‘The Obsidian Conspiracy’
Since they first emerged out of Seattle, Nevermore have forged a reputation that has seen them become one of the most preeminent heavy metal acts in the contemporary era. Recognised and admired for their fusion of powerful riffs, flawless technicality and ballad-like vocals, Nevermore’s 7th studio album The Obsidian Conspiracy was, no doubt, the most anticipated album of 2010.
Released a long five years after the masterful This Godless Endeavor, The Obsidian Conspiracy is a technically-sound and imaginatively unique addition to the band’s already extensive discography. Stylistically speaking, Nevermore maintain the core identity of the band through the use of carefully structured, iconic riffs and a unique blend of rhythm, speed and technicality. As one of the most identifiable aspects of the Nevermore sound, it is difficult to fault the production and sonic quality of the album. Like every album before it, The Obsidian Conspiracy is wonderfully mastered by long-time producer Andy Sneap in a way that beautifully complements the aggressive and equally melodic aspects of each song. Guitarist Jeff Loomis is, again, a notable contributor to the overall sonic direction of the album, but despite the polished nature of his guitar work, there is an evident transition towards a more rock-focussed style. Unlike most Nevermore albums Loomis appears to be a lot less technically creative, opting for controlled rather than excessive guitar solos. The more notable tracks include Emptiness Unobstructed and Moonrise (Through Mirrors of Death) where traditional riffs and a handful of enjoyable solos are plentiful. However, while the guitar work demonstrates a commendable sense of maturation, Loomis’ limited range does make the album significantly less enjoyable than its technically proficient predecessor.
While Loomis’ contribution is undeniably important, the rhythmic core of the band cannot be forgotten. As the backbone of the Nevermore sound, drummer Van Williams provides a superb performance fusing together aggressive, fast and technically challenging drum beats. On tracks such as The Termination Proclamation and She Comes in Colours Williams, together with bassist Jim Sheppard, perform an invigorating and equally energetic mix of rhythmic beats that continue to be so vital to the band’s identity. Similarly, Warrel Dane’s vocal performance is one that never ceases to identify him as one of the best vocal performers in the contemporary heavy metal scene. His wonderfully unique tone stimulates the senses and allows listeners to vicariously connect with the story being told. Perhaps the most impressionable aspect of his performance on The Obsidian Conspiracy is Dane’s broad vocal range. During Your Poison Throne Dane opts for a more aggressive and deeper tone that effortlessly transcends into difficult operatic-like vocals that are significantly higher in range. It’s a transition that is virtually unmatched by contemporary metal vocalists and continues to be one of the most appealing aspects of Nevermore. While Dane’s vocal range is not nearly as broad as on Dead Heart in a Dead World and This Godless Endeavor they are a positive contribution to the overall identity of the new album. Because Loomis’ influence on this album is more subdued than on previous albums, Dane is handed a more prominent role that is well deserved.
However, putting the sonic elements aside there was one aspect that slightly diminished the overall appeal of the album. Lyrically, the songs are evidently weaker in their thematic direction. Slightly more simplistic and with a greater emphasis on repetition, the lyrics that appear on The Obsidian Conspiracy could never match those that appeared on Enemies of Reality, Dead Heart in a Dead World or, most notably, This Godless Endeavor. Because the presence of Warrel Dane is far greater on this album the lyrics are easily picked-up and, as such, their many flaws are sadly evident.
Yet, while there are qualities that are either lacking or subdued in Nevermore’s latest release it cannot be seen as a diminished ability to write truly magnificent songs. In my opinion, the expectations for this album were unreasonably high and the anxious 5-year wait only fuelled the expectation of god-like brilliance. Overall, the album does not instantly hook you in like other releases and it is likewise very different to the elaborate masterpieces of the past however, it is still a worthy contribution to the Nevermore discography which itself is faultless.