Nevermore: What Doesn't Kill
Originally published in Guitar World, September 2010
Five years and three major illnesses since their last album, Nevermore return with The Obsidian Conspiracy. Jeff Loomis reveals how the group survived adversity to come back stronger than ever.
When asked why Nevremore took five years to release the follow-up to 2005’s This Godless Endeavor, guitarist Jeff Loomis shakes his long blond mane and smiles. Patiently, he relates the mishaps and shake-ups that the progressive metal group has endured over the past decade. As Loomis explains, the fact that Nevermore recently released their most structured, accessible and well-received album, The Obsidian Conspiracy, is practically a miracle.
“We came really close to breaking up after we finished touring for This Godless Endeavor,” he says. “We couldn’t stand to look at each other anymore. We definitely needed some time away to regroup.”
Nevermore weren’t just sick of each other—they were falling-down ill. During the tour cycle for This Godless Endeavor, no fewer than three of the band’s members were struck down. In summer 2006, guitarist Steve Smyth discovered he was suffering kidney failure and needed a transplant. One of Smyth’s close friends donated a kidney, and after the operation, the guitarist left the band to recover. He never returned, citing personal and professional differences with his former bandmates. (He currently plays with Forbidden.)
Not long after Smyth’s surgery, bassist and co-founder Jim Sheppard had a flare-up of Crohn’s disease, a gastro-intestinal condition he’s had since he was a child. He too had to leave the tour to undergo surgery, while the band carried on with former Megadeth/Iced Earth bassist James MacDonough. “Fortunately, the surgery went well,” Loomis says, “and, for the most part, Jim is okay now.”
Even frontman Warrel Dane had health problems. The singer, who has Type 2 Diabetes, developed an infection while in Bochum, Germany, that required brief hospitalization and caused Nevermore to cancel a show that was supposed to be filmed for their DVD The Year of the Voyager.
After Dane recovered, Nevermore tried to flesh out their lineup by hiring guitarist Chris Broderick, who had played with them live from 2001 to 2003. But Broderick went on to join Megadeth when guitarist Glen Drover left that band, and Nevermore were down one guitarist once again. “You can see how crazy things got touring for that record,” Loomis says. “The changes in the lineup, the fighting, the illnesses. We had ambulances arriving at shows on more than one occasion, and even with all of that, we remained on the road for almost two years. By the end, we knew we had to either take a long break or break up.”
Nevermore decided to go the extended-hiatus route, taking two years off, during which time Loomis and Dane remained as busy as ever. The singer wrote, recorded and released his first solo album, 2008’s Praises to the War Machine, which was produced by Soilwork guitarist Peter Wichers and featured a guest spot by Loomis. The guitarist, for his part, appeared on albums by Annihilator, Tim “Ripper” Owens and, one of his greatest guitar influences, Marty Friedman. In addition, Loomis conducted guitar seminars throughout the U.S. and Europe and put out his own instrumental solo shredfest, 2008’s Zero Order Phase. While he enjoyed playing bass, guitar and keyboards on that album, he missed the progressive rhythms and majestic vocals of Nevermore, so in early 2009 Loomis started writing new songs with manic urgency. A mere 45 days later, he had an abundance of material. “I came up with 12 to 15 riffs a day and compiled them into songs,” he says. “I spent only two months writing the record, because it all just poured out of me. In mid 2009, I called the guys, and we went back in the studio.”
Since Dane vibed so well with Wichers on his solo record, Nevermore hired him to produce The Obsidian Conspiracy. The band recorded drums at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, then sojourned to a house they rented in North Carolina on bucolic Lake Norman, where the album was recorded over three weeks. “It was a different approach for us,” Loomis says. “There was nothing around there for miles. For me, it was almost too isolated. It was really hot and a little overwhelming, and there was nowhere to escape to. But it was okay, because I just did all my guitar parts, then flew home.”