Slightly out of touch
James Labrie’s solo effort began in the late 90s with his project/side band Mullmuzzler. The band released two official albums, one in 1999 and one in 2001. Labrie then took a break from the solo field, before coming back in 2005 with an entirely solo (with his name on the cover) album, Elements of Persuasion. The album was released shortly before Octavarium, and the album actually leaked onto Limewire prior to its release, and many mistook the album for Octavarium. The album, while sharing the same singer, has a starkly different and significantly darker feel than Labrie’s home band Dream Theater. Although the progressive metal aspect of the album is shared between the band, Labrie’s solo project is much more electronic, thrashy, and by leaps and bounds more heavy than Dream Theater. Laden with near metalcore breakdowns and near thrash metal riffs and blast beats as well as mellow ballad like tracks to contrast these, the album is a high stakes, non-stop album, full of energy and fury as Labrie and his band (which included future Dream Theater drummer Mike Magini) crafted a rather interesting, if not just a bit generic, album.
One thing that really hit me while listening to this album was the heavy accessibility Labrie is obviously striving for on this album. The odd electro beats that open many of the songs, the synthesized atmospheres encasing many of the songs, and much more of the electronic aspects of the album also add to this odd popularly leaning feel of the album. Whether this adds or detracts from the album, I still can’t decide after listening to the album for a number of years now. It’s obvious that Labrie was looking for some kind of pay with this, but was still looking to keep that progressive edge that Dream Theater is well known for (probably to attract more fans of the band; that is how I found this album!).
The great guitar work of Marco Sfogli adds both a fantastic and a bit detracting edge to the album – at times his playing is perfect for the atmosphere and feel of the song, yet at others his senseless shredding really doesn’t fit the music he’s soloing over. The whole atmosphere he has created, however, is a nice change of pace from Labrie’s traditional work, even if it is a bit on the heavy and popularly-leaning side.
Of course, this intense heavy metal is essential to get DT fans, which were just exposed to Train of Thought in 2003, to like the album. Whether Labrie was intending to produce a near progressive thrash metal album or not, the fusion of this thick music with techno-ish sounds makes for a more unique progressive metal sound. Although it still has the obvious leanings of someone who is intent on making a progressive metal album, it still is a bit of a change of the more virtuoso-esque Dream Theaterian music. Again, whether this is good or not, I can’t really tell. I like the more mature compositions of the aged Dream Theater song writers, but Labrie’s compositions aren’t all that bad. Although his lyrics are even cheesier than some of Dream Theater’s, at times they are pretty damn good.
The odd contrast to the heavy metal tracks on the album are the near cheese wheel ballads that dot the album, covered in cheesy electro beats and stereotypical Labrie ballad melodies. Although they are nice, I can’t help but laugh. The steady beat, low, breathy vocals, and lyrics so cheesy they could supply a busy deli, most of these songs are just too much for me to take. If one ignores the obvious clichés of the music, they make for nice melodious tracks, but in the end they are quite silly.
In the end, this album receives a very mixed feeling from me. Although the majority of the album is a decent progressive metal album, the album balances out with both equally cheesy and fantastic songs. Labrie, no stranger to the progressive metal genre, has crafted what many bands seem to have failed to do – a good Dream Theater clone album. Of course this may be biased seeing as Labrie is Dream Theater’s singer, but overall the music on this disc isn’t all that bad. Overall, the album is just slightly out of touch with a truly good album, yet is better than a non-essential album. I think this is a fantastic addition to any Dream Theater fan’s collection, but isn’t really necessary elsewhere. 4- stars.