Plains of Oblivion
posted on 6/2012 By:
Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: Jeff Loomis is a guitar god, and one of the last, really. His playing on Nevermore albums: divine. His playing on his solo work, including these here Plains of Oblivion: like strings of notes descending from Mount Olympus. The man knows naught but perfection in his own performance as a guitar player. Because, as stated above, he’s a fucking guitar god.
But that does not necessarily make him a godly solo artist. Pretty damn good, yes… but not quite godly.
The history of instrumental shred as an art form has basically seen a few brilliant visionaries (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Yngwie for a time), and a busload of guitarists who never quite understood that it takes more than just generic backdrops and a fuckton of blindingly-executed scales to really make something interesting (uhhhh… Yngwie again?). Great shred has always told a story without words. Parts of Plains of Oblivion do just that; parts are more on the backdrop-and-wank side; and a few other parts tell stories with words… for better or worse.
Most of the instrumental work on Plains of Oblivion is made up of a few distinct styles. There is the Nevermore-minus-vocals approach, which is the most prevailing, the slightly thrashier (the modern Lamb of God model), and the Dream Theater-esque prog, when Loomis decides to channel his inner Petrucci (usually to glorious effect). About half of these songs have no shame in their status as generic backdrops, shifting aimlessly (but harmlessly) across these various styles while Loomis rains down buckets of beautiful notes. (Guests such as Chris Poland, Tony MacAlpine and Marty Friedman do plenty of note-raining as well.) However, a few of the instrumental pieces, including “The Ultimatum” or the dynamic “Continuum Drift,” have more meticulously crafted and memorable structures. This isn’t to say that the other songs lack entertainment, far from it, but it is when the album rises above shear exhibitionism that it shows its full worth.
Mixed in are three tracks with vocals, which provide the album with by far its highest high and lowest lows. The high is that rare dream collaboration that actually lives up to the billing—Ihsahn’s guest appearance on “Surrender” is goddamn beastly. Mr. Tveitan brings his best with all of his vocal stylings (even a touch of his King Diamond wails), while Loomis’ adapts his songwriting to fit his guest, crafting an intense and addictive number that begs for further partnerships. On the flipside of the coin are the two songs with Christine Rhoades, known by Nevermore fans as the woman singing on Dreaming Neon Black. While Rhoades has a great voice, and only one of these two songs is truly bad (the lyrically-hampered “Tragedy And Harmony”), both are out-of-place exercises in restraint on an album that is basically a public flaying of modesty and self control.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Plains of Oblivions is a weak album. With the exception of a couple poor choices in song inclusion, it is a highly entertaining effort from the Nevermore legend. But I’m also not going to tell you that you desperately need it in your collection. The level of necessity will vary person to person, based solely on how much you treat Jeff Loomis’ lead guitar histrionics like finely produced Colombian white. If you can’t get through a day without more and more harmonized sweep lines, whammy bar dives and 64th note insanity, then this will certainly stave off the pangs of detox for a good while. However, if you’ve always received a substantial Loomis high from just Nevermore’s brilliant body of work, there is only a moderate need to go flying across these plains, deliciously shredtastic as they often are.
But goddamn can that man play.
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