Here I am, with another chatty review and more importantly, with you…
Well, in my defense, I am snowed under with my pay-the-bills-job and coordination stuff at LOMM… So much so that I can’t seem to be able to take as many albums on as I’d like – or even as I used to! Naturally, when I do have the time to review one, I tend to go for the ones that blow my mind and well, those that fuel my urge to write the most… Oh, come on now! Running a high-end magazine has to have its perks!
Well, my right hand man and the senior editor of this magazine RJ Dunn (aka lonestar) and I have been holding our breaths for this release for some time now. The day we got the promo from Inside Out Music , we hugged each other remotely and jumped up and down in a dance of joy!
I immediately gave it a listen of course, and I had no doubt whatsoever in my mind that it wouldn’t disappoint but man, nothing prepared me for this…
I won’t bother with a disclaimer, you already know that this will be a fangirl-y review as I’m sure most of you know that James LaBrie is my all-time favourite vocalist, my hero, my go-to musician when I feel… err… for any possible mood really 🙂
Having said that, I find comfort in the fact that there won’t be any feeling of guilt as I won’t be the only one giving this album a very well earned, glowing review. The disclaimer I did not bother with was for the sake of the next couple of paragraphs actually; before I begin, I need to get the fangirlism out of my chest…
I can’t even type a word about LaBrie without my heart aching or getting butterflies in my tummy.
I may have done everything music related I have done, from band management and booking to journalism, to inch closer and closer to this other-worldly musician…
One could say that the whole thing has been sort of an attempt to channel my slightly unhealthy love into some form of contribution to music. One can even further suggest that the moment he pointed at me at High Voltage Festival – when he saw me air drumming to Under the Glass Moon as he walked to the stage – marks the second most exciting moment of my life. One can argue that I can’t be more honest, more personal than this 😉
James’ unique voice, the things he can do with it, his vast range, diversity of the tricks up his sleeve, the distinctive quality he has to his voice, his gritty, rough, softly-whispered, deep, low delivery, his vibrato… And you don’t need me to tell you how great he is at belting out the highest notes, of course. Seriously, I truly believe that what he is capable of is downright scary. You could almost say that his voice has a soul of its own touching yours to make you feel, hear and sense everything going on in the song.
The bit where he says ‘Are you justified’ in The Great Debate, his delivery of the second (long) chorus of Misunderstood, the phenomenal performance in In the Presence of Enemies Pt. 2… All insane, all engraved on my heart, my soul, my identity… His singing is so powerful, so heartfelt – so much so that the theatrical, expressive quality of his voice makes you think that he is possessed.
Something about his voice and his anti-frontman attitude on stage have always touched me. He is of a different breed, I’d say; he is one with the music with all his being and does not settle for less and make up for it with his stage presence. You can tell that he is after performances exceeding CD quality and considering the complexity of the stuff, the time signatures and the audience who demand, nay, require impeccable quality; it is easy to see how hard a job that is…
I find it a blessing that he hooked up with Dream Theater and gave millions of us our favourite band. Certainly, his massive talent along with brilliantly composed songs, beautiful and sometimes downright impossible rhythms, the master of the guitar and the wizard, of course, is a combination that can’t be easily formed into words. I’d say, the sheer amount of talent that band possess carry the constant danger of disrupting the space-time continuum and ripping a hole in the fabric of universe. I can’t think of a better-suited voice than his with Dream Theater. Period.
His unsurpassed emotional, dark and artistic delivery is present in its full glory in this album as well. With the backing vocals and the brilliant production, the album becomes a living, connected, cohesive whole.
Speaking of which, this is hardly LaBrie’s first album that’s as well-structured and cohesive. They have always managed to deliver high quality music. But Impermanent Resonance stands as his most organically approachable work, if you ask me. If you’d like to see what I am talking about go and give a quick listen to ‘This is War’ from Static Impulse album… Don’t get me wrong, though; I love that song to bits and in fact it is one of my favourites off of that album but I wouldn’t blame the casual listener if they got put off by the growls. Now, listen to Agony, which has as frequent harsh vocals, but the production converges everything into a brilliantly modern and much more digestible whole.
Jens Bogren, remix ‘This is War’ for me? ^^
It is clear that the focus is on writing fantastic songs, stadium-ready sing-alongs with catchy hooks, choruses or recurring motifs – structure you traditionally would expect from popular music charts – while maintaining a delicious amount of underlying heaviness and complexity, and sneaking in a dark melodic undercurrent over infectious choruses.
