Fronting a band as technically talented as Dream Theater doesn’t come without pitfalls. For all James LaBrie’s unquestionable talent, he can appear to be on the periphery of that band, often vanishing from stage during extended instrumental blow-outs and sometimes only appearing at the studio once the musos have finished forging the music. However, his role in the band is pivotal and, as the frontman, he’s a natural centre of attention.
Like his band mates he’s also ventured into side projects, often as a guest musician on some of the more dubiously motivated ‘all-star’ prog bands such as Explorers Club, but increasingly over recent years, he’s been developing a solid solo career. The Mullmuzzler project (with LaBrie the focal hub amid various hired hands) was the first move towards him forging a strong idiosyncratic identity. Despite releasing two albums, the project was largely overlooked because, foolishly, these were not being marketed as the more self-explanatory James LaBrie’s Mullmuzzler.
In truth, their musical content also felt restrained, and it wasn’t until LaBrie hooked up with the talented guitarist Marco Sfogli and Matt Guillory (keyboards) that his distinctive, solo direction was solidified. Simpler and more direct than Dream Theater, both his solo debut Elements Of Persuasion and 2010’s Static Impulse showcased an ability to tap into the type of melodic, grinding Scandinavian metal created by acts like Scar Symmetry.
Those influences continue to permeate Impermanent Resonance, and if anything, the album is another advance on his previous recordings. It’s solid, slick and without any filler, each song has been carefully fashioned, and while it may be essentially a metal album, there’s enough contrasting light and shade to ensure that the more progressively minded won’t be disenchanted. There will be predictable complaints about the sporadic use of drummer Peter Wildoer’s guttural, screaming vocals but these are kept in check and are only used to counterbalance LaBrie’s higher pitch on tracks like opener Agony or Letting Go.
There’s also an engaging commercial edge – even on the heavier songs – with Back On The Ground being the perfect fodder for US television soundtracks. Yet it’s not all metallic bluster, and the album has a wonderfully fine balance. The tender Say You’re Still Mine and Holding On capture LaBrie at his most melodic since Dream Theater released Falling Into Infinity in 1997.
Ultimately, this is a genuinely mesmerising album that demonstrates – if it was ever needed – that there’s even more to James LaBrie than his day job might suggest.