…First of all, this band is not supposed to sound like Dream Theater, and if you really listen to it, you will find that it does not. The various instrumentalists offer very different playing styles from the members of DT, especially the drummer, Mike Mangini,who played with Extreme, a band radically different from DT. Mike Kineally is a phenomenal guitar player, just ask a medium to ask Frank Zappa (Kineally was in his band). The only common thread is James LaBrie, who (miracle of miracles!) IS the singer for Dream Theater! Secondly, the album was not an effort to sound like Dream Theater or be compared to DT in any way. On the contrary, James L. was attempting to do something different, apart from DT. I think he succeeded very well. This album is full of exciting and beautiful music. “Beelzebubba” has to be one of the most unique and quirky songs out there today, it is fantastic. “Guardian Angel” has a great groove, and “As A Man Thinks” has some great moments, with some nice harmonies from James. If you can get it through your skull that this is not supposed to be DT, you will find this to be a wonderful album.
Aurora Consurgens finds a new and heavier approach for Angra, currently in their fifteenth year. The trademark Brazillian percussion feel has been retained and orchestral parts added for depth to the compositions, of which each member has contributed. Contrary to the groundbreaking Temple Of Shadows album in 2005, Aurora Consurgens is not a concept album but finds Angra at their definitive best.
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Keep it to Yourself is the debut solo album of Mullmuzzler, which is Dream Theater vocalist James Labrie’s solo project. Labrie decided put this disc out in 1999 when he was approached by the Magna Carta label executives. Supporting him on the instrumentation (and songwriting) were Shadow Gallery and Magellan members as well as many others. Don’t be fouled by the “solo album” tag since there is plenty of room for each musician to display their skilled musicianship and add their creative input in the songs.
Labrie’s biggest songwriting partner is without doubt Dali’s Dilemma keyboardist Matt Guillory (who plays even a bigger role on the second Mullmuzzler disc). Guillory is an extremely accomplished musician; not only does he play his instrument perfectly, but he is also a terrific composer who brings each song a new dimension. Feel free to check out the debut Zero Hour record if you want to hear him cut loose and shred his heart out. Guillory co-wrote three songs on Keep it to Yourself, namely the first two songs “His Voice” and “Statued”, plus the experimental “Lace”. The first two tracks are easily my favourite numbers on this disc, and I believe it’s because of the undeniable Guillory influence. Both songs are relatively heavier and more dynamic than the others and filled with meticulous orchestration, sparse piano and keyboard work with calculated bass by Bryan Beller and excellent guitar runs by Mike Keneally (Zappa, Vai, Beer for Dolphins). James Labrie’s vocals on this album are significantly different than his stuff with Dream Theater. This is understandable, since Mullmuzzler gives him the chance to do things he can’t do in DT and experiment with new musical ideas. “Statued” picks up where “His Voice” leaves off and delves into a thunderous drum attack by one of the world’s greatest drummers, Mike Mangini (Extreme, Steve Vai, Annihilator), and showcases more liberate bass lines from guitarist Mike Keneally’s bandmate. The song has several stop-and-start sections with mood and tempo shifts. I really enjoy the sense of contrast exhibited in this tune.
Each song has something different to offer. “Shores of Avalon” may be one of the more accessible tracks. It begins with nice Egyptian riffing and gives way to a beautifully composed, warm guitar solo played by Mike Keneally. No wonder why Frank Zappa called him “his best student ever”. Check this guy’s solo albums out as well. It’s not just chops like Steve Vai; this guy writes MUSIC. Needless to say, this being a solo effort, there is a strong emphasis on vocal arrangements, and since it’s Terry Brown of Rush and Fates Warning fame who handles the crisp production here, lots of subtleties shine through. Besides “Shores of Avalon”, “Guardian Angel”, “Sacrifice”, and “Slow Burn” were also co-written by Shadow Gallery members. Their input is easily recognisable, especially Carl-Cadden James’. Give a listen to the mathematic guitar run on “Guardian Angel” (sounds like Gary Wehrkamp loves that) or the dense acoustics on the ballads “Sacrifice” and “Slow Burn”, the latter which features a poignant guitar solo.
