Much like Dream Theater's output, one must expect the unexpected from their front man
With Dream Theater currently enjoying some well earned downtime following the completion of their tour in support of 2009’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings, vocalist James LaBrie has seized the opportunity to focus once again on his own solo material, with Static Impulse the follow-up to his critically acclaimed Elements of Persuasion from 2005.
Although having firmly established his own progressive sound and successful direction outside of the Dream Theater realm with his three previous releases (including 1999’s Keep it to Yourself and 2001’s Mullmuzzler 2 under the moniker of Mullmuzzler), LaBrie has decided to take a completely different route with his latest release. And by different, I mean really different.
Assisted by long running guitarist Marco Sfogli, new bassist Ray Riendeau (ex-Rob Halford), song writing partner/keyboardist/backing vocalist Matt Guillory (ex-Dali’s Dilemma/Zero Hour) and Darkane drummer/vocalist Peter Wildoer, LaBrie has decided to opt for a guitar heavy and more modern sounding direction on Static Impulse, and it’s a sound that’s sure to divide fans of the Canadian vocalist’s former efforts.
The opening track One More Time is the first to showcase LaBrie’s new sound, and it’s certainly an aggressive one. The addition of Wildoer’s aggressive growls leading the fast paced verses, and LaBrie backing things up with his melodic efforts within the choruses, the sound is a cross between the direction Dream Theater’s went on Train of Thought (2003) with melodic death metal in the Darkane/Soilwork vein. But while the description may turn some fans off, the song is certainly one of LaBrie’s strongest solo compositions, and the aggressive direction works well overall.
Jekyll or Hyde is every bit as impressive as the opener, with Wildoer assisting through the choruses to give the metallic progressive rocker a greater sense of extremity when needed, while the slower paced Mislead is another stand out track with its powerful rhythmic groove and a killer chorus.
Euphoric is perhaps one of the few tracks that could have easily slotted on any of LaBrie’s past releases with its strong focus on LaBrie’s own strong vocal melodies and the greater prominence of keyboards to match the guitars, while the speedier Over the Edge and I Tried tend to find the middle ground between LaBrie’s older and newfound sound and direction.
LaBrie and Wildoer dual throughout the aggressive I Need You, Who You Think I Am, the sparse sounding Just Watch Me and the shifting dynamics of This Is War, and will stunning results. And the secret to the success of the songs lies primarily within the song writing. The heaviness is never overdone, nor does it sound out of place alongside LaBrie’s vocals. Instead, the aggression is measured out and delivered at the right times, and more often than not counterbalanced with plenty of melodic passages. It’s far from anything groundbreaking in the sound sense (especially given how much melodic death metal and progressive metal have been brought together over the last decade), but in terms of well written songs, most of what’s featured on Static Impulse works incredibly well.
It’s only towards the end that the album sags a little, with Superstar sounding a little too generic to really stand out amongst such a high number of strong songs, and the closing ballad Coming Home, which is O.K., but just a little too out of place on the album in the direction sense.
LaBrie has obviously made an attempt to reinvent himself on Static Impulse, and I believe he’s succeeded. The push towards a more guitar driven sound is a welcome one, and the addition of Wildoer on co-lead vocals adds a totally new dimension to the album.
Some followers may find the direction within Static Impulse too modern sounding compared LaBrie’s former efforts. But for those with an open mind towards experimentation, Static Impulse is definitely an unexpected gem from Dream Theater front man.
(Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia)
More from James Labrie
- Elements of Persuasion [review]