Nevermore: What Doesn't Kill
Writing and recording quickly, and without overthinking, contributed to the spontaneity and relative simplicity of making The Obsidian Conspiracy. Compared to much of Nevermore’s catalog, its songs are fairly traditional and instantly engaging, substituting economy for indulgence. “It would have been very easy for us to do ‘This Godless Endeavor Part 2,’ which I think people were anticipating and expecting,” Loomis says. “But that’s the last thing we wanted to do. As artists, you always want to strive to be different and try something new. In the end, Peter [Wichers] had a lot to do with cutting the fat out. I would give him a seven- or eight-minute piece of music, and he would help me trim it down to three and a half or four minutes.”
While The Obsidian Conspiracy is less sprawling than This Godless Endeavor, it’s just as eclectic and emotional. For those who like it heavy, there’s the galloping beat, chugging riffs and evocative chorus of “The Termination Proclamation,” and the Meshuggah-style rhythmic lurch and haunting, layered chording of “Moonrise (Through Mirrors of Death).” For atmosphere, there is “Emptiness Unobstructed,” with its fragile arpeggios, sustained power chords and commercial vocal harmonies, and “The Blue Marble and the New Soul,” which features minor-key piano and operatic vocals.
“I’ve always been a big fan of bands like Queen,” Loomis says. “They might have a song that was very melancholy, but then the next song on the album would be very pure and brutal. I think the progressiveness and aggressiveness that our fans have always liked is there on this record, but the songs are just a little bit more whittled down.”
Loomis has recorded with a seven-string guitar since Nevermore’s 2000 album Dead Heart in a Dead World. Originally, he used an instrument built by a friend. These days, he favors his Jeff Loomis Signature Schecter guitar with EMG 707 pickups. When he tracked The Obsidian Conspiracy, he ran the guitar through an Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal and into a Special Edition Engl or a Peavey 5150, using various alternate tunings. For “She Comes in Colors” and “And the Maiden Spoke,” he played a six-string Schecter Devil Custom tuned to drop-D. “You get sharper picking articulation when you dial in the Tube Screamer just a little bit to get a touch of extra gain,” he says. “It’s a little trick I learned from [producer] Andy Sneap. You get more click from your pick when you’re hitting the strings.”
Live, Loomis brings two Engl Savage 120 stacks out with him and mics only the bottom cabs so he’s not distracted by the sound of the top cabs. On the road, he plays two of his Schecter signature seven-strings, one with a Floyd Rose tremolo and one with a standard bridge. “It took a long time to find the right guitar-and-amp combination,” Loomis says. “I used to use Mesa/Boogie, but I’ve found Engls to work perfectly with the Schecters. The clean tones are crystal clear, and the distortion is super brutal.” Loomis is also considering adding a TC Electronic G-System floorboard to his live rig. “It’s very sturdy and roadworthy,” he says, “and the effects are beautiful.”
Unlike some seven-string players who concentrate on creating dense, bowel-shaking rhythms, Loomis makes speed and dexterity—as well as crushing muted power chords—his focus. Taking inspiration from Brian May, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman, he plays with a searing combination of flash and emotion, picking from the wrist and mixing his techniques to attain maximum flexibility. “A lot of guitar players are very strict about always alternate picking, and I think that’s kind of wrong,” he says. “If you mess around a little bit with your picking, you can do different things. You can economy pick, alternate pick or use picking and legato at the same time.”
While Loomis improvised many of his solos on past albums, he prepared large portions of his lead work for The Obsidian Conspiracy in advance. “We really wanted to see what the songs needed,” he says. “I wanted to tell stories with the leads, which is why there’s not a lot of pure shredding. It’s more about creating a feeling that comes from the heart and soul. At the same time, I didn’t write out the solos completely, because when you do that it just sounds too worked out to me. So it was about 75 percent worked out and 25 percent ‘let’s go for it and see what happens.’ ”
As for Nevermore’s open guitar spot, the band didn’t give it much thought during the making of the new album; Loomis played all of the guitars on the record. But over in Hungary, an ambitious young player and Nevermore fan named Attila Vörös was looking for them. The guitarist eventually tracked down Broderick’s girlfriend over the internet and sent her links of him playing Nevermore songs. She forwarded the clips to Loomis, who was blown away by Vörös’ talent.
“His playing is amazing,” Loomis says. “He really did his homework, too. He knew exactly what was going on with all the little nuances in the songs. So I invited him over to my house and auditioned him, and I really didn’t have to show him much of anything. He just knew what to do. We’re all very excited, because he’s a great player and a good kid. There’s a very good chance that we’ll end up making him a full-time member.”