For those who don't know who this guy is, he's basically the lead singer of one of the biggest unheard of band's on the planet. Now, I know that is a paradox, but let me explain. Dream Theater in the prog world are one of the biggest bands in history, but in the mainstream world, they are barely anything. They got nominated for a Grammy last year, and even then people where wondering who these guys where.
The best way I can describe James' solo career is much like Bruce Dickinson's solo career. It is very odd to learn, but yes, these two do have solo careers, even though they are the voices of 2 of the biggest metal bands on the planet. But instead of basically doing what there previous bands are doing, they offer something a little bit different to the table.
I was shocked to read the linear notes of the album and discover that in fact a lot of the songs where not even written by James himself, and instead most of the songs where written by writing partner Matt Guillory. I'm not sure if this is 100% correct, but either way I'm not too phased by it, because it doesn't take away the impact of the material.
Now, musically James has now been able to create a new sound and a staple for himself. The last album “Static Impulse” did flirt with melodic death metal ideas and bringing in death growls from Peter Wildoer did give the album a certain flair, but on this album those ideas have been melded with a bigger focus on songwriting, giving the album a more pop laced feeling. I mean it, the best way to really describe this album is a weird hybrid of Soilwork and One Direction.
The albums lead single “Agony” is one of the main highlights. Whenever this got released, I was so surprised at how much I liked this song. Having not not read the lyrics to the song, I was just enjoying it for the catchy moments, but after getting the album and having a read...yea...pretty dark stuff (it's about domestic abuse by the way).
“Back On The Ground” could easily be a One Direction song. I really mean it, this song is so poppy and catchy that James & Matt could have easily sold this off to Simon Cowell. The guitar sound is surprisingly heavy as hell as well, which does make the song a little bit more enjoyable. A great and diverse vocal performance from James too.
“Destined To Burn” is probably the best lyrical moment on the album. A song about racism...yea sometimes this can either be alright, terrible or just very cheesy (“Ebony & Ivory” comes to mind). It is pulled off very well and has some great riffs and melodies throughout.
“Say You're Still Mine” is also another great pop meets metal collaboration. A brilliant uplifting chorus and total cheese.
I recommend getting the Digipack version because there are two bonus tracks “Unraveling” and “Why”, and they are great songs that could have even been on the album and wouldn't affected it in any way.
In conclusion, this is definitely James' strongest solo effort to date. With some of his most memorable tracks and some of the catchiest songs I've heard in metal for a long time, this really is going to challenge a lot of what is to come on the new Dream Theater album. Brilliant album with some timeless classics in my opinion.