Nevermore - The obsidian conspiracy 3/5

Reviewed: 9-1-10





Tracklist:

1. The termination proclamation
2. Your poison throne
3. Moonrise (Through mirrors of death)
4. And the maiden spoke
5. Emptiness unobstructed
6. The blue marble and the new soul
7. Without morals
8. The day you built the wall
9. She comes in colours
10. The obsidian conspiracy
11. Temptation (bonus track)
12. Crystal ship (bonus track)


Right off the bat; this CD came as a bit of a disappointment. Not a crushing one, mind you, but a definite dip in quality by Nevermore’s standards. After 2005’s ‘This godless endeavour’, an arguable career best (though it comes 2nd to ‘Dead heart in a dead world’ for me), I suppose they found themselves in a bit of an impossible situation. If they tried to strike while the iron was hot they may after all have come up with an inferior follow-up anyway, and would no doubt have stood to accusations of attempting to rush out a quick cash-in on the critical praise they had harvested.

As it happens, they went down the other route, and after a few years of near-relentless touring the band came to a complete halt as Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis each launched a solo career – Dane’s ‘Praises to the war machine’ being something of a simplified take on the Nevermore groove, while Loomis went into the stratosphere in terms of technicality and fret shredding with his effort.

The long break hasn’t affected Nevermore’s overarching style, but the influence of Dane’s solo work may have asserted itself on ‘The obsidian conspiracy’ in some way – Peter Wicher’s presence in the producer’s chair is no doubt a factor in that – as it represents a more toned-down Nevermore than has been seen in many years. Maybe Loomis worked out most of his guitar fantasies on ‘Zero order phase’, as while the trademark hyperspeed grooving is still there to be accounted for, there are more instances of simpler arrangements and a laid-back nature to some of the songs than ever before.

But this isn’t the main source of disappointment on ‘The obsidian conspiracy’ – change isn’t necessarily a bad thing after all. No, that honour, I’m afraid, belongs to simple inconsistency in the songwriting, which is a sad thing to report when it comes to a band like Nevermore. After the taut, machine-like precision of ‘This godless endeavour’, which flowed like mercury from start to finish, this CD is a more patchy affair with some very strong songs let down by weaker ones, and even otherwise good songs that damage themselves with some questionable musical decisions.

The opening track, “The termination proclamation” actually suggests the CD will be much worse than it is, and thankfully quickly proves to be a false dawn. Barely over 3 minutes long, it is one of the most straightforward songs Nevermore have ever written, and after a promising opening flurry of chords quickly descends into a dull groove that leads to a chorus remarkable in its insipidity.

“Your poison throne” is a marked improvement though, and begins a run of the CD’s strongest songs. Unfortunately a couple of these also suffer from the self-sabotaging nature that manifests from time to time. The chorus to “Moonrise” is a hugely melodious effort, and is inspiring despite some uncharacteristically unsubtle lyrics from Dane, but almost feels as though it belongs in a different song and doesn’t spring organically from the verses. Thankfully the song at large and the chorus itself are both good enough that this feeling subsides somewhat after a few listens. “And the maiden spoke” isn’t so lucky though, as amid the high speed pounding and Dane’s furious verses, the slowdown for the chorus is completely out of place and cuts the song down in its prime, which is doubly frustrating as it is otherwise easily one of the best and most intense on the CD.

The middle of the CD comes bearing unexpected gifts – in a pretty daring move, the listener is hit with an unusual 1-2 of a big, booming half-ballad followed by a gentle, delicate piece of introspection. “Emptiness unobstructed” is a remarkable bit of stuff despite an obvious commercial edge, and sounds more like something from ‘Praises to the war machine’ than anything else with a huge, swelling chorus and a more relaxed, open approach from the rest of the band in the background that leaves space for Dane’s vocals to soar. But just because Nevermore are a generally technical band doesn’t mean that any deviations from this pattern are to be met with scorn, and this is a far more successful track than the heavier attempts at streamlining the band’s sound found elsewhere on the CD.

Coming hot on the heels of this emotional chest beating, “The blue marble and the new soul” is by contrast so fragile-sounding that it feels as though it would almost disappear into the ether were you to attempt to sing along to it. The song takes a while to settle, but as soon as it creeps its way to the captivating chorus the spell is cast and any doubts should be overcome.

Unfortunately it is after this winning duo that the CD hits the skids a little. Like the opening track, “Without morals” just plain and simple isn’t a very good song. Aimless guitar chugging that just doesn’t engage at all and the annoying vocal melody are the sorts of thing that gives Nevermore’s snipers ammunition, and the song feels almost like a self-drawn caricature of the band.

“The day you built the wall” and “She comes in colours” then follow, both making extensive use of clean and acoustic guitars. The latter is a great song, blending the soft and heavy aspects of Nevermore as well as anything you’ll hear on the CD, but “The day you built the wall” isn’t as powerful and suffers from it’s proximity to the other, feeling like one acoustic-assisted song too many on what is a slightly lopsided CD.

Thankfully the closing title track is an absolute monster, a barrage of crushing guitars and drums that finally jacks the speed and complexity up to the explosive levels one would have expected of the opening song and closes the regular version of the CD in classic Nevermore fashion. The elaborate but rather clunky limited box edition comes with 2 bonus cover versions of varying fortunes – The Tea Party’s ‘Temptation’ doesn’t fare so well, but The Door’s classic ‘Crystal ship’ is given a good run through that meshes surprisingly well with the ultra-sleek production ideals and wraps things up in a more organic fashion than these sort of grafted on tracks usually do.

Coming off the back of such a well-regarded predecessor, ‘The obsidian conspiracy’ was always likely to be a step down, and while it is still an enjoyable CD and recommended without a 2nd thought to fans of the band, the distance they have dropped since their last sighting still comes as something of a letdown. Still, if you can forgive a few forgettable songs and a couple of curious missteps, Nevermore still have plenty of quality to offer.



CREAG




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