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Nevermore - "Nevermore (reissue)" (CD)

Nevermore - "Nevermore (reissue)" CD cover image

"Nevermore (reissue)" track listing:

1. What Tomorrow Knows (5:11)
2. C.B.F. (6:03)
3. The Sanity Assassin (6:21)
4. Garden of Gray (4:48)
5. Sea of Possibilities (4:19)
6. The Hurting Words (6:17)
7. Timothy Leary (5:12)
8. Godmoney (4:44)
9. The Systems Failing (Bonus Track) (3:34)
10. The Dreaming Mind (Demo) (3:56)
11. World Unborn (Demo) (3:58)
12. Chances Three (Demo) (2:48)
13. Utopia (Demo) (4:40)

Reviewed by on January 6, 2009

"Nevermore's epic vision is on full display here, but only as an unrealized ideal."

Most power metal just doesn't work, but few things rule like a classic Nevermore album. It could be that Nevermore succeed because they're so unsubtle and melodramatic, not afraid to kick up some over-the-top noise, horns to the sky. Then again, most power metal falls short precisely because it's unsubtle and melodramatic. So that's a paradox. If the guys from Manowar were here, they'd say that Nevermore is so good because the spirit of true metal flows in their veins, and I think I'll let it go at that.

By the time Nevermore released this self-titled debut album, now reissued with bonus tracks by Century Media, most of the band had already trained hard in a defunct Seattle thrash group called Sanctuary. Even this early on they were respected enough by the underground community to appear at the Dynamo Open Air Festival, and had won acclaim from major players like Dave Mustaine. But for all that, they didn't capture their vision on record until their classic sophomore LP, "The Politics Of Ecstacy." This first album shows the band unwilling to take enough risks to break away from their generic pack mates. In their refusal to push the music toward silly extremes, they come off as ridiculous for the only time in their career.

Nevermore's epic vision is on full display here, but only as an unrealized ideal. The first track, "What Tomorrow Knows," matches stop-start riffs with a slamming, metronomic beat, but the arranging doesn't live up to the ambition. Eighty seconds in, the instruments drop into two seconds of pure silence, meaning to disorient listeners and build up their expectations. Instead, it just sounds like the song stopped, then started again, which is at best a frustrating break in the rhythm.

"C. B. F." is the second track, and feels far more epic, though it's only forty seconds longer. The song is more successful in organizing its soft-loud dynamics and has a lusher feel. "What Tomorrow Knows" is a monster of riffage sure enough, but Nevermore aren’t Metallica. Their songwriting's weakest when the tongue comes out of the cheek.

"The Sanity Assassin" is probably the most successful track on this album, because it's the most earnest and bizarre. When Warrel Dane warbles "He's the sanity assassin / He's coming down to steal your mind!" on this jittery power ballad, you really can't argue with him, whether or not it's exactly poetry.

"Garden Of Gray" opens interestingly, with a stuttering bass groove and distorted vocal samples, but the atmosphere disintegrates when the full band enters. The song feels like a weak amalgamation of prior songs, and Dane doesn't put his back into the vocal performance. Since he doesn't feel like he's having fun the song drags, even when Dave Loomis tries to recover things with a screeching, scathing extended solo.

After a while "Sea Of Possibilities" manages to capitalize on a great, urgently thrashy rhythm guitar line. Before that the song feels like its being pushed too violently forward, and the band struggles to catch up. After a slow, tense bridge, Nevermore treat us to some inspired guitar dissonances occupying a bizarre middle ground between Fredrik Thordendal's guitar work and something from a Mogwai album.

All through the album Warrel Dane shoots very hard for the vocal style he perfected later, but he can't escape some influences from bad power metal. In particular, he doesn't act out the songs as much as he could. He frequently sounds like he's just bending his voice around for the hell of it, yelping and crooning in rapid succession, turning his vibrato on and off like a kid playing with a light switch.

And when Dane puts himself far out in front he's just distracting. On the meandering ballad "The Hurting Words," the slow folky melodies ought to be a low-key frame for the vocal performance. Instead he tries way too hard to be the front man, and his performance clashes with the arrangements.

Nevermore start redeeming themselves with "Timothy Leary," a straightforwardly crunchy tune about opening your mind with acid tabs. The lyrics are goofy enough that you can't stop grinning, and even if Dane's ranting spoken word breakdown doesn't convince you to suspend disbelief, the long, power-metal styled "Ommmm" chants will be the high point of your day.

With its rapid, winding and unpredictable riffs, "Godmoney" prefigures Nevermore's later accomplishments in technical metal. The vocals aren't half as interesting as the hurricanes of palm-muted notes in the bridges, but the band keeps up enough pressure to deliver a solid and sometimes mesmerizing performance. "The System's Failing," which closed the original album, is a guitar powered juggernaut in a very similar spirit.

The four bonus tracks appended with the Century Media's reissue are demos dating from 1992 and offer solid, busy songwriting with a far more thrash influenced guitar tone. The first two tracks, "The Dreaming Mind" and "World Unborn," aren't particularly memorable for their riffs or vocal melodies, but they deliver an excellent sense of urgency, and probably tore up more than a few mosh pits back then. "Chances Three" is a sugary, listless three minute ballad, but the last demo track, "Utopia," has a ferocious main riff and excellent dynamics. It stands up against the best songs on the album proper.

The extended essay in the liner notes isn't nearly as valuable as the bonus tracks. Martin Popoff spends two pages interviewing Warrel Dane, with the only context coming from a gushingly positive review of the album. When you read a record review in the liner notes of said record, you know the label's trying way too hard. The essay and interview do nothing to express what tradition Nevermore come from, explain which bands inspired the performances, or say much about their history. Instead, Dane is left to ramble about the band's past in very unenlightening terms. "I mean, Van is, I think, one of the best drummers playing metal right now, but Mark was a great drummer as well," he says. Great dialogue there. Way to ask the right questions, Martin Popoff. This reviewer is downright speechless.

This is probably the last Nevermore album you'd want to own, but they're a band with such a passionate fan base that I can't imagine it gathering much dust. It's an interesting glimpse at a group that would later become truly great, with a scattering of absolutely righteous moments. If Nevermore didn't burn with the spirit of true metal, they would have left it at this one.

Highs: Moments of theatrical, uncompromising brilliance.

Lows: Some songs flounder cheesily into generic power metal.

Bottom line: It's more than a historical curiosity, but it doesn't come close to Nevermore's classic work.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)