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by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

James LaBrie's Mullmuzzler -2
(Magna Carta)

Similar to the debut but perhaps a little wider, funkier and more live, 2 is a showcase for LaBrie's vocals, emotions and intense lyrical themes well beyond the restrictions of Dream Theater. LaBrie's debut ruled, so expectations on my part were high. These have been matched in many ways, slightly less so in terms of the slight notch-back in heaviness or indeed cohesion. Drummer Mike Mangini propels all the "active" tunes, but there seems to be this gap in the middle that needs to be filled with guitars. Anyway, it's a minor quibble, because of a couple surprising things. Number one, the ballads are amazing, and bravely ballad-like to boot. Number two, LaBrie's lyrics (and in some cases, lyrical direction given to others), strike at the heart of living, maturing, confronting hard emotional times. Guitarist Mike Keneally does some wild Zep-ish things, and indeed, LaBrie's entire band creates this strangely casual progressive rock hive of activity, a ragged chaos, over which these piercing emotions penetrate then ride o'er top on the winds and wings of LaBrie's cleansing, poignant vocals. Fave tracks: the three mellowest ones, although lyrically, the two part 'Venice Burning'/'Confronting The Devil' is one of the most harrowing, tragic, cinematic tales you'll likely read all year.
Rating 8.5

Evergrey - In Search Of Truth
(InsideOut America)

Three albums in, Tom Englund and his revolving crew (three new guys this time!) have hatched their most band-like album yet, In Search Of Truth solidifying Englund's ideal, a master plan that sees Evergrey deftly combine the disparate worlds of doom, prog and power metal. Englund's vocals lead the distinct charge, the man in possession of a set of pipes that are both clear and projecting, while gruff and interestingly accented. There's a weight to the thing, a dark shroud of mystery (that carries gorgeously through the elegant booklet graphics), co-production from Andy Larocque and Tom (Andy's worked on all three Evergrey albums now) adding to the timelessness of things by finding a cogent mix of frozen guitars with keyboard sounds that span three decades. The album is a concept album about alien abduction, something Tom's written about in the past, a perfect fit to these slow, depressive, gothic and ornate metal mounds. Again, as with past work, one of the only comparative touchstones is Memento Mori, Evergrey finding a seriousness that places them admirably in a metal vacuum, near to utterly alone.
Rating 8

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