For those who lived through the 1990s, it seems that Nevermore, formed in 1991, came around during a time when a lot of rock bands either adopted grunge stylings such as Kiss with Revenge (1992) and Warrant’s Dog Eat Dog (1992), or lightened up like Metallica’s Metallica (1991), Testament’s The Ritual (1992), or Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction (1992). Of course, there were outliers such as Nine Inch Nails and Pantera who found success their own respective courses and AC/DC who seemed oblivious to everything but themselves and Marshall amplifiers.
As the 1990s moved along, rock expanded its sound from a very interesting but compressed aesthetic line. A number of divergent debut albums appeared in the mid-1990s that would set the tone for the post-Nirvana rock era such as Korn’s Korn (1994), Rage Against the Machine’s Rage Against the Machine (1992), Marilyn Manson’s Portrait of an American Family (1994), Tool’s Undertow (1993), and Deftones Adrenaline (1995).
And how to classify such releases as Jeff Buckley’s 1994 Grace?
Following the decline of the 1990s alternative/grunge marked by Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994 and Soundgarden’s disbandment in 1997, the late 1990s gave us nu-metal that was very different from previous metal. Metal, however you choose to define it, in the 1990s was going through a transitional time as all genres periodically must.
Nevermore didn’t seem influenced by very much of that. If anything, it was the sound of metal firmly from the 1980s that they drew from—the high, operatic vocals of Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, and Geoff Tate of Queensrÿche along with the complex arrangements of these bands plus those of pre- Black Metallica and pre-Countdown to Extinction Megadeth.
By the time Nevermore released their first album in 1995 many of the 1980s metal acts were downsizing their live shows from arenas to theaters and from theaters to clubs. The vocal styles of Priest, Maiden, and Queensrÿche were out in favor of deeper, more guttural vocals. While Tool seemed to be able to get away with longer and more complex songs, others were stripping away the layers and lengths.
Thus, Nevermore began with a number of strikes against them. They rose from the ashes of Sanctuary—vocalist Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Shephard disbanded rather than go grunge as their record label pressured them to do—and released their first album in 1988, but lacked the exposure, recognition, fan base, and deep roots of other 1980s peers such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Maiden, Priest, Megadeth, Queensrÿche, Exodus, Overkill, Testament, and Motorhead, all of whom got started before them. While not all of those bands achieved the same level of success or maintained the same lineup, they did stay together, and in their 1990s versions many of them abandoned or modified the very sound Nevermore was recreating.
What they did have is a powerhouse vocalist, a guitarist, Jeff Loomis, capable of shredding anything and everything, and solid songs, all of which are evident on their first release, 1995’s Nevermore. The album showcases all of the essential Nevermore elements: complex guitar lines, Dane’s vocals punctuated with high-end bursts reminiscent of his Sanctuary days, and a variety of moods and tempos. Nevermore also features what would be the core lineup of the band: Dane, Loomis, bassist Jim Sheppard, and drummer Van Williams who replaced Mark Arrington. Pat O’Brien, Tim Calvert, and Steve Smyth would also play guitar with Loomis along the way. Holding up from beginning to end, it’s a more than solid debut from a band that had already found their basic sound. The In Memory EP (1996) follows this same path. It opens with the basher “Optimist or Pessimist” and “Matricide”, the following track, runs the gauntlet from slow and moody, to mid-tempo, to sped up as gentle guitar passages alternate with all-out shredding. “In Memory” lays down a hard groove. They even toss in a rework of Bauhaus material.
1996 proved to be a productive year for Nevermore as they also released their second full-length album The Politics of Ecstasy (1996). Opener “The Seven Tongues of God” is a galloping thrasher that establishes most of the blueprint for the album. A few tracks detour from that plan. “Passengers” slows down the sound but still carries a sense of impending doom. The title track feels a little disjointed and quirky. “Precognition” is a short acoustic/electric instrumental.
Three years later Nevermore closed out the 1990s with Dreaming Neon Black (1999). It’s something of a concept album based on Dane’s experience of his girlfriend joining a cult and then disappearing. The mid-tempo and heavy songs continue in the same vein of previous Nevermore releases. But after “Beyond Within” and “The Death of Passion” most of the remaining songs just seem like more of the same. Most of the notable tracks are the ones that either ditch the metal or draw from the form for only part of the song such as “Dreaming Neon Black,” which uses a vocal line with no screaming or yelling combined with a single acoustic guitar that alternates with electric guitars, drums, and more metallic vocals. Christine Rhoads provides additional vocals on the track, and it would have been interesting to hear her more (Jeff Loomis would work with Rhoads on his second solo album Plains of Oblivion). Moodier tracks such as “Forever” and especially “Lotus Eaters” surpass some of the faster ones.
