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Jeff Loomis: Plains of oblivion

26/04/12  ||  Smalley

There’s a very good reason why most metal bands like to use vocals along with solos in their songs; while a well-timed, well-played solo can serve as a well-earned climax, if they last too long or happen too often, they can easily get annoying (unlike the other kind of climax). You need the vocalist to up yer variety of sounds, and to help establish a few rhythms that are repeated throughout the song, establishing a certain level of repetition so you can better appreciate the refreshing switch-up when the solo comes in. But of course, I’m sure my loyal-to-the-death readers are already extremely aware of these principles, so why am I going into them here…? Because from the sound of “Plains of oblivion”, Jeff Loomis’s second solo record (his first since leaving Nevermore), he himself actually seems to be ignoring them.

Now, while I’m not an expert on Nevermore’s works yet, I have heard some stuff from them, and the best of it worked quite well for me, so I can only wish that Jeff could’ve remembered a certain part of his old group’s formula, which is that solos generally sound better when they exist with vocal work on a track. Which isn’t really an obscure formula to metal. At all. But, I guess to Loomis, leaving Nevermore behind also meant leaving the vocals + solos thing as well; “Hey, I know how to play guitar really well, and Warrel isn’t around to lend that over-dramatic voice of his anymore, so I’ll just rely on my usual thing!”. Not to sound too negative about it, as Loomis still produces some good shit here, and in the end, the reliance on guitar work really isn’t a failed formula, but it does prevent “Plains of oblivion” from being anything more than a solid record.

But to be fair, this whole affair isn’t completely vocals-free, unlike his 2008 debut “Zero order phase”, so at least he’s (gradually) learning; Christine Rhoades provides some vocals on “Tragedy and harmony” & “Chosen time”, which, while kinda generic, are still refreshing, because you get to verify that actual human beings were present in the recording, rather than just one big machine programmed to play drums, bass, and really awesome guitar. And of course, the eternally busy Ihsahn shows up to sing on “Surrender”, and as expected, the track is excellent; it’s a great mixing of both men’s styles, as it sounds to me like Ihsahn had a good deal of input in the songwriting as well (especially those Emperor-y keyboards), and of course, it’s automatically better for that. Both men’s tendencies reinforce one another, Ihsahn’s general awesomeness being backed up by Loomis’s solos, Loomis with a great harsh and clean vocalist, and really, this one wouldn’t be too out of place on say, “After”. Frantic, ambitious, and epic, and with a downright beautiful chorus, it fully lives up to the Ihsahn legacy, and makes me wish he had stuck around for the rest of the record. Oh well, at least I’m even more excited now for his upcoming effort in June.

But anyway, what we’re left with besides those tracks are seven songs that are mainly propelled by Loomis’s guitar work alone, though we do get to hear some other guest musicians, including such heavy hitters as Chris Poland & Marty Friedman. Funnily enough, MegaDave once turned Loomis down from joining them cuz of his youth, then Loomis turned down a later job offer from Dave to work on “Zero order phrase”… hmm, do I sense a lil’ bit of covert nose-tweaking here? Fight, fight, fight! But if Loomis is still regretting what might’ve been, don’t; ‘staine is so obnoxious, he needed his own thread for it! But beside the brand recognition of those stars, in practice, they don’t really add anything to “Plains” that Loomis wasn’t already doing by himself; they’re just more crazy soloers, so it doesn’t really matter if Jeff had gotten the lead guitarist from the most iconic Megadeth lineup, or just brought in a monkey and trained it to play, for all the difference in sound it makes on the final product.

Enough bitchin’ already, though, so how about a few more details and some positivity towards the instrumental tracks? Well, despite the solos sometimes crossing over from the Necrophagist “it’s an egotistical amount of soloing, but he’s somehow earned the right to play it anyway cuz he’s just that good” zone into the Annihilator “I know the listener’s bored by now. but I’ll keep playing ‘cause I just like listening to myself” area, the great soloing still adds a generally enjoyable energy to the record, and the good bass/drum performances (the latter courtesy of Soilwork’s Dirk Verbeuren) add something as well, though they are often overshadowed. And, while the production here isn’t as heavy as on “Zero order phase”, writing-wise, it’s still in the same basic vein, with moments that do have more of a satisfying, “traditional” ebb-and-flow to them, inbetween frustrating stretches of guitar wankery that make the songs feel just a lil’ bit longer then they really are. And the frantic, well-orchestrated “Escape velocity”, the heavy on the neo-classical influence “Requiem for the living”, and the classily melodic “Continuum drift” all manage to overcome the vocals-less handicap to become true-blue highlights of the album.

So overall, “Plains” has a great track featuring a black metal icon, three really good instrumentals, two decent-but-unspectacular cuts with a female vocalist, a solid (if slightly formulaic) acoustic interlude, and three other decent instrumentals, so it’s about four very good-to-great tracks here vs. six solid-but-mostly-unmemorable tunes… I’d say that earns “Plains” something around the 7.5 area, wouldn’t you? I might have been a lil’ more generous with the score here, but Loomis just limited the record in such an avoidable way with choosing solos over vocals, that I just can’t be any more lenient. Maybe with his 3rd record, he can become like a heavy metal Santana, staying and playing awesome guitar as a stable of different vocalist rotate through for their cameos? Maybe get some heavy-hitter singers like Halford, Dickinson, or Zombie Dio (dude didn’t believe in heaven or hell, so this is pretty much the only place that’ll still take him) to guest-spot next time ‘round…? I wouldn’t mind seeing something like that at all, no sir.

7,5

  • Information
  • Released: 2012
  • Label: Century Media
  • Website: www.jeffloomis.com
  • Band
  • Jeff Loomis: guitars
  • Dirk Verbeuren: drums
  • Shane Lentz: bass
  • Attila Vörös: lead guitars (track 5)
  • Tony MacAlpine: lead guitars (track 2)
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Mercurial
  • 02. The Ultimatum
  • 03. Escape Velocity
  • 04. Tragedy And Harmony
  • 05. Requiem For The Living
  • 06. Continuum Drift
  • 07. Surrender
  • 08. Chosen Time
  • 09. Rapture
  • 10. Sibylline Origin