That is to say, on the surface, it is a very accessible album built on mainstream aesthetics and fairly linear structures; underneath, though, lie complexities, intricacies and expansive atmospheres. The harmonies are masterfully done; they have a magically subtle quality to them. When I close my eyes listening to the album, it conjures up an image of a three dimensional music surrounding me in intricate and thrilling patterns, thick and rich textures woven together – if that makes any sense…
If it doesn’t, well, in other words, the band is brilliant together. All of them are top-notch musicians with massive control over their own “things” and all perform to the highest of standards. However, true magic is where all these masterful performances merged into an organic tapestry of delicious and exciting tastes in a perfect blend. So much so that it is pointless – if not impossible – to tell whether it has cinnamon in there somewhere or not 🙂
At this point, special, heartfelt thanks to Jens Bogren and Tony Lindgren for hiding the cinnamon this expertly!
Back to more tangible, easier-to-convey bits of the album…
First off, I’d say the moment where everybody shines so bright that it becomes the highlight of the album is Undertow. More about that in a minute though, let me attempt to make my review as cohesive as the album feels…
Melodies, bloody melodies…
What will firstly catch your attention as the listener – and will make this album a huge success – is the ‘melody’ element. This is a grand service to the metal music in general I believe as it makes the album incredibly accessible, making metal appealing to masses. Indeed, brilliantly metal elements blending with an infectious pop inclination are just “oh mang”! From the moment you hit the play button it grabs you and you feel like ninjas start to climb the fortress that is you – hooks, yes, very bad pun, I know. 😀
Ingredients used serve first and foremost to the purpose of creating extremely emotional moments, though – I believe the aim is, rather than making the album mainstream, making it downright infectious!
For the sake of painting a clear picture, I would oversimplify the types of songs found in the album in three categories:
– Those which will have you hooked immediately with its very striking melodies such as Agony, Undertow (oh, Undertow!), Back On the Ground, Amnesia, and I Got You;
– Those that might make you go “eh, alright I guess?” at first but will stick to you forever after a couple of listens such as Slight of Hand, Holding On, Lost In The Fire, Letting Go, Destined To Burn, and I Will Not Break;
– And the ballad, Say You’re Still Mine – because I am not a ballad girl but hang on, I’ll elaborate in another minute.
Once you get past the melody, you realise there is more to the album. Album is exceedingly competent and it is nigh-perfection as it is within the – frankly very, very wide – sonic comfort zones of the each musician involved. Musicianship and song-writing is downright impeccable, very intricate in places – with the technical leanings we proggers love to bits – tight, energetic and sonically stunning everywhere.
One of the biggest assets of this stellar team is the ridiculously talented Peter Wildoer of Darkane. Peter is a punishing drummer and he rules all throughout the album. I just love his rhythmic variations and his excellent double-bass…
Once frantic drumming kicks in, my survival instincts kick in as well – as I fear for a second that Fantomex (a trademark of Marvel!) is rushing at me on E.V.A. – and not because Peter steals your attention if you are into rhythm (at the risk of sounding very cheesy :P) but because it feels like he must have three brains or something as some of his works feel like as complicated as performing surgery on one’s self.
Seriously, I want to sneak into the studio sometime and watch him tracking the drums – ideally within a clear view of his brain activity… Well, I did warn you, there is nothing healthy about my relationship with the album, nor with the musicians in question!
Drums are not the only means through which he brings angst and anger into the mix; there are also his growling vocals… Don’t let that scare you away if you are a growl-hater though, they are kept to a strict minimum – which is a reason for the likes of me to inevitably ask for more. Seriously though, although they are lesser in quantity, the harsh vocals are much better in quality on this record. It’s not a formula they introduced with this album; it’s rather well-tested and proven … I do realise that it’s the most controversial element on an almost-mainstream album and I don’t know where you stand regarding harsh vocals, but honestly, if you keep an open mind, it is really easy to get used to them through the accessibility of this masterpiece. Who knows? Maybe you’ll start to appreciate them here and open doors to a whole lot of music you have been missing out! As I mentioned in the beginning, the mixing combined with the energetic playing makes it really easy to digest, to appreciate them; it won’t even take that much of getting used to.
Back on track, Peter’s screams are crushing, brutal, angry yet subtle, tasteful and heartfelt. The bottom layers added by the musician bring in a beautiful contrast providing an edge to James’ soaring delivery and adding tones to the overall feel of songs, enhancing the experience as a whole.
