LaBrie's Mullmuzzler, James - James LaBrie's Mullmuzzler 2

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Magna Carta
Catalog Number: MA 9056-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 52:34:00

One wonders if, when James Labrie first joined Dream Theater, he thought about how influential he would be on metal vocalists that would come after him. That Dream Theater would have such an impact on the metal world that aspiring musicians would line up to follow in their footsteps. These are the thoughts that come to me as I listen to the second release from James LaBrie's Mullmuzzler project. Here is where LaBrie demonstrates why many want to sing like him - the soaring vocals that glide effortlessly to the upper ranges without the affectation of screeches ... his voice is like a bird on wing, soaring over the landscape. And yet, at the opposite end, a little gruffness peeks through, a grittyness that is as suited to the task as is the soaring. These are my thoughts as I listen to the near perfect "Confronting The Devil." This is one of Labrie's finest performances, full of gut wrenching emotion.

"Falling" is a mid-tempo rocker that has a slight new wave feel - more along the lines of Tears For Fears, though Talk Talk also come to mind. LaBrie plays everything very understated, very mellow. Knowing what he's capable of vocally, this creates a bit of tension. The piano-samples from Matt Guillory (Dali's Dilemma) add just the right touch to this airy track, as everything is played at a leisurely but breezy pace. Acoustic guitar is also in the mix, contrasted by a wavery keyboard effect. It's hopefully melancholic -- someone who knows but doesn't fully accept that the relationship is over...

What starts out as being something one wouldn't expect from LaBrie is "Save Me," with it's deathly dry vocals, doubled, breathed rather than sung, and eminating from a very hollow and dark place (as is the intention). My take on it is someone hoping to still find God behind the fa?ade of organized religion, that somewhere behind the sheen of corruption, a kernal of faith still resides. This was written and released long before the topic of pedifilic priests rose to the forefront of the news. I love the scattershot drumming of this track, driving and layered. I do think the that snicking cymbals at certain points are mixed a little too high, which distracts, but this is a minor blemish on an otherwise solid track and album.

While the focus is on James LaBrie with this release -- it went from Mullmuzzler to James LaBrie's Mullmuzzler (though it was his to begin with) -- it doesn't mean he surrounded himself with lesser musicians to make his light shine brighter. Oh heavens no, because you get the spectacular guitar work of Mike Kenneally, the solid bass of Bryan Beller, the exquisite drumming of Mike Mangini, terrific keyboards from Guillory, along with the added help of Mike Borkosky on guitar and Trent Gardner on keys. Mention of the last -- you can tell his hand in the writing of things, too, as he co-wrote the first track "Afterlife" with Labrie. There you will hear Gardner signature staccato, clipped style ably executed by LaBrie. Other co-writers on this release are Shadow Gallery's Gary Wehrkamp and Carl Cadden-James for two tracks ("Venice Burning" and "Confronting The Devil"), the rest are co-written with Guillory.

This album gives definition to the term AOR. I mean, if one were to try and pick just one track to try and "sell" the album, one would have an awful heard time finding just one. There's such a contrast of styles, from the metal edge of "Venice Burning" to "Falling" to the harsh, cold, technical "Tell Me." My favourite track is "Confronting The Devil," but not by much. I really like "Falling," too, which gives us another side of LaBrie. "Venice Burning" is punchy, with Magnini puncutating the beats with ferocity. Beller's bass gives the piece this churning, billowing feel like dark, black smoke. "Stranger" begins with an epic feel -- an orchestrated opening which gives way to pounding drums and booming bass. This is very much like a Dream Theater track. The plucked guitar solo at the end, combined with the spacey keyboards, have a very Pink Floyd like feel.

"Simple Man" is, as I read it, LaBrie's take on what it must be like to be a weary vampire. Sure, the illustration makes this a strong suggestion, there being fangs and all. The downside to immortatilty, another theme in this piece, is that you watch those around you die while you live on (and on and on). That's just one interpretation, the most obvious. When you look at it as metaphor, you will find other meanings, or possible meanings.

"Believe" is the "apology song" for some indiscretion, beginning with piano and acoustic guitar. As we've come to expect from LaBrie, his sweet vocals are quite seductive. I mean, how could you not forgive him, sounding like that? Not that he doesn't sound sincere, he certainly does. Mangini provides some very interesting percussion (toms or bongos) to back this piece, almost like a racing heartbeat. While LaBrie is calm, this percussion reveals (or suggests) that all is not calm beneath the surface, that his heart is thumping in fear that he may have really screwed up. Teriffic stuff, right down to the piano flourishes that end the track. The companion track to this is "Listening," which sort of follows on in a way. The experience of "Believe" gives our "protagonist" an epiphany... not taking this person for granted. Musically, this is in the straight-ahead rock category with jazzy touches (piano, percussion, arrangement).

"Tell Me" is angular and harsh, with growling and grunting guitars, plonked piano, and an altered "busy signal" like effect that leads into the choruses. The drumming is simple but effective, keeping the whole piece chugging along.

Well, I didn't intend to really write a track by track review, but...well, there it is. This album's been out a while, so it has taken me a while to get around to it... I think it's been almost a year. And if you waited this long as well ... make up for it now. Seek this release out, as it is certainly one of the best from 2001.

Afterlife (4:54) / Venice Burning (6:26) / Confronting the Devil (6:20) / Falling (3:52) / Stranger (6:32) / A Simple Man (5:20) / Save Me (4:11) / Believe (5:00) / Listening (4:14) / Tell Me (5:14)

James LaBrie - lead and background vocals
Matt Guillory - keyboards/piano
Trent Gardner - keyboards/piano
Mike Mangini - drums
Mike Keneally- guitars
Mike Borkosky - guitars
Bryan Beller - bass

Mullmuzzler (1999)
James LaBrie's Mullmuzzler 2 (2001)
Elements Of Persuasion (2005)
Prime Cuts (2008)
Static Impulse (2010)
Impermanent Resonance (2013)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: June 26th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 746
Language: english


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