Released: 2008, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
All-instrumental guitar albums are a pretty tough sell outside the musician and gearhead circles. Sure, a person with only a passing knowledge of the instrument can appreciate PASSION AND WARFARE, SURFING WITH THE ALIEN or SPEED METAL SYMPHONY on an elementary level, but to sit down and pore over minor scales, dissect sweep-picked arpeggios or dispute the merits of hammer-ons versus pull-offs, not bloody likely.
So how will ZERO ORDER PHASE, the first solo album from Nevermore guitarist, Jeff Loomis, be received by the critical mass? At its most grassroots level, this album is a showcase of one of the genre’s finest neo-classical shredders playing today. His prowess in Nevermore—and Sanctuary before that—is undisputed, even earning him a tryout with Megadeth when he was just sixteen years old. But his full-time gig comes with the equally splendid vocals of Warrel Dane, an important aspect of music that many people feel lost without. The fact remains to be seen how this record will be received but the smart bet is that, as good as it is, ZERO ORDER PHASE will have a niche audience centered around fans of Loomis’ work in Nevermore and that will be about it.
Loomis wears his influences on his sleeve with the Vai-like progressive rock of “Azure Haze” and “Sacristy,” both songs drawing major inspiration from the flashy virtuoso’s most commercially-successful release, PASSION AND WARFARE. In other places, Loomis’ neo-classical roots shine through on “Miles of Machines” with blazing arpeggios undoubtedly drawn from hours spent deconstructing Yngwie Malmsteen’s early catalogue. “Opulent Maelstrom” features some unreal shredding and when Loomis goes toe-to-toe with Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower) on “Jato Unit,” axe enthusiasts will be left with scrambled brains. “Devil Theory” sounds like a Nevermore leftover—hell, throw in a guest turn from Dane himself and this could have been ripped right from the DREAMING NEON BLACK sessions—with Loomis’ seven-string Schecter unleashing a torrent of molten riffs and dizzying leads. Rather than going all out for the full hour, “Cashmere Shiv” is a noodly prog-rock gem where Loomis repositions the spotlight on the virtuosity of Michael Manring tearing up a fretless bass and even producer Neil Kernon strapping on a fretless guitar for the solo. Likewise, album closer “Departure” is a quiet fusion piece that brings the listener back to ground level after an awe-inspiring trip through Loomis’ impressive repertoire.
ZERO ORDER PHASE is a concrete testament to Jeff Loomis’ skill both as a musician and a songwriter. Like any true solo album, it should represent a departure from the artist’s regular work and it certainly does that. The only problem is that an hour is an awfully long time for most people to sit through guitar wankery and it is difficult to imagine this material standing up to repeated or casual listens. The issue isn’t whether or not Loomis can play. Rather, it is whether people will want to hear him do his thing for sixty minutes straight and that market belongs to a very select few that Loomis’ name has not reached just yet. But for those who just can’t sleep at night knowing ENEMIES OF REALITY would have been that much better with more polyrhythms and less of that over-emoting hack Warrel Dane, ZERO ORDER PHASE is your kind of album.
KILLER KUTS: “Opulent Maelstrom,” “Azure Haze,” “Cashmere Shiv,” “Devil Theory,” “Miles of Machines”