A Love Letter to Nevermore and Warrel Dane
This is just like Warrel — to exit stage left before the show is over. Seventeen years ago, he once hurried off stage mid-song through the crowd to the dressing room to use the bathroom (I assume) at Valentine’s in Albany, NY… a maneuver I’ve yet to see recreated with such audacity.
My old band, God Forbid, received our heavy metal boot camp in the spring of 2001, bequeathed with an opening slot on the Nevermore headline tour supporting their masterpiece Dead Heart in a Dead World. It was a masterclass in all things alluring and ugly about life on the road in the realm of metal.
The God Forbid dudes and I put Nevermore on a pedestal. They were an established, finely-tuned, veteran heavy metal band who were having their moment in the sun. They were the shining jewel of the label we had just signed to, Century Media. As we had always done, through drunken tomfoolery, we charmed and cajoled our way into Nevermore’s graces at a Century party in L.A. the previous year. We came from such different worlds, but bonded on a visceral level from the outset. Both bands were misfit toys — defying the purity and convention of our respective corners of the heavy music buffet.
The tour’s running order was the lowly G. Forbid supporting our Century Media debut Determination, Angel Dust (power metal out of Germany also on CM) in the 2-slot, the first ever US tour for Opeth as main support, and Nevermore as headliner. Coming out of the hardcore scene, we were a fish out of water if there had ever been one. This was the REAL METAL WORLD. Not the bastardized, urban melting pot we emerged from. It was like going to fucking Atlantis and not knowing how to swim. The thing that was amazing to me about Nevermore when I finally saw them was that the guys in the band looked like how they sounded; vaguely European and majestic. And they had cool-ass metal names. “Warrel Dane” and ”Van Williams” aren’t the names of normal dudes – it was like the Three Musketeers meets Shaft. Warrel looked like he should have been casting spells upon a cauldron on a misty hilltop. He was born to be on that stage; a mesmerizing spectacle in presentation and affectation.
We were nervous, intimidated, but determined to sink or swim. I’m going to be honest, we kind of caught hell from the Nevermore camp. There were squabbles over merch prices, gear being loaned/borrowed, getting denied food a few times, and even having to play after them one night. But I never held it against them in the long run. You get pissy in the moment, but what I had an intuition for then, and grew to know over time, was that Nevermore was their own form of underdog. They were fighting for every scrap, every fan, every bit of credit for being one of the pure talents in heavy metal, which they were. Shows were selling out, and they were the headliner, but a lot of attention was going to this little band from Sweden called Opeth playing before them.
When Nevermore should have been reveling in their time of coronation, their spotlight was muted, dulled, and sullied.
In truth, Nevermore was an acquired taste. They were too forward-thinking for the standard power metal crowd. For most of my extreme metal friends, Warrel’s vocals were polarizing. I was in love with Warrel’s voice from day one. While these power metal dorks at Wacken were singing about Tolkien and dragons, this guy brought the agonized reality of a lived experience. True, piercing, somber emotion in a metal scene dominated by masculine posturing and choreographed rage. Nevermore was Queensryche in a Meshuggah world through the lens of Seattle’s grungy melancholy. Those references are probably putting it too simply, but some bands will always seem ahead of their time to me.
It’s impossible not to think about this band’s career, and not feel the parallels with my own bitter sweet existence as a musician. Every triumph is riddled with roadblocks, many of which are self-perpetuated. If you are a fan of the band and Warrel, it’s difficult to think about their trajectory, and not wonder what could have been.
The truth is, all these years later what I really hold from that time together is a feeling of growth, connection, and brotherhood. We were all going through the ringer together. Just at different stages in our lives and careers. They gave a weird-ass metalcore band from New Jersey a shot when they didn’t have to, and I’ll never forget it. I met people that would be part of my life forever. That’s the tour I met Willie Gee on. That’s the tour I met Tito Picon on. If you’ve been friends with people that long, one of you will probably attend the other’s funeral at some point. That’s a crazy notion you begin to think about as you get into middle age.
I think Warrel was from another era in that artists of yesteryear lived what they sang about. The art comes with a cost. I don’t know anything about how Warrel passed, so I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I know he left everything in the work. He bled for it. It was his heart and soul in the art. And for whatever acclaim was achieved while he was alive, I hope his legend will continue to expand.
Undying gratitude to Warrel Dane, Jim Sheppard, Jeff Loomis, and Van Williams,