Nevermore would start the new millennium with Dead Heart in a Dead World (2000). Overall, it’s a better work than its predecessor. A trio of fast tracks kicks off the album: “Narcosynthesis”, “We Disintegrate” that concludes with a Middle Eastern finish, and “Inside Four Walls”. “Evolution 169” slows the album a bit. Most of the tracks fall into one of these two types. We get a fast, frantic cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” that might have worked better if it were played slower and took greater advantage of Dane’s various modes of singing to bring out the sense of existential searching from the original. “Insignificant” starts with an acoustic guitar and clean singing at the beginning before punching into drums and electric guitar briefly before falling back into an acoustic guitar with drums. Ironically, it suggests a style that might have worked better for “The Sound of Silence”. The mid-tempo “Believe in Nothing” also flips from acoustic to electric. A mid-tempo track, it’s the most commercial piece from the album, and unsurprisingly it became a single. The title track is okay but nothing exceptional.
The box set includes the two versions of Enemies of Reality: The first version produced by Kelly Gray in 2003 and the second version remixed by Andy Sneap in 2005. The backstory is that Nevermore were in the final album of their contract with Century Media and did not sign a new deal before the album. Consequently, their recording budget was small. Their timeline and limited funding allowed them to hire Gray. Nevermore and a number of fans were unhappy with the production, so in 2005, after resigning with Century Media, the second version with an additional track was reissued and remixed/remastered by Andy Sneap who worked with the band on releases before and after Reality. Perhaps for these reasons Reality comes off as a rushed work from a band rehashing previous ideas.
This Godless Endeavor (2005) gets the band back on track. Combining elements of power metal, death metal, progressive metal, and thrash metal, opening track “Born” may be Nevermore’s best track ever. Even the final song, “This Godless Endeavour”, doesn’t let up as Dane summons the much higher register of his earlier self and sings the final lines “Welcome to the end my friend / the sky has opened.”
The two CDs from 2008’s live Year of the Voyager are here, but one wonders why the two live visual discs that also contain promotional videos and additional live footage are left off when including them would have made The Complete Collection fully complete in both audio and video. Going from ten to twelve discs doesn’t seem like much of a stretch (perhaps a future reissue or expanded video release is a possibility?).
Nevermore’s final release is The Obsidian Conspiracy (2010), their only album to ever chart in the Billboard 200. Fans seem divided about whether Nevermore finished on a high note or a low note. In various interviews, Loomis says that he pulled the guitars back to make more room for Dane’s voice and that producer Peter Wichers encouraged him to trim down the songs, make them simpler, and make them more melodic. Thus, many of the tracks follow the model of 2000’s “Believe in Nothing”. There are surprises such as “The Blue Marble and the New Soul”, which shows a different style of song from the band. It’s interesting as one track, but a whole album in that style might not have worked. Obsidian Conspiracy may be the sound of a band distilling itself, dropping the fat and tightening up, but other listeners hear it as the sound of band flattening its sound and cooling off. Who knows if they would have followed this direction or not.
In 2011 the band would effectively break up with Loomis and Williams leaving the band. Loomis joined Arch Enemy, Williams joined Ghost Ship Octavius and Dane reformed Sanctuary with Sheppard. While a Nevermore reunion seemed like it might be possible at some future point, Dane’s death in 2017 of a heart attack in Brazil forever sealed off that option.
For those disappointed with Obsidian Conspiracy and the knowledge that this stands as the band’s final studio statement, there is a bonus disc included with The Complete Collection. It’s not a lost Nevermore album and contains no unreleased studio tracks, but it captures a lot of rare and unreleased songs including covers (the Tea Party, the Doors, and Judas Priest), demos, instrumentals, and live work.
Regarding audio, there’s not much you can pick apart about the completeness of this collection. All of the bonus tracks of outtakes and demos on the reissues of Nevermore and In Memory are here as well as the aforementioned two versions of Enemies of Reality.
Nonetheless, when a band stops and a key members dies, there is always a feeling of incompleteness. The Complete Collection, however, does an excellent job of gathering what we do have from a band that had much more to give.