Nevermore spent the majority of their twenty year run under the radar, but there’s no denying the huge influence they’ve cast over modern metal. Their mix of melodic and extreme metal sounds under a vague groove-prog umbrella defied categorization, and the seeds of many a djent band were surely planted the day that Jeff Loomis picked up a seven string guitar for the first time. But what truly set them apart was vocalist Warrel Dane, who tragically passed away this month. His rather unorthodox vocal lines made him a polarizing figure, but his emphasis on lower pitches despite possessing a near five octave range was reassurance that baritone singers like me could find our place in classic metal.
I’d like to rank Nevermore’s seven full-length albums as a tribute to their fallen frontman and a lament to a reunion that seemed inevitable but tragically will never be. The band was consistent enough for their works to be on more or less the same level in quality, but each album has a distinct identity that allows for multiple interpretations and preferences. Whether you prefer the gritty 90s material or the polished tech metal of their later years, there’s no denying that Nevermore was always finding a way to keep metal alive.
Nevermore’s beginnings as a Sanctuary offshoot are nowhere near as obvious as they are on the group’s self-titled debut. There aren’t any “Battle Angels” rewrites, but the album seems to pick up where Into the Mirror Black left off. The tempos are more groove-based, but the tone is similarly gritty and Dane’s falsettos were still quite prominent on songs like “C.B.F.” and “Godmoney.” While this results in a black sheep effort in hindsight, it is a pretty good album as the almost industrial stomp on “Tomorrow Never Knows” stands out and “The Sanity Assassin” establishes the sweeping formula for future ballads to follow. It’s not a first purchase, but you wouldn’t go wrong in checking it out.
Final Grade: B+
6) Enemies of Reality
Enemies of Reality is another black sheep, album though this has more to do with the discord and seeming sabotage behind the scenes. A shoddy production job courtesy of infamous Queensryche guitarist Kelly Gray made this album all but unapproachable, and the angry songwriting fueled by disputes with Century Media may have intimidated any casual fans brought on by its predecessor.
Fortunately, a remix by famed producer Andy Sneap revealed the album’s true potential, as the title track serves as one of their strongest anthems, “Tomorrow Turned into Yesterday” and “Who Decides” are among their best ballads, and “Seed Awakening” is one of their most climactic thrashers. It’s an awkward transitional effort in the grand scheme of things but still an album that established fans will enjoy.
Final Grade: B+
5) The Politics of Ecstasy
Nevermore truly came into their own with The Politics of Ecstasy. The team-up of Jeff Loomis and future Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O’Brien gave birth to the band’s signature intricate riffing, and the songwriting is much more diverse than what came before. In addition, Dane’s delivery is much more focused and ends up being one of his most pissed-off performances to date. While “The Passenger” and “The Tiananmen Man” are among the band’s sloppiest compositions, “The Seven Tongues of God” and “The Learning” are astounding epics, and I do find “This Sacrament” and “Lost” to be quite underrated. Seeing how 1996 was mostly defined by Marilyn Manson and Pantera try-hards, I can only imagine how this sounded in comparison…
Final Grade: A-
4) The Obsidian Conspiracy
Nevermore’s final outing is often seen as their weakest link by fans, an underwhelming effort considering the five year gap between it and This Godless Endeavour. It certainly didn’t help that the songwriting was intentionally watered down with shorter lengths and simpler structures, no doubt influenced by Warrel Dane’s solo album released two years before. As much as I should be cynical about the whole affair, I absolutely love it.
The emphasis on vocal lines over riffs works surprisingly well when you consider how infectious the lines often are on songs like “Your Poison Throne” and “Emptiness Unobstructed.” I’m not one to tell people what to think nor one to preach vindication, but I do wonder if the attitude toward this album may change in the near future. It’s not a perfect effort by any means, but it might not be a bad idea to give it another chance.
Final Grade: A-
3) This Godless Endeavour
It’s easy to see why This Godless Endeavour is often seen as Nevermore’s magnum opus. It brought the band a higher level of exposure, interestingly doing so by emphasizing the band’s technical chops and upping their extreme influences on “Born” and the title track. On the flip side, tracks like “The Final Product” and “Medicated Nation” retain their catchy hooks while “Sentient 6” is one of the most powerful ballads they ever composed. Many millennials will cite as their first Nevermore album, myself included, and it certainly deserves its influential status. The band’s inability to truly capitalize on its momentum is one of the biggest tragedies in 2000s metal.
Final Grade: A-
2) Dreaming Neon Black
Dreaming Neon Black could be seen as the exposure of Nevermore’s softer, more personal side. Such an expression is often accompanied by images of Axl Rose whistles and sensitive crooning, but in the mind of a man like Warrel Dane, those musings turn to existential horror. The album details the apparently true story of a past partner of Dane’s who joined a cult and subsequently drowned herself, resulting in a slew of angry thrashers that deal out the usual religious/political critiques alongside ballads filled to the brim with catastrophic longing. It’s probably one of the most inaccessible Nevermore albums, yet one that still demands to be experienced. In the wake of Dane’s passing, the songs on here will only get more chilling and heartbreaking with time.
Final Grade: A
1) Dead Heart in a Dead World
Dead Heart in a Dead World could hardly be called commercial but there seems to be a concerted effort to make a more accessible album compared to past efforts. The production is more polished, the vocals feature a greater deal of layering that results in a fuller sound, and the songwriting has a clearer emphasis on catchiness than before. Thankfully, the band retained their riffing style and lyrical cynicism, resulting in an album that’s easier to get into but ultimately represents everything that Nevermore stands for. In fact, the approach gives the songs a subtle classic metal vibe comparable to their fellow Seattle idols in Queensryche. It’s a shame that the album never got to an Empire/Black Album level of success, but “Narcosynthesis,” “The River Dragon Has Come,” and “Believe in Nothing” remain timeless staples all the same. Absolutely mandatory listening for anybody who calls themselves a metal fan.
Final Grade: A
R.I.P. Warrel Dane (March 7th, 1961-December 13th, 2017)
I went to Ball State University and graduated with a BA in Creative Writing. Currently specializing in writing album reviews when I should be working at my day job.
My Grading Scale
A: An essential classic regardless of genre preference
B: A good album recommended to fans of a given genre
C: A flawed album with elements that are still enjoyable
D: A dull album that may only be redeemable for fans
F: It is a goal of mine to never review an album like this
I also play in a couple different bands and take it as much as I dish it out. Feel free to check them out!