Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nevermore - This Godless Endeavour

A sage used to keep the neighbours up all night, his vociferous mind sprinting relentlessly over all the matters of the day worth contemplating. His favourite pastime was coining neologisms. One fateful insomniac night he closed his ears to the dawn birds philandering outside and came up with the word rifferama. Surprised by this assortment of syllables he got to work imposing meaning upon the semantic destitution poking its letters. Hours of meditation brought the conclusion that rifferama referred to an array of musical passages known as riffs and conjured via a guitar, all of equally high calibre, linked together under the rubric of a single song.

It remains to be seen whether the sage had just been listening to Nevermore’s sixth album, This Godless Endeavour, when he sat down to explicate what this nascent word signified. I don’t know what a sage might listen to during the early hours, perhaps something a bit mellower to help ease those adrenaline glands into slumber, a bout of Azure Ray or, staying within the rock/metal sphere, some early Lacuna Coil (before all that horribly banal newfound heaviness). Regardless, one word fills my mind to capacity when considering the work of Nevermore, especially this 2005 album, and that is rifferama.

Intent is declared from the off as ‘Born’ rockets out of the speakers. Veering close to death metal during tremolo-picked ecstasies overlaid on pummelling drum-battery, the opening suggests that this album is upping the ante in terms of viciousness, giving a bludgeoning blow of 7-string brutality to the more melodic aspects of the band’s back catalogue. But no, how wrong we were, for the thick fury gives way initially to an eastern-themed break, then a chorus overflowing with melodies as vocalist Warrel Dane sings a paean to humanism and how despite the fascistic enterprise of religion (my own choice of words) we are born equal. It’s this marrying of ferocious heaviness and melodic hooks that make Nevermore one of the best metal bands to emerge in the last decade, and this synthesis is no less apparent on This Godless Endeavour.

‘Final Product’ opens with the sort of harmonious riffing that wouldn’t seem out of place on a mid-90s Swedish melodic death album – I could just envision In Flames weeping upon hearing it and despairing over their own musical trajectory. ‘My Acid Words’ also brings to mind the dense juggernaut riffs of At The Gates, dynamic and fast, but delicately harmonised at the same time. Yet these riffs quickly segue into other vibrant displays of power-chord melees, the never-ending progression of weighty chunks of guitar potency is indeed unending. Jeff Loomis, shredder extraordinaire, has not balked at packing each and every song with as much guitar-laden content as possible – and does it without things descending into a dull collage of ideas birthed during a late-night jam. There is enough variation and multifariousness to lead to the creation of a wonderful set of dynamics; witness the manoeuvres of ‘Sentient 6’ as it starts with a slow, clean intro, advancing to a soaring chorus, switching to a lead break of smooth harmonies, flowing into a succinct Loomis solo, and finally finishing with a double-bass led, chugging outro.

Ex-Death guitarist James Murphy adds some references to Spiritual Healing in his guest spot on ‘The Holocaust of Thought’, a short ditty appropriately interpolated as a respite towards the latter half of the album. Penultimate track ‘A Future Uncertain’ lovingly intermixes an acoustic intro and midsection with a cavalcade of blusterous riffs propelled along by Van Williams’ thrashing drum track. This comes to a head during the acoustic interlude when tender melodies collide with thundering distortion in a wonderful game of call and response building up to another of Nevermore’s incredibly intricate and technical riffs.

As if the first ten songs were not awesome enough, as if the joyous coalescence of savage guitar assaults and uplifting hooks were simply not up to standard, as if Loomis’ sweep-picked fret gymnastics were just going through the motions, as if Dane’s powerful angst-ridden vocals were whispers in the dark, as if the mighty threads of riffery were no more a preface, the album ends with what can only be described as a godly creation, a sublime typification of everything that came hitherto and more. The vast title-track, stretching out at nine minutes but bolting past in what seems like half that time, is the apogee of this brilliant album, a supreme finale, epic and engaging, fierce and melodious. Announcing itself with a mellow sequence of arpeggiated chords, the song shifts gears into a more up-tempo section led by Dane’s vocals mimicked by a succession of guitar harmonies, before dashing into an assemblage of lustrous riffery. Here we can see the rifferama at its most intense, specifically during the mid-song break where riff upon riff erupt at will escorting us to Loomis’ famed solo. Proceedings end in an immense falsetto shriek proclaiming the coming armageddon as the guitars conclude their unyielding dual chuggathon.

You want a definition of rifferama? Want to know what the hell that damned sage was spouting about? I recommend a listen to This Godless Endeavour, here Nevermore summates the whole notion in ways that words inevitably fail to, and in the process create what could be their most creative work of genius thus far, even surpassing such gems as Dead Heart in a Dead World, no easy feat for sure, but every track on this album drips with ingenuity, a sense of songwriting so often shunned in favour of guitar histrionics, and a perfect blend of ruthless musicianship and melodic invention.


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