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This Godless Endeavor (Century Media)

Although it's not technically a rock opera, Nevermore's This Godless Endeavor appropriates the dramatic elements of that form, especially the expository lyrics. Almost every verse includes breathless first-person narration. Occasionally overwrought language ("Your face is painted on my soul") doesn't obscure the solid plotlines here, the best of which pits an android against the mentally inferior human creators it decides to exterminate.

Prog-metal can be groove-deficient and instrumentally excessive, but Nevermore creates rhythm-driven, hardcore-style breakdowns and keeps most tracks in the five-minute range. Guitar wizard Jeff Loomis efficiently shreds spiraling melodies behind singer Warrel Dane's voice or in tandem with new axeman Steve Smyth, instead of waiting for a designated solo segment. All the tightly tangled playing makes Loomis' isolated outbursts even more riveting. When he breaks out of a dual-guitar march for a ringing three-second squeal, it's like witnessing a pass-first point guard break free for a spectacular dunk.

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