the-top without sounding completely ridiculous. “Sacristy” even pulls the reins back slightly in the album’s middle, showing some nice acoustic work before bringing back the heaviness for a soaring climax. “Race Against Disaster” and “Miles of Machines” both expertly contrast the searing solos with some solid backing melodies and quieter atmospheric segments, making for a strong finish to the album before “Departure” gently turns off the lights.
Zero Order Phase is a pretty exhausting listen from start to finish, but even though only the hardcore guitar nerds will even be able to tell all the solos apart after awhile, I think Jeff Loomis largely accomplished what he set out to do with this album. It's wanky without being arrogant; structured, without being too linear. I enjoyed this more than Warrel Dane’s debut and way more than most shred albums, although I don’t see myself finding the energy to listen to it in its entirety too often in the future.
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