A change that ensures that oblivion will be nowhere in sight
When Jeff Loomis released his debut solo effort Zero Order Phase in 2008, it was primarily a side project to work within Seattle (Washington, U.S.) based progressive power metal outfit Nevermore but times have changed dramatically since then with Loomis now becoming a fully fledged solo artist after he parted ways with Nevermore in early 2011 - citing personal and musical differences.
Wasting little time, Loomis set about putting together his long awaited sophomore solo effort, and in as little as two years after the release of Nevermore’s last album The Obsidian Conspiracy, Loomis is back with Plains of Oblivion.
As you would expect, Loomis doesn’t stray too far from the template that was established with the release of his debut album on the opening track Mercurial, with Loomis and his current band (Kamikabe bassist Shane Lentz and Scarve/Soilwork/Warrel Dane drummer Dirk Verbeuren) laying down an absolutely shredding track that demonstrates Loomis’ growing song writing skills, and the musical abilities of those performing (especially Verbeuren who quite literally kills here and continues to do so throughout the album). Ex-Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman’s guest appearance certainly adds to the diversity of styles on offer throughout the solos featured within the track, and helps give the album a worthy start to proceedings.
The follow on track The Ultimatum is another fast paced/shredding instrumental that boasts a bit of a neo-classical sound crossed with shades of old Nevermore in the underpinned riffing, and features some great lead guitar solos from Planet X/CAB/solo artist Tony MacAlpine, while on Escape Velocity, Loomis takes the reins, and proves that even without guests artists, he’s more than a capable guitarist in his own right.
It isn’t until the fourth track, Tragedy and Harmony, that Loomis breaks away from the formula, with this song the first to feature guest vocalist Christine Rhoades (who made a guest appearance on Nevermore’s Dreaming Neon Black album back in 1999, and who is now a member of Meddling Gretel). Obviously keen to expand his horizons as a song writer, TragedyaAnd Harmony is a solid enough track, with dark and heavy sounding overtones that seamlessly blend with the mood of the album. But as strong as the song is, I can’t say that it adds that much to the album with it’s somewhat formula like approach and Rhoades’ crisp vocals. Rhoades’ other contribution to the album appears on Chosen Time, which I believe is a song that works much better for both Loomis and Rhoades, even if it is a ballad.
One track that’s sure to get the most attention is Surrender, which features a guest appearance from ex-Emperor/Peccatum vocalist Ihsahn. Ihsahn’s decipherable blackened growls and clean harmonies add an edge to Loomis’ guitar frenzy that is a perfect pairing. It’s a shame that the collaboration is limited to the one track. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see the pair working together.
Elsewhere, Hungarian guitarist Attila Vörös (Leander/Warrel Dane/ex-Nevermore) puts in a great performance on the surprisingly melodic mid-paced neo-classical stand out cut Requiem For The Living, while ex-Megadeth/OHM:/OHMphrey guitarist Chris Poland adds a touch of space and class to Continuum Drift.
Loomis himself closes out the album with the stunning acoustic piece Rapture and the slower paced and heavy Sibylline Origin.
Loomis could have easily followed up his debut with a virtually identical album and got away with it in the short term. But in terms of longevity, Loomis has decided to expand his repertoire to include some vocalists, and songs that rely less on endless solos and focus on moods. While not everything works, overall Plains of Oblivion is a worthy follow-up to Zero Order Phase, and the kind of album that will help Loomis’ solo career expand rather than stick to the one blueprint.
(Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)