Top positive review
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One of the Best of 2005
on March 30, 2005
Wow, 2005 has been an absolutely amazing year so far for the prog/power metal scene! Having recently been blown away by Kamelot's latest, The Black Halo, the benchmark was set pretty high for me as far as anything topping it. After several listens, I'd definitely put James LaBrie's latest at the same level as that amazing album! If you are a fan of the heavier side of Dream Theater, you absolutely NEED to pick up this album and I mean immediately! Although this is, for the most part, the same core band as the two Mullmuzzler projects with the addition of Italian newcomer Marco Sfogli on guitar, the difference between this album and the Mullmuzzler albums is absolutely night and day. Elements of Persuasion is by far LaBrie's best solo work to date and the first of which I would say easily stands comparison to even the best Dream Theater albums. The biggest (and quite welcome in my book) surprise on this one is that the album is so heavy throughout, there are parts that make even Dream Theater's recent shredfest Train of Thought sound tame. The sound in general has been updated with much more of an electronica element to both guitar and keyboards (without sounding overly "nu-metal" to me) and LaBrie and keyboardist Matt Guillory are well deserving of high accolades for a simply amazing job with production (LaBrie's former Winter Rose bandmate Richard Chycki also mixed the album), which is crystal clear and perfect for the electro-metal infusion that permeates this disk. The biggest complaint I had with most of Magna Carta's catalog is that the production in general of their albums sounded rather muddy to me and could have been vastly improved. The clean production here is about as close to perfection as anyone could ask.
It's difficult to pick a favorite track here because with the exception of 3 slower paced songs, this album absolutely smokes from start to finish and the songwriting and melody is consistent throughout. Part of the credit for this goes to the band's collaboration with Brian Wherry, whose name Dream Theater fans may recognize from his mind-blowing entry in Mike Portnoy's "Stream of Conciousness" contest, where the Dream Theater drummer challenged the more musically adept of the fans on his forum to create and record a song based solely on studio notes of individual sections of the song on the (then forthcoming) Train of Thought album. Wherry's creation (which even featured a keyboard solo by Guillory) was a top finalist, but should have been the winner in my book. Based on his sense of melody and songwriting on that song, I can fully understand why they decided to bring him on board and the results are one of the most enjoyable of LaBrie's solo projects. I also have to say that LaBrie seriously needs to hold on to guitarist Marco Sfogli. This guy is simply amazing and his stellar solos and amazing shredding throughout this album are sure to make him an instant sensation on the prog metal scene.
"Crucify," the album's opener, begins sounding almost like the beginning of DT's "A Change of Seasons," then builds into a thrash frenzy and Sfogli delivers one of most memorable guitar solos on the album about ¾ of the way through. We then move on to "Alone," which will undoubtedly draw many snide nu-metal remarks and Linkin Park comparisons from the prog snob crowd, but the song is good enough that it could potentially actually see mainstream radio airplay. As far as I'm concerned, this song is where the nu-metal influence ends and the rest of the album takes on a life of its own. The album's standout track for me is "Freaks," which not only infuses heavy staccato riffs a la DT's "The Mirror," but also showcases LaBrie's amazing range and thought provoking songwriting. Other highlights include the atmospherically melodic, yet shred-infused "In Too Deep," which features a rather humorous wiseguy moment from LaBrie, and "Oblivious," which sees LaBrie moving between funky, borderline urban sounding vocals (not quite "Canadian Rap," but as close as he probably ever wants to get) to a very melodic chorus. "Undecided" is another atmospherically charged shredder with one of the most melodic choruses on the album - another potential for mainstream radio in my book. Dream Theater fans will undoubtedly notice heavy similarities between the guitar and bass on "Invisible" and DT's "Burning My Soul," but this is also one of more melodic offerings here and features some of LaBrie's best vocals. Songs lengths are not quite to traditional prog epic proportions, but all but one clock in between 5 and 7 minutes and they all pack their share of punch in their allotted time. Overall, this album is nothing short of stellar and even though there are some blatently obvious Dream Theater influences in places, the sound is extremely modern and much more unique than anything he's done on any other project other than Ayreon, which pretty much spans the musical gamut, and as mentioned, the production is just amazing. Elements of Persuasion is absolutely one of the best prog-metal releases of 2005 so far and an absolute must have album for fans of LaBrie as well as anyone who enjoys a hefty dose of "balls and chunk" delivered with plenty of melody to boot.