More of a departure from his day job than Warrel Dane's recent solo outing, NEVERMORE guitarist Jeff Loomis has unleashed one goddamned fiery tribute to the instrumental shred lords that have inspired his playing since the SANCTUARY days. You see, back before the swarms of flannel-clad grunge-miesters descended down from (Seattle's) Mount Olympus and sucked the shred out of metal with their de-tuned power chords and heroin-handed anti-chops, guys like Jason Becker, Vinnie Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman and a handful of others reigned supreme. These men were masters of their instrument and to hear their electrically charged hands careen up and down the fret board was something to behold; and their boundless talent, something to be respected. While the fact that Loomis himself is a renowned Seattle-based musician might be coincidence (or is it???), it's no mystery that he's brought the credibility of shred back to the forefront of metal with "Zero Order Phase".
From the onset of "Zero Order Phase", there's an overwhelming feeling that you're listening to a hidden gem from the back catalogue of Shrapnel Records. A couple of the only differences between this disc and those of shredder yore would be Loomis' progressive-thrash minded attack and the fact that the years spent crafting NEVERMORE tunes has made the guitarist a songwriter first and soloist second. The latter is one quality that shines through not only on arrangements throughout the disc, but on the immediacy of the melodies that serve as guitar-born "vocal hooks" during the would-be choruses on "Shouting Fire At A Funeral" and "Sacristy". Culling the technical thrash aggression of his finer NEVERMORE moments, "Opulent Maelstrom" brings a solid dose of Jeff's signature metallic riffery, along with a healthy dose of exotic lead work. Metal's grand poobah of guitar insanity, Ron Jarzombek (WATCHTOWER, BLOTTED SCIENCE, SPASTIC INK) cuts heads with Loomis on the solo-fest "Jato Unit". The flurry of notes these two dish out at each other could easily see the title changed to "Flight Of The Dueling Bumblebees", or something as equally alluding to the advanced guitar lesson the song provides. A bit more melodious is the contribution of CANNIBAL CORPSE's Pat O'Brien on the Steve Vai-meets-death metal "Race Against Disaster". The not-so-metal (yet highly regarded jazz bassist) Michael Manring lends his virtuoso to the very metal "Cashmere Shiv". Almost DREAM THEATER-like in quality and essence, the track also features some fretless guitar work courtesy of producer Neil Kernon. Aside from these contributions, former NEVERMORE drummer Mark Arrington is the only other musician invited to Jeff's party. Not that he needs anymore help, as this really is a well-rounded and diverse effort despite the fact that its sole purpose is to showcase the man's incredible guitar skills.
Will Jeff Loomis and "Zero Order Phase" prove once and for all that shred is indeed not dead? Not single-handedly, as a new breed of axe-worshippers is emerging from their shells to help bring back the whiddley-whiddley attack. Whatever your personal take on instrumental guitar metal, or band members stepping out on their own to produce said music might be, don't mistake the attempt Jeff Loomis is making as a gimmick or novelty. In just under one hour, Loomis lays down more skill, melody and metal than a bus full of his peers have done in their combined careers. All hail the new guitar god.