This Godless Endeavor
evermore are deeply unfashionable. They were unfashionable when they began in the early '90s, as ex-members of Seattle thrash band Sanctuary stuck to their metal guns as other members went grunge. They are unfashionable now, even in metal's current resurgence. Nevermore don't play the angst-ridden, emo- and hardcore-influenced metal that's popular at the moment. Instead their soaring, melodic sound reaches back to a time when metal singers actually sang and guitar solos were an art form.
Vocalist Warrel Dane can rightly be called one of metal's last great singers. His voice is grand and powerful, but he avoids hitting shrill high notes, and thus eludes the cheesiness common in, well, metal singers that hit high notes. While his voice is decidedly old-school (think Empire-era Queensrÿche), Nevermore's sound is an intriguing amalgam of old and new metal. Melodic leads and riffs share equal space with heavy thrash and death metal; perhaps the closest comparison could be Queensrÿche meets Testament. But the mixture of influences is so diverse and fluid that Nevermore don't sound like anyone else, a feat in a genre glutted with clones.
Their new album, This Godless Endeavor, reveals the full potential of the band, which was hindered by poor production on its last album, as well as a Spinal Tap-esque succession of guitarists through the years. The sound here is huge and clean, thanks to much in-demand producer Andy Sneap. Ex-Testament guitarist Steve Smyth joined the group in 2004, and seems to be the missing link. His songs fit in perfectly with the rest of the album, and together with main guitarist Jeff Loomis, the guitar work here is smoking. It's not gratuitous wankery, either. The leads always fit the songs, sometimes driving them to different places; check out the furious solo in "Medicated Nation" that kicks the song into overdrive.
The album has a good mix of fast and slow material. The fast stuff is Nevermore's most brutal to date. "Born" begins the album with flat-out thrash, but leads to a trademark soaring chorus, complete with cascading guitar melodies. "Final Product" features blazingly fluid two-handed tapping, while "The Psalm of Lydia" has wickedly dissonant, Carcass-esque harmonies and some "holy s**t" solos." "My Acid Words" is a melodic Swedish thrash throwdown that heads into a dark, tritone-laden midsection, eventually resurfacing for yet another catchy chorus. There's even a cool little bass-and-drums instrumental, featuring a guest solo by legendary guitarist James Murphy.
The slow stuff is where Nevermore truly shine. "Sentient 6" starts as a basic, plodding ballad, but somehow morphs into a massive, doomy stomp that induces both tears and headbanging. The structure well fits the lyrics, which are about a robot designed to serve as "a prototype of benign convenience," but who kills humankind in a fit of divine justice. The album's title track is its crowning moment, though. It's a nine-minute behemoth that goes from acoustic guitars to anthemic, galloping riffs in its first half. The pyrotechnics start five minutes in—first, there's an incredible blastbeat section in 3/8. Then there's a crushing breakdown in 7/4. Then come odd meters, hemiolas, spiraling solos, and your head spinning the rest of the way; the songwriting recalls the epic unpredictability of Metallica's …And Justice For All.
Despite their strengths, Nevermore are still relative unknowns in America; their melodic brand of metal is much more popular in Europe. However, a slot on Dave Mustaine's Gigantour this summer, as well as this album, may change that. This Godless Endeavor is easily one of this year's best metal releases, and the fact that Nevermore have carved out their own sound should help the album's longevity. One flipside to "unfashionable" is "timeless"; even if 16 year-olds aren't rocking this album in their cars yet, they just might do so in 20 years.