Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis is shaping up to be one of the leading lights of a new generation of metal shredders. He can not only play crushingly heavy riffs and blazing solos, but he can also throw in bluesy bends, interesting phrasing, and a nuanced sense of dynamics that takes his music way beyond the relentless onslaught of many bands in the genre. Where lots of metal guitarists started with Yngwie or Metallica and never looked back, Loomis has a deep knowledge of classic rock and draws from players like Eddie Van Halen and Brian May as much as modern chuggers such as Meshuggah. With a new Nevermore album, The Obsidian Conspiracy [Century Media], and huge tours underway, this might just be Loomis’ time.
How would you characterize the differences between this record and your previous work?
It would have been very easy for us to do a Godless Endeavor part 2—our record from back in2005. We didn’t want to go that route. I think the main differences are the songs are a little bit less complex, and the choruses come in much more quickly. It’s a record that’s more to the point. The tunes are going to come across much better in a live situation and maybe we’ll gain a wider audience too. We’ll see what happens. The record is still quite new.
You come right out of the gate burning on this album. The intro riff in “Termination Proclamation” is pretty in your face. Talk about how that riff and that tune came together.
I’m a huge fan of the diminished scale. I tend to overuse it because I love the darkness and the sound of it. Basically what I do when I’m writing music is I’ll come up with a foundation of a drum pattern. I’m using this thing called Drumkit From Hell by Toontrack. It’s a plug-in that you can use in Pro Tools and it sounds awesome. I’ll come up with a basic pattern that I’m thinking in my head and just jam various riffs over that pattern. I’ll come up with three or four riffs and turn them into a song.
You started on drums, right?
That’s correct. I started playing drums when I was about ten or 11. My dad had a huge record collection of all these ’70s bands. I remember listening to bands like Queen, Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, and stuff like that, and I would just put on headphones and jam along to those bands. It was cool because it gave me a good sense of rhythm and of how to actually play the drums. But I quickly became frustrated with my little 3-piece kit and I found a guitar that my dad had lying around. I picked it up and never put it down.
It seems like you still think very much in terms of drum patterns, syncopation, and accents. A lot of your riffs—if you took the notes out of them— would almost sound like drum rudiments.
You’re extremely right. It’s funny because of course I’m interested in watching other guitar players. I was very much, and still am, into the shred thing. I love ’80s Shrapnel guys like Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. They’re still huge inspirations to me, but it was a lot of the drummers back then that really got me excited about writing and composing music. Deen Castronovo and Atma Anur—the guys that played on some of those Shrapnel albums—are just amazing drummers. So a lot of the stuff that I get inspired by is not just from guitar players, but from drummers as well.
On that first tune, “Termination Proclamation,” the solo at 2:05 has some really fast octaves. How are you playing those?
That’s a tapping riff. I start off with a whole-tone scale that goes into the tapping section. It’s Eddie Van Halen inspired, but it didn’t sound right the first time I started messing around with it. Sometimes that’s the coolest thing, when something doesn’t sound quite right—when it almost has a dissonant sound to it. That’s kind of what I was shooting for.
Speaking of dissonant, there’s a really cool creepy sound a little later that sounds like you’re bending a note and then tagging a note that’s maybe a half-step above it.
That is exactly what I’m doing there. Actually, I was bending the note on the B string up to the original one I had on the high string but kind of went further beyond that to get even more of that dissonance. That was inspired by a guitar player who used to be in Nevermore, Tim Calvert. He did a lot of stuff like that back in the early ’90s when he was in Forbidden. I just love sounds like that.
What was your rig on that tune?
For the entire record, I used an Engl Special Edition head, an awesome amp that comes out of Germany. I’ve been working with those guys now for about four years. I also used an old Peavey 5150 head that belongs to Peter Richards, our producer. We did two channels of the Engl and two channels of the 5150 and combined them together to get this wall of sound. We set the gain on the Engl extremely high so that was basically our chunk amp. The gain on the 5150 was set very low so I had to work at it harder to really get the color of the chords out. With a combination of something that’s so overly distorted and something that’s somewhat clean, you get a great sound when you blend them together. I used an Ibanez Tube Screamer to get a little bit of extra gain for the leads. But these Engl amps are so saturated and so distorted you really don’t need anything like that. I found that if you just add a little bit of the Ibanez Tube Screamer, you get extra pick attack. You get more of that clicking kind of noise. I used my 7-string Jeff Loomis signature Schecter guitar for 99.9 percent of the record. The only other electric guitar I used for different tunings on certain songs was a Schecter Devil Custom. That’s it—those two guitars. For acoustics I just used a Martin 12-string and a 6-string that I think was an Alvarez. I used the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx for most of the clean sounds and effected tones that were on the record. It’s an awesome unit.
You get one of the best 7-string tones out there. How do you keep the low-B so clear?
You have to have some midrange in there for it to cut through everything else. A lot of guitar players out there now are cranking the bass and cranking the treble, but the midrange is really what makes it cut. Of course our engineer Andy Sneap, who has worked with us since 2000, since Dead Heart in a Dead World, is a master of getting the separation that we’re looking for, especially when using 7-string guitars.
Your use of clean tones under distorted tones on this record makes it a much more enjoyable listen than distortion on top of distortion. Talk about your philosophy on guitar layers.
I definitely get sick of listening to distortion on distortion. I grew up listening to bands like Queen where Brian May was doing a lot of different harmonies and layers of guitars— almost treating the guitar like it was a violin. I try to put textures and colors inside the song to make it more interesting. I just love the diversity of Queen because they can go from something that’s completely melancholy to something that’s totally brutal and insane. That’s what I try to do with Nevermore.