Album Review: Static Impulse by James LaBrie

Static Impulse is James LaBrie‘s most well-rounded and daring solo project to date. Many listeners have been put off by drummer Peter Wildoer‘s screaming vocals in several of the tracks. But those who can set aside their preconceptions will find a healthy balance of muscular metal, rock tunes (minus the growls), and a sensitive ballad. Every track has a catchy chorus and mind-boggling guitar solo. Fans can still revel in the many facets of LaBrie’s voice – soaring and clean; gritty and powerful; gentle and expressive. Matt Guillory creates a fascinating variety of keyboard effects and beautifully blended background vocals. Marco Sfogli‘s guitar solos provide technical and emotional counterpoint to LaBrie’s vocals. Ray Riendeau’s bass lines add depth and drive. Peter Wildoer offers complex drum grooves and gutsy screams.

“One More Time” immediately signals the radical new sound of the album. Like many other fans, I was shocked when the first voice I heard was Wildoer’s screaming vocals. The hard-hitting track features LaBrie only on the chorus. The final chorus has a complex blend of LaBrie’s lead vocals, Guillory’s backing vocals and Wildoer’s screams.

“Jekyll or Hyde” uses clean and heavy vocals to represent the man and the monster, respectively. LaBrie’s vocals are backed by simple harmonies and a sparse, yet driving, drum line. Wildoer’s vocals are accompanied by machine-gun drum blasts and speedy guitar riffs with close intervals. During the chorus, Wildoer echoes LaBrie’s words by growling like a monster. The midsection of the song includes a keyboard solo with syncopated intervallic leaps. During his solo, Sfogli tears through ridiculously fast guitar runs.

“Euphoric” allows the listener a moment to catch his breath from the intensity of the previous three tracks. At the beginning, the tension mounts with a clean guitar riff over two alternating chords. It then switches to a distorted guitar and synthesized string accompaniment, expressing a sense of exhilaration. LaBrie’s soaring vocals take flight during the chorus. The song finishes with a beautifully melded keyboard and guitar duo.

In “Over the Edge”, Sfogli shows off his chops with a headbanging guitar riff that recurs throughout the song. The first time around, the riff ends with a slide that sounds like squealing brakes. The imagery of the car adds a whole new dimension to the lyrics, “I’m driven carelessly/ Over the edge”. Later, Sfogli studs the riff with artificial harmonics. There’s also a fun moment where LaBrie does a pseudo-rap with the words “Over the Edge”. Guillory twists up the melody of the chorus during a wailing solo.

“Just Watch Me” is my favorite song of the album for two reasons. First, and most importantly, LaBrie uses every bit of his huge pitch range. The song prominently features his husky lowest range, which is not used often enough in most of his work. During the chorus, the vocal melody takes a huge minor sixth leap into LaBrie’s highest range. He doesn’t sing up there as often as he used to when he was younger, but he still sounds great. Second, the track journeys through several different vibes. Moods range from a placid Nordstrom-style keyboard solo to intense heavy guitars and synthesized keyboards. The track also manipulates the tension of each character by alternately including and excluding the drums. One of the highlights of the song takes place during a unison between LaBrie and Sfogli which culminates in Sfogli’s uplifting guitar solo.

“Coming Home” is the type of pull-out-your-lighters ballad which I wish had been included on LaBrie’s previous album, Elements of Persuasion. The track includes only Guillory’s backing vocals and keyboards; Sfogli’s guitar, and LaBrie’s delectable melody. LaBrie even brings out his infamous falsetto technique mid-song on the word, “Apathy”. Recently, LaBrie posted the meaning of the lyrics on his forum:

Coming Home was inspired by the show Dexter, who is a vigilante serial killer. I took the liberties to take this character and have him in the position of incarceration confessing to the very people who helped him to become more connected to the human emotional spectrum. At the same time he has accepted his sentence, which is death by lethal injection. He asks his family for forgiveness. He wants them to know that he is grateful for giving him a life of normalcy, love and awakening and that he truly regrets the dishonesty.

Track listing is as follows:

  1. One More Time
  2. Jekyll or Hyde
  3. Mislead
  4. Euphoric
  5. Over the Edge
  6. I Need You
  7. Who You Think I Am
  8. I Tried
  9. Just Watch Me
  10. This Is War
  11. Superstar
  12. Coming Home
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