PLAINS OF OBLIVION
It didn't seem like a coincidence that after the critical praise Jeff Loomis received from his last release, ZERO ORDER PHASE, that he left his main project Nevermore shortly afterward. Admittedly, I have no idea how the story goes. I don't know if Loomis was unhappy in Nevermore and was feeling out his options outside of the project, or if he just did a solo album and saw he could have success outside of the band. To be fair, it might just have all fallen into place without either of those two scenarios playing out. Whatever the case, Loomis left Nevermore a while ago, and now that puts all the pressure on his latest album, PLAINS OF OBLIVION, to launch his new career past the great band he was once a member of.
To be clear here, it can be argued that Jeff Loomis is the very best modern guitarist out today. Sure, some will argue that point, but there really is no denying that Loomis' skills are about a zillion times more profound than 99.99% of the players out there today. That said though, great guitar players don't always make great albums. You need to look no further than Yngwie J. Malmsteen's career to see that firsthand. Loomis though, at least on PLAINS OF OBLIVION, has created one of the single most monumental guitar-focused albums I've ever listened to. PLAINS OF OBLIVION is a literal clinic of guitar perfection.
I think what makes PLAINS OF OBLIVION so much better than the average album from the virtuosos out there (Satriani, Vai, Johnson, Bonamassa, etc.), is that Loomis has not given up any of the heavy, thick sound for which he's so well known. In short, a lot of the riffs you hear on PLAINS OF OBLIVION could easily have been the underpinnings of Nevermore songs, and some parts are even heavier than the framework that band defined for Loomis. To listen to songs like "Escape Velocity", the bulk of the song feels like a Nevermore track. That is, until Loomis replaces the vocal track with some of the single most blistering guitar work he's ever played. This song also features a great near acoustic interlude in the middle that separates the two halves of intensity that could stand as the most proficient playing in Loomis' entire career. To say Loomis' playing is masterful throughout is the equivalent of saying that the sun might keep you warm. Tracks like the vocally led "Tragedy and Harmony" would have, without question, converted nicely to his old band's music. The dichotomy of Loomis's soloing between the female vocals provided by Christine Rhoades and Loomis' raging guitar is incredible.
PITRIFF RATING - 98/100 - Without question, this is the single most masterful exhibition of guitar playing I've heard in years. Being a Nevermore fan, I had high expectations for PLAINS OF OBLIVION, but seriously didn't expect anything close to this level of potency. People always seem to throw bigger names into the equation when talking about the best guitarists out there, but it's nearly impossible to say that Jeff Loomis is ANY less unbelievable than any Satriani, Malmsteen, Wylde, Friedman or Vai out there. I don't even like guitar albums much to be honest, but PLAINS OF OBLIVION is on a far different level of musicianship than anything else out there today. Masterful.