Friday, May 4, 2012

Jeff Loomis - Plains of Oblivion

Shred is by far one of the most difficult styles to do correctly. As much as I love guitar solos, 45 minutes of non-stop sweep picking, tapping, and exotic scales can definitely be draining on the listener. Even the original god of shred, Yngwie Malmsteen, has abandoned this approach for an album based in songs. Despite Yngwie’s success, there are still guitar wizards who are putting out full albums of solo-driven songs. This includes ex-Nevermore axe man, Jeff Loomis; or at least, it used to.

Loomis’ new album, Plains of Oblivion, is similar to the first Malmsteen album, Rising Force, in the sense that most of the album is instrumental and is focused on the lead playing, but there are still a few songs with vocals. In this case, Loomis recruited Ihsahn (Emperor) and Christine Rhoades. Sadly, it is these songs that hurt the record. Firstly, the order of these tracks is strange. Vocals show up on tracks 4, 7, and 8; Loomis should have chosen three tracks in a row, or separated them even further (especially considering the 9th song is more of a classical tune than a metal one). On an album like this, vocals tend to stick out like a sore thumb unless they are done really well. Ihsahn’s track, “Surrender”, is decent for what it is. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect a collaboration between Loomis and Ihsahn to sound like, but that’s the problem. The song doesn’t really fit in on the album because it’s so different from the others. On the other hand, the songs involving Rhoades are both good and bad.  “Tragedy and Harmony” showcases that Rhoades is actually a pretty talented vocalist, and it doesn’t really seem out of sync with the rest of the album. By contrast, “Chosen Time” is closer to a ballad and shouldn’t be here. Despite these downfalls, these are only 3 out of 10 songs.

The shred-styled songs are good for what they are. It doesn’t need to be re-iterated that Loomis is more technically proficient than 99% of metal musicians, and he brought in some great guests to compliment his work. Unfortunately, I don’t think Loomis managed to write anything as memorable as songs like “Miles of Machines” and “Jato Unit” from his debut. Still, the first three tracks are pretty fierce, especially “Escape Velocity”, which gets pretty thrashy underneath all of Loomis’ leads. The only other track of note is “Rapture”, which is a classical piece.

Despite what I’ve been ranting about, Plains of Oblivion is a pretty good album. It will take a couple of spins before you can really remember the songs without vocals, but the sheer virtuosity of Loomis’ playing makes it worthwhile. If you are new to his solo work, start with the first album, but this is definitely a worthwhile follow-up. Hopefully, he ditches the vocals for his next album, as that was the only major problem.

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"The Ultimatum"
"Escape Velocity"
"Tragedy and Harmony"

Final Rating:
3.6/5 or 72%

Written by Scott