Out of all the bands from the exploding American metal scene over the past half decade, none have earned more acclaim and respect from both their peers and from metal fans than Seattle’s Nevermore. Steeped heavily in the classic elements of traditional metal, and adding more contemporary touches of post-thrash/post-death metal, the band has established themselves as one of the country’s most powerful acts, as 1999’s Dreaming Neon Black, 2000’s Dead Heart in a Dead World, and 2003’s Enemies of Reality have seen the band outdoing themselves with each subsequent release. However, with the heaps of critical acclaim and worship from the metal community, mainstream success has eluded Nevermore. While Lamb of God, Mastodon, Arch Enemy, and Shadows Fall have all successfully made the leap to crossover stardom, Nevermore remain largely a cult band, known primarily by fans of the genre. It’s something all metal fans love, the perennial underdog, a woefully underappreciated band they can call their own. Well, it’s high time the fans learned to let go, because the band’s sixth album is one that deserves to reach ears outside the metal realm.
The band’s blend of traditional and modern sounds is fascinating: traces of ‘80s progressive metal greats such as Queensryche, Savatage, and Fates Warning are easily detectable in their compositions, but instead of being a straightforward retro act like the affable Iced Earth, Nevermore tosses in monstrous doses of European elements, such as blazingly fast tempos, tautly performed arrangements, and unrelenting blastbeats. The resulting sound is one of impressive brutality and technical dexterity, yet it remains remarkably accessible throughout.
Nevermore’s greatest asset is the trio of musicians that form the core of the group. Drummer Van Williams is the finest American metal drummer today, his thunderous beats sounding muscular and lithe at the same time; he can hammer the skins as hard as Lars Ulrich did in the mid-‘80s, yet pull off dexterous polyrhythms and tempo changes as easily and with as much grace as Rush’s Neil Peart. Guitarist Jeff Loomis, meanwhile, is a virtuosic talent, whose riffs and solos are both dizzying and expressive. Boasting the chops that rival Yngwie Malmsteen, his playing exudes more emotion than any noodler from the ‘80s ever has. It’s vocalist Warrell Dane, though, who is the band’s trump card. The classic, operatic metal singer is a dying breed, as young bands opt (lazily, many think) for a more hardcore style of vocals, but following the example of great singers such as Fates Warning’s John Arch and Candlemass’s Messiah Marcolin, Dane possesses tremendous range, yet he never overplays his hand. As a result, manages not to fall into corny, operatic self-parody. Nobody can sell a song about Armageddon as well as Warrell Dane.
With each new album, Nevermore doesn’t pull off massive surprises, so much as simply evolve steadily and confidently. They have never released a subpar record, their sound seems to become even stronger with each passing year, and to nobody’s surprise, This Godless Endeavor has the band firing on all cylinders once again. Pristinely produced by Andy Sneap (who’s been a busy guy lately, having produced the recent album by Arch Enemy as well), the new release is as stately as it is aggressive. In fact, judging by the cannonading opening cut “Born (The Retribution of Spiritual Sickness)”, Nevermore has not sounded this ferocious in many years, the entire band taking on a death metal form, Dane temporarily eschewing his soaring vocals for a more extreme metal growl, before returning to his singing during the melodic chorus. “Final Product” is a midtempo beast that skewers the sadistic nature of the media (“We’re witnessing a famine of the innocent/ Did they die for religion or the government?”), as is “Medicate Nation”, which tackles our culture’s obsession with designer drugs. Meanwhile, the mellow instrumental “The Holocaust of Thought” segues neatly into the contemplative “Sell My Heart for Stones”, which hearkens back to Queensryche’s Rage For Order album.
It’s the album’s final third that serves up the biggest thrills, starting with the ornate, moody “The Psalm of Lydia”, which alternates between swirling atmospherics and massively heavy moments, Williams’s versatile percussion performance sounding especially inspired. “A Future Uncertain” begins by hinting at the doom metal of Candlemass, but soon explodes out of the gate at a breakneck thrash metal pace, the band revealing more surprises at each turn. The nine minute title track closes this epic album is suitably epic fashion; really, Nevermore is doing nothing new here, but the way they shift from acoustic to electric, from a lugubrious pace to a full-on gallop, not to mention the stunning breakdown five minutes in, is still something to behold.
This Godless Endeavor does seem to contain one track too many, as “Bittersweet Feast” is the lone ordinary song on an otherwise extraordinary album, but minor complaints aside, this yet another chapter in what has become one of the more impressive album streaks in recent metal history. Nevermore has the respect; all they need now are the sales. If there’s any justice in this world, the metal kids will put down those cookie-cutter metalcore albums, and give this venerable band some long-overdue attention.
// Notes from the Road
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