Posthumous albums may all be released under similar circumstances, but each one tells a different story. Sometimes you get closure from an elder statesman’s parting bow. Other times you get youthful ambition that is sadly cut short yet ultimately untainted by time. Warrel Dane’s Shadow Work is a particularly strange case; what should’ve been welcomed as his first solo outing in a decade has instead become a tragic exercise of what could have been.
What makes this album such a stinging listen is how much it sounds like Nevermore. In contrast to the accessible goth-tinges of 2008’s Praises to the War Machine, Shadow Work is all-out technical prog metal with an array of intricate guitar work and extreme tempos that stand on equal footing with Dane’s sweeping range. I imagine playing Dead Heart in a Dead World on tour made an impact on him, and it’s even more painful to think that an eventual reunion with Jeff Loomis and co. would’ve likely been inevitable if fate hadn’t gotten its way.
That said, it’d be a disservice to think of these musicians as a mere backing band. Chemistry and technical prowess are matched as the guitars jump between crunchy rhythms and intricate leads, while the drums are arguably more consistently relentless than the bulk of Nevermore’s work. Dane’s vocals also come out well; I can’t deny that he sounds fatigued at times, but his lines express plenty of those atypical phrasings, broad range, and abstract themes that we’ve all come to love.
But with Shadow Work only including eight songs, one being a minute-long intro and another a cover, it’s easy to wonder how cohesive the songwriting and overall track flow will be. Most songs do admittedly sound rather homogenous, opting for the tried-and-true grinding verse/melodic chorus contrasts. Thankfully the more melodic fanfare of “As Fast as the Others” and the more exotic “Rain” allow for some solid variety, but another ballad or more accessible song would’ve balanced things out.
Shadow Work may be the most heartbreaking posthumous album I’ve ever heard. If Warrel Dane hadn’t passed, it would likely be received as an enjoyable though unexceptional offering. It feels more natural than the last Sanctuary album thanks to the more earnest musicianship, but there’s a sense that something even greater was going to happen down the road, even if a Nevermore reunion is likely just a personal pipe dream. I’m not sure how much closure this album will provide, but I’m glad it exists. At the very least, it’s another good addition to the discography of a talented, tormented man.
“As Fast as the Others”
R.I.P. Warrel Dane (March 7th, 1961-December 13th, 2017)
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