Sound: To those who are familiar with the realm of progressive metal, James LaBrie is a household name. An awe-inspiringly versatile vocalist, he is most notable as the voice for the equally versatile music of Dream Theater, but his history is a long and consistently impressive one. From his origins as the young, charismatic frontman of Canadian glam-rockers Winter Rose, to his first guest work with none other than the legendary Fates Warning, and further onwards to his career with DT and collaborations with some of the creme de creme of progressive music such as Ayreon and Trent Gardner, right up to his previous side project Mullmuzzler, a band whose laidback, melodic approach to prog served as a refreshing contrast to the grandstanding of most of the genre's big names, LaBrie has always delivered. But Elements Of Persuasion is his first album under his own name, and definitely stands as a new chapter and a test of his mettle.
The album opens with a clean, brooding guitar line reminiscent of the opening of DT's famous epic 'A Change Of Seasons'. But anyone expecting a typically Dream Theater piece will receive quite a shock as a stomping, thunderous groove crashes in, building up with a series of expansive guitar melodies until dying away, only to be replaced by the true beginning of 'Crucify'. This is a song that revels in the glory of 80s thrash, its hyperactive drums and razorwire riffage creating an opener perfectly suited to grabbing the listener by the throat. We are also treated to a first taste of LaBrie's talent for anthemic choruses.
The album that follows is surprisingly and delightfully varied, with songs ranging from the industrial/alternative march of 'Alone' and 'Freaks', to the irresistible groove metal of 'Pretender', and the more tuneful, progressive 'Lost'. Influences are clearly derived from many sources, including classic metal, prog, Pantera-style groove, industrial, techno, alternative rock, softer rock and ballads. The album shines most on its more gentle, emotive tracks, the wandering 'Smashed' and the utterly beautiful 'Slightly Out Of Reach'. Closing the album are two cuts that showcase keyboardist Matt Guillory's ability to create atmosphere and make the electronic elements fit like a glove - 'In Too Deep', with its haunting outro, and 'Drained,' which merges almost every component of the album into a fitting finisher. // 9
Lyrics: According to James LaBrie, the lyrical themes on EOP are centred on the various influences people encounter throughout their lives and what makes them who they are. While not always poetic, the lyrics are generally thoughtful, evocative and reflective. Standouts include 'Freaks', a take on the experience of a homeless vagrant, and 'Smashed', a bittersweet tale of someone losing their cherished home and the places they grew up in.
Vocally, LaBrie excels as he often does, with 'Crucify' alone seeing him switch between hard-edged delivery and operatic wails with ease. 'Slightly Out Of Reach' has LaBrie exploring the magnificent and woefully-underused baritone portion of his range, its warmth and richness combining with his stirring vibrato to forge a truly majestic sound. The vocals throughout the album do sometimes fail to mesh with given song sections, but LaBrie's voice maintains a power that few singers with careers as extensive as his could still match, and to say that he shines on the softer songs would be a rather emphatic understatement. // 8
Overall Impression: Industrialized urban soundscapes, straightforward melodic rock, blasts of chugging heaviness and heartfelt ballads - this album has it all. In all honesty, the album would be worth it for 'Slightly Out Of Reach' alone, but the sheer wealth and diversity of content turns Elements Of Persuasion into a fascinating listen that appeals on all kinds of levels. While James LaBrie has proved his own creative merit since his very first effort with Mullmuzzler, it is here that he and songwriting partner Matt Guillory have crafted a true masterpiece. With class acts like Italian guitar virtuoso Marco Sfogli (whose solo album is also brilliant) and legendary Steve Vai/Annihilator drummer Mike Mangini supporting it, and LaBrie's own multidimensional voice brought to the fore, Elements Of Persuasion is an album that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the behemoths of the prog scene, and is above all a uniquely enjoyable listen. // 9