I'm not going to give in to temptation and call Frameshift's Unweaving the Rainbow, a new project with Dream Theater singer James LaBrie, the album LaBrie's main band should have released in lieu of the love-it-or-hate-it Train of Thought. But I am going to say that this album sounds more like classic Dream Theater than Train of Thought could ever hope to, and it picks up right about where the first disc of Dream Theater's Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence left off, both musically and lyrically.
Written and produced by multi-instrumentalist Henning Pauly (a member of the progressive-rock band Chain) specifically for LaBrie's voice, Unweaving the Rainbow contains a series of songs based on the writings of neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins. In fact, the album's title comes from one of Dawkins' books of the same name, and each song is based on a different chapter from the professor's various books about evolution. But don't let that deter you. This is an astounding album that maintains its strength for all of its 79 minutes and 30 seconds. Pauly plays guitars, bass, keyboards, banjo and percussion while also handling programming, orchestration, engineering and mixing. A trio of other musicians helps out on drums, guitar, bass and sax, but the main emphasis here is on guitars, piano and (naturally) LaBrie.
Pauly encouraged the singer to experiment with many different vocal styles that recall Queen, Savatage, Rabin-era Yes and even Marilyn Manson. Countless overdubs make LaBrie's voice sound like it never has before, as he makes all lead, harmony and modulated vocals his own. Organic ballads