“Beelzebubba” is the strangest (but also one of the most progressive) songs on the record. It eerily reminds me of Devin Townsend’s “Bad Devil” on his Infinity record. The song portrays all aspects of jazz, prog rock and post-pop without getting too serious. Lyrically it’s a satire on Clinton and his ‘affair’ at the White House. Like I said, the chorus sounds like Devin Townsend, which I like, since Devin is a godly musician as well. Not all songs are fun though; actually it’s just “Beelzebubba” that has a joky tone to it. The song “His Voice”, for example, is about finding out that a close friend was in need of help, yet, unfortunately being unable to notice that. I read somewhere that Labrie actually wrote it for a friend of his who committed suicide. Trent Gardner from Magellan lends his talents to the two most bizarre compositions on the album, one of them being “Beelzebubba” and the other one being the longest song “As a Man Thinks”. Unfortunately I’m not a big fan of that one, as it seems a bit odd in structure, except its closing with that static keyboard work by Guillory. I also have to mention Matt Guillory’s somewhat unexpected intro on “Lace” where he dabbles with electronic elements. In short, Keep it to Yourself expands upon creative songwriting and a plethora of interesting instruments including trumpet, saxophone, trombone and horn. Since most of the album was written via exchanging ideas through emails, long-distance phone calls, etc., this was merely a taste of what’s to come. Labrie explored with deeper ideas on the second Mullmuzzler CD, which is also highly recommended.
This album offers a little bit of everything. Of the nine tracks on the album, there are three 7+ minute near-epic tracks, three of 1999’s best ballads (including “Slow Burn” one of the greatest I’ve ever heard), and some straight-forward hard rock songs. A tremendous variety. All of them examples of great song-writing. The music is tight – ranging from progressive rock to power metal to just plain hard rock – and the singing, of course, is spectacular. This CD is not to be missed.
James LaBrie’s excellent solo project shows that he’s more than just a phenomenally talented singer, but he’s a solid songwriter as well. With Dream Theater, LaBrie’s songwriting is rather undervalued among his virtuoso peers, but here you really see what he’s made of.LaBrie sounds excellent, visceral and strong and confident, far better than Dream Theater’s Falling Into Infinity, which was released not-so-long before this. His emotional expression is also impeccable, which is one of the reasons I love Dream Theater so much. Nowhere is this more evident than on the nondescript ballads. Mullmuzzler’s trips into the tunnel of love may have been awfully banal had the vocals not brought them up a few notches.The impassioned opener “His Voice” shows the album’s principal feel: melodic metal/rock with a progressive leaning. There’s some great quirky moments, like the Zappa-esque “Beelzebubba,” with its use of brass, and the audacious “As a Man Thinks,” which features melody shifts aplenty, bombastic vocals, and thoughtful lyrics. The sentimental rocker “Guardian Angel” and the mini-epic “Shores of Avalon” are also highlights. Each song offers something different thanks to considerable variety and tight musicianship. Overall, a great disc for James LaBrie fans.
James LaBrie is at his shining best here. A must have for any fan of Dream Theater or progressive music. James shows a return to form here with high, powerful range. Strong, aggressive songs penned by Matt Guillory from Dali’s Dilemma mix fantastically throughout the disc with beautiful melodies from the Shadow Gallery fellows. A few interesting tunes come by way of Trent Gardner from Magellan: “Beelzebubba” (an ode to Bill Clinton), And “What A Man Thinks” – A big, booming, over the top song that blends accapella harmonies, blaring horns, and blatant influences from Queen into a fun, energetic romp. I love this disc every time I listen to it. It’s like one of those films where catch a new detail every time you watch it. Standout song for me is “Lace”. Make sure to add this and the new Dream Theater album “Scenes From A Memory” to your collection now!