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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

James LaBrie

Elements of Persuasion

Review by Josh Turner

Whether or not you like this album probably hinges on how you felt about Dream Theater's "Train of Thought". This one has a tad more melody and quite possibly a bit more noodling. I thoroughly enjoyed this album. I happened to like "Train of Thought", so it goes with the territory. To be honest, I may even like this one more. While "Train of Thought" was overly commercial by Dream Theater's standards, this one seems to show its loyalty to the progressive side of the force.

Matt Guillory (Dali's Dilemma) isn't a name that's known ubiquitously throughout the world of music, but let me tell you, he shines in all his appearances. From what little I know of him, he is actually one of my favorite keyboardists. I wish he would pop into more projects more often. In addition to this talented virtuoso, we get several other all-stars. Bryan Bellar (Steve Vai, Mike Keneally Band) and Mike Mangini (Extreme) participate in the project. As for the guitars, they're supplied by a new sensation named Marco Sfogli.

James LaBrie's first solo album, "Keep it to Yourself," went by the moniker Mullmuzzler. It was truly outstanding output for an artist who was already recognized, respected, and renowned in the progressive rock community. "Elements of Persuasion" starts out strong, keeps pace, and kicks hard through the finish line. It even manages to edge out "Keep it to Yourself" in the final moments. This is James' best solo effort and that statement alone says a lot in my book.

Track by Track Review
Crucify
This cut is mean and wicked. While it definitely has Dream Theater influences, Metallica is graphittied all over it. The guitars are guttural, and the riffs are retched. Bryan's bass is so wild you'd think it's been free-basing. Mike's percussions will pummel even the hardest-edged listener. James' top-notch singing has never been this nasty. Matt's keyboards are just about the only sane sound in the mix.
Alone
This features some incredible sounds. It is hard to tell what instrument is doing what exactly. This is catchier than an office full of people with the flu. It was certainly influenced by The Beastie Boys and Limp Bizkit, but it's way better than anything they've done. Again, James' singing is exactly what these refined instrumentals and catchy beats require. I cannot imagine another singer putting his voice on this track.
Freak
James continues to bring new songs into the fold. Nobody could accuse this music of sounding bland or invariable. Each track brings something brand-new to the table. The fiendish lines blended with the friendlier ones give this song its allure.
Invisible
The way it starts out, you'd think you were listening to Iona. It would be a mistake to be unprepared for the initial drop on this rock and roll coaster. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This ride accelerates and breaks unexpectedly. Some of the bumps and bends seem similar to Dream Theater's "Burning My Soul".
Lost
This reads like a story. This is what James was trying to accomplish in his second album. I think it's done better here. It is not as heavy, but just as heart-pounding. He never loses the listener in his narration. His voice is like a bright light in a dark tunnel. He illuminates everything around us, showing us the way to the escape hatch. This is one of his best songs yet. I put it up there with one of my favorite songs from his stash, which would be "Guardian Angel" from the first Mullmuzzler album.
Undecided
This is simply straightforward metal grooves mixed with an extremely versatile voice.
Smashed
This is a ballad along the lines of "Anna Lee"; however, the instrumentals are a little livelier and quite a bit jazzier than the lyrics lend one to believe. The lack of cymbals in the percussion works to calm this piece in several places. The presence of a profoundly optimistic piano also helps to loosen the tension. A flamenco guitar and a sliding bass supply even more quality features. This too is one of the highlights of the album.
Pretender
Buckle in, because this one puts the pedal to the metal. It's fast and furious. It's also another piece that evokes thoughts of James LaBrie's Mullmuzzler 2.
Slightly Out of Reach
This goes further to the past, back again to Mullmuzzler's "Keep it to Yourself." This is like the final frame of a sports movie. The underdog wins against a monumental amount of adversity and hype. It's a well-written power ballad perfect for a progressive rock prom date. There is something familiar in it, but this is no leftover. It's fresh frozen and wriggles with life. As a side dish, Matt's keyboard solo is stellar and makes you want to get-up-and-go. You're sure to lust over this luscious meal.

Oblivious
This is Kid Rock, Disturbed, and Van Halen packed into the same tin. It's one part rap, one part metal, and a whole lot of LaBrie. His singing covers a broad scope of styles. Once you pop its top, you surely can't stop.

In Too Deep
The bass and guitars are grungy and glum. The beat is crunchier than a rice crispy treat. The keyboards create a hazy atmosphere all around. It's hard to see ahead, and you're quick to get dizzy from this particular ditty. Since the room is spinning all around, this is not my first selection when trying to relieve a migraine headache. However, it's great when I'm full of angst and working on a heavy bag. It has a finish much like Faith No More's classic non-epic called "Epic".
Drained
This is the most aggressive piece on the album. It's mixed with the guitars and bass upfront and in your face. The instrumental pauses, the pretentious singing, and the arrogant keyboards give reprieve from an onslaught of heavy metal madness. James tries out many new ideas on this album. It has a lot of what worked in his past efforts. It's certainly a combination of the first two Mullmuzzler albums. While it has the songwriting, glitz, and glamour of the first, it has the power and progression of the second. It's the best of both worlds plus a whole lot more. It's like the first two albums were merely test runs of his research. James applies both the art and science from his earlier experiments. With many years of testing in his laboratory, this one is more than ready for the progressive metal market.
 
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