I quite liked James LaBrie’s early solo albums – the ones released under the name Mullmuzzler. And Elements of Persuasion, the first to be released under his own name, was pretty solid too. But for me, LaBrie’s voice as a solo artist really came into its own on 2009’s Static Impulse. That album was progressive, aggressive and expressive – a blend of melody and heaviness, with healthy lashings of the Gothenberg sound, the stellar guitar work of Marco Sfogli and the death-growl vocals of drummer Pete Wildoer (Darkane). Now on Impermanent Resonance, LaBrie and his core band – Wildoer, Sfogli, bass player Ray Riendeau and right-hand-man Matt Guillory (keys, background vocals, co-songwriting) – aim to take that sound further, aided by occasional songwriting contributions from guitarist Pete Wilchers (ex-Soilwork).
The results are definitely in the vein of Static Impulse – which is a very, very good thing – but there’s something extra here: a greater focus on vocal hooks and on melodies that seem to borrow heavily from a pop sensibility without ever seeming forced or pandering. On the contrary, the balance of pop structures against a melodic death metal, Gothenberg-influenced setting seems to amplify the aggression of the material, not pretty it up.
Highlights are skewed toward the first half of the album. Opener “Agony” picks up where Static Impulse left off, but tracks like “Undertow” and “I Got You” push that style further on multiple levels: vocal performance, compositional depth, sonic punch. “Back On The Ground” is certainly from the same galaxy as Static Impulse’s equally anthemic fourth track “Euphoric,” but is even more engaging and affecting. The album’s second half seems to work harder at sustaining moods and themes – a few songs almost seem to form a suite of songs about the struggle to maintain an endangered relationship – before blasting home with the death metal-influenced, breakneck pace of “I Will Not Break.”
Throughout the album, LaBrie’s voice is all confidence and animation, free of the constraints of Dream Theater – not that playing with one of the greatest prog rock bands of all time is a bad constraint to face, but you can definitely hear and feel that LaBrie is simultaneously comfortable and exhilarated by the challenges of performing his own material, and he seizes upon it with an infectious energy.
If you’re a Dream Theater fan, you might be surprised at the direction LaBrie has headed in for his solo material. It’s far heavier, angrier and thrashier than anything Dream Theater has released, even at the height of their progressive metal forays like Train of Thought. Wildoer’s screamed vocals may be a bit too much for some fans, for instance. But even if you’re anti-scream, it’s well worth calling a truce on your stance to appreciate the sheer melody, songwriting and virtuosity of this album (not to mention the quality of the production, which is almost like a band member in its own right). For me, the true measure of the worth of LaBrie’s solo output is that I find myself looking forward to the next one already.
Impermanent Resonance [InsideOut Music] is out July 26 in Australia, July 29 in Europe and August 6 in the North America.