Sunday, 25 August 2013

James LaBrie's 'Impermanent Resonance' - Album Review

With Dream Theater's new self-titled album due next month, it was either genius or misguided for frontman James LaBrie to release a solo album in the preceding couple of months. My money is on genius as all the buzz surrounding the progressive metal titan's new release will surely bring lots of attention Impermanent Resonance's way - at least I hope so, as this album deserves to be heard! This is LaBrie's third bona fide solo album and the first since 2010's Static Impulse which was very well received by the metal community. LaBrie, and writing partner Matt Guillory, have stuck to the same style here fusing melodic, almost AOR-influenced, metal with big chunks of the Gothenburg sound to create something heavy yet catchy that will appeal to a wide audience. Crucially, the same musicians that appeared on Static Impulse return on Impermanent Resonance. Joining Guillory on keyboards is guitarist Marco Sfogli (Creation's End), bassist Ray Riendeau (Machines of Loving Grace; Halford), and drummer Peter Wildoer (Arch Enemy; Darkane) who also provides the album's excellent harsh vocals. The only real difference to the set-up was that ex-Soilwork guitarist Peter Wichers chipped in with some songwriting contributions and production, plus he also recorded some additional guitars for the album too. Talking of songwriting, there is something that I need to address before getting on with reviewing the album. LaBrie, whose name is on the front cover, only co-wrote five of the twelve songs here. On his other two solo albums, he co-wrote every single song, so it seems odd that his contribution to his own solo work has diminished. I would be interested to understand why that is the case, but the most important factor about this album - at least for me - is do the songs stand up? The answer, happily, is a resounding yes!

Things get off to a fine start with Agony. Immediately we are greeted by a fine guitar riff that drives the song's verses. Initially, it is sung as a duet between LaBrie and Wildoer who's gut-wrenching screams are a great contrast to LaBrie's iconic voice. LaBrie's solo work is always more immediate than the work of his day job and it is nice to hear him sing some more conventional metal songs too. Still, there is plenty of technical prowess on displace with an short but excellent solo from Sfogli keeping things interesting. Undertow follows and this is one of the album's best songs. Great keyboard atmospherics and pounding drums hail a groovy verse before Wildoer's vocals in the pre-chorus act as a storm before the excellent melodic chorus. This album is all about light and shade and the balance is near-perfect here. The keyboard/guitar duel between Guillory and Sfogli is impressive but not over-the-top - adding to the track rather than being there for it's own sake. Another excellent song in Slight of Hand is up next with it's keyboard-led verses and anthemic choruses. The most obvious thing when listening to this album is just how underrated Guillory is as a musician and as a composer. We need to hear more of his work! The power ballad Back on the Ground follows and offers a slight change of pace. It is very poppy, but some heavy guitars in place stop it from becoming too clich├ęd, and sounds like something Amaranthe would write. As a lover of all things 1980s and AOR, I really like the song but I can see some more traditional metal fans having trouble getting their head around this one. The poppiness continues with the extremely catchy I Got You. Pretty clunky lyrics aside, this song is melodic metal heaven. It perfectly fuses big guitars and crashing drums with delicate keyboards and hook-filled vocal melodies. This seems a good time to bring up the album's production. It sounds massive! LaBrie, Guillory and Wichers have done an excellent job to make this album sound fantastic. The guitars are always big and the keyboard subtleties are never buried. A perfect balance!

The next highlight is Lost in the Fire. LaBrie makes excellent use of the soft-side of his voice in the song's verses backed up by a wall of keyboards. He really soars in the choruses though and the slower pace really brings out the best in him. He really is one of the best singers in metal today. After the slightly more generic Letting Go we are greeted by the epic Destined to Burn. It has a similar feel to Lost in the Fire but slightly heavier with prominant guitars. This song has the grandeur of Dream Theater condensed into a four minute song and it works fantastically and bears resemblance to songs in their catalogue like Another Day. Another poppy ballad by the name of Say You're Still Mine follows which is short and sweet. It is the sort of thing that, if marketed right, could wind up getting a fair amount of radio play outside of metal stations. Unfortunately, this will not be the case I fear! Amnesia is up next and, in places, gets back to the heaviness of the earlier songs. Plenty of flourishes of double bass drumming and harsh vocals can be found here, and the song possesses another monster chorus. Plenty of the songs on Impermanent Resonance are instantly memorable and this is a big bonus for it. Music like this needs to have plenty of big hooks to keep the listener interested and this album has them in spades. The album comes to a close with the heavy I Will Not Break which features blast beats! Despite the overt riff-based nature of the song, the keyboards are still very clear and add something constructive to the song as opposed to just being background noise. This confirms my earlier point about the album's production, it really is very good! Overall, this album sees LaBrie carrying on the fine form established on his previous solo outings. Like a fine wine, his voice only seems to get stronger with age! His performance on Dream Theater's last album A Dramatic Turn of Events was stellar and this is excellent too despite the simpler nature of the material. I just hope that eventually he gets to do a solo tour to showcase some of this material, and some of his previous work, live!

The album was released on 29th July 2013 via InsideOut Music. Below is his promotional lyric video for Back on the Ground.

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