You knew this was coming; yes, I honestly wish there was more Peter, or more than him belting out the occasional growl and more layers like those on the album. Why not accentuate the strengths present in the team even further?
Just like Peter, Matt’s contribution is not one dimensional, either. He co-wrote songs and lyrics; created engaging atmospheres through his keys and synths; did fantastically complementing back vocals; and was involved in production duties. Mouthful, eh?
He is playing a huge role in making the whole thing feel very complete, deep and very dynamic, of course. Adding the songs more drama and emotion, giving the album a very modern feel through his electronic synths and enhancing the band’s chance at the opportunity to make this big. I mean, mainstream-big.
The electronics are not anywhere near dictating a direction to any song. His riffs on the keys, the layers he is adding in the form of melodic synth are so well blended with the whole you can almost not tell them apart. His little twists and turns, subtle touches make the tracks while staying on the background, leaving the spotlight to heavy riffs and lead vocals at any given moment, bringing the expression “unsung hero” to mind while being not very “unsung” at the same time.
Oh. My. Goodness!
We knew that the man is capable of laying down some of the heaviest and most tasteful riffs, and that he was great at shredding guitar leads, but man, I haven’t noticed his impeccable ear for the most modern guitar tones this vividly before! Some of the tones he chose on this album are just jaw dropping! He does a brilliant job all the way through.
Let me squeeze in an example right here… Back on the Ground sounds like your pretty usual pop song for half a minute; I swear I thought that I was in for a Cher-y song and expected some autotune even 😛 This did not last though; when Marco jumped in with his evil riff… Oh, that song pushes the envelope of song-writing, by the way.
In brief, and we all know how those go, his work on the album is astounding.
I swear the modern chunky riffs with djent sounding tones here and there are out of hell… The virtuosity and speed makes you think some crossroads are involved somewhere….
On each and every track he manages to belt out some evil sounding heavy riffs and cut in with very tasteful solos exactly when needed – sometimes following up on James’ soulful screams…
Nothing can take away from the greatness of the bassist Ray Riendeau’s work as it is one of the major elements that make this album so dark and so metal. His powerful bass lines make everything more prominent and more mature. It’s the courtesy of his aggressive bass-lines and his wonderful chemistry with Peter that builds an impeccable rhythm section.
Here is a challenge; resist the desire to tap your foot to the beat of the songs. You’ll realise that he has a massive influence on this record’s greatness
Yeah, more than a minute but, as promised, Undertow ladies and gentlemen…
Fans, take note – this is a masterpiece and in all fairness, makes the album’s brightest moments.
Peter’s pre-chorus grunts construct a perfect contrast with closely following soaring vocals of the man himself which are again partly accompanied by the brutal bottom layer provided by Peter in a giant chorus, with gut wrenching melodies.
When the duo exchange the line “Don’t let me go!” jaws will drop. So gripping a delivery!
Deep screams and the furious riffs work so well together you can almost taste a physical manifestation of power coming out of despair here… Damn, this song hits me like a hurricane… I can’t help but get “da” goose bumps every single time!
Not done yet, don’t wander off!
Peter truly shines on this one – like what he is doing in the growl department was not enough to kick us in the proverbial backside, he constantly lays down the punishing drums as well… The twin work is just killer! While Matt works his magic on the synths and the back vocals, you think for a moment that this can’t possibly get better… Then Marco cuts into a shred-fest!
The whole song is the long version of a short climax and it is… So. Damn. Catchy. And dizzying so much so that it leaves me breathless every time…
Oh yeah, and the ballad thing…
Well, as I said before, I am not a ballad girl; never been and probably never will… So, Say You’re Still Mine acoustic intro had me worried a bit. Not the piano, mind you, but the guitars… But the song grown into an impressive feast of music within seconds, before my very eyes, when the textures become very thick with everyone coming in and even more beautiful when Marco takes the spotlight. He basically lifts the song up a few levels albeit too short to satisfy.
It just leaves a great taste in your mouth and you wanting more…
So, yes, in a nutshell, all my problems about this album is I want more 😀
All in all, we have a forward-thinking metal here ladies and gentlemen. It will rank very high in contemporary metal scene for the years to come.
Dripping with melody, compelling, highly enjoyable, energetic, exciting, exhilarating and entertaining!
So, if you’re looking for a metal album which fully enjoys strengths, structure, strong song-writing and lacks any of those flaws that come with the early stages of musical careers, this is a good place to turn as these musicians are at the top their game in every meaning of the phrase…
With its quality and attention to detail, this album will undoubtedly stand out in an oversaturated world of mainstream rock.