Review Summary: Labrie and co. drop most of the electronic and progressive elements that were heard on Elements of Persuasion and adopt a more straightforward metal approach on Static Impulse.
The well-known front man of Dream Theater has released his second solo album (under his name), citing a need for a creative outlet as a result of being underutilized in DT and the results are nothing short of spectacular. Those who are familiar with his previous solo effort Elements of Persuasion will be in for a surprise here.
While electronic and progressive elements dominated Elements of Persuasion, for this album, Labrie and co. have dropped most of those elements in favor of a more straightforward metal approach, drawing influences from Melodic Death Metal with the use of harsh vocals, provided by drummer Peter Wildoer of Darkane, it is he who provides some of the more interesting elements in this album. Wildoer is an exceptionally talented and underrated drummer, he is one of the highlights of the album, being able to reign it in and lay down a solid rhythmic foundation for the band as well as utilizing blast beats for musical intensity, notably in "Mislead" and "This is War". He also plays some very technical fills in several songs here and there, it is no surprise he was one of the seven drummers lined up to audition for the new drummer position in DT, and one of the three SERIOUSLY considered in filling the huge void Mike Portnoy has left behind, despite being the dark horse of the seven candidates, he has made a lasting impression.
Labrie is arguably the weakest link in Dream Theater, while a very good vocalist himself, he is simply overshadowed by the other 4 members who are wizards on their respective instruments. On Static Impulse (and Elements of Persuasion), he is no slouch at all and really demonstrates his songwriting and vocal talents, it is a shame that he is underutilized in his main band. He encompasses several vocal styles in the album, his vocals are powerful and particularly soar high and gracefully with melody in songs like "One More Time" "Over The Edge" "Mislead" and "This is War", they are more gritty when they call for it in "I Need You" and "Who You Think I Am" and more mellow in "Euphoric" and "Just Watch Me". He gives his most heartfelt and intimate performance in the closing ballad "Coming Home". Lyrically, he deals with government, relationships, family and personal outlooks.
While Wildoer is the drummer on this album, he's also had a huge impact on the vocal melodies on the album, providing harsh co-lead vocals on some songs with Labrie, accentuating the messages in the lyrics when they call for it in songs like "Mislead" "Jekyll Or Hyde", sometimes even taking (screaming) entire verses with Labrie only singing the chorus. A good example of this is "One More Time" and "This is War". The clean/harsh vocal interplay between Labrie and Wildoer is a standout element of the album and is done very well.
Marco Sfogli truly shines as a guitar player, "EOP" served more of an introduction to him but his full talent is unleashed on "SI", he is an impressive shredder and capable of writing heavy and tasteful riffs, especially in the intro to "Over The Edge", his soloing is especially impressive on the album, another one of his highlights is the melodic guitar/keyboard unison with Guillory in the aforementioned song.
Matt Guillory provides keyboards and backing vocals (on SI) and is Labrie's "partner in crime", having co-wrote all the songs with him. While he has had a huge impact composition-wise, his actual playing on the album is quite restrained for someone who was so heavily involved. He mainly provides background keys and occasionally gets a few moments to shine in the form of keyboard solos and unisons with Sfogli. It is clear he is a proficient keyboard player, but I'd like to hear more of him on the next album. He is also a capable vocalist, having sang lead vocals on the demo versions of the songs, while certainly not the vocalist Labrie is, he has his own personal flair and does a good job providing backing vocals on this album. Ray Riendeau played bass on the album, he is more in the background and as such I can't really comment on him much, but he gets his moments to shine in the form of short bass solos/fills on "One More Time" and "Just Watch Me", I hope to hear more of him as well in the next album.
SI is an adventurous outing that may divide listeners, some may say that Wildoer’s harsh vocals are “unneeded” or totally “uncharacteristic” of a James Labrie album, while others may welcome the addition of harsh vocals, and say it’s a good thing that Labrie and co. are expanding their musical influences. They have crafted a metal album that will satisfy most metal fans, DT fans will find not find the instrumentation lacking in any way and Melodic Death Metal fans will welcome the heavier edge presented on this album. Either way, the addition of harsh vocals will continue to be a polarizing element for more picky listeners.
Labrie has announced a few weeks ago that he will be starting work on his third solo album, which meant Static Impulse was very successful even though plans to tour in support of the album failed. These musicians clearly have a musical chemistry, and from watching the Static Impulse recording sessions (they are available on youtube), it is obvious these guys have a great time working with each other. So, a new album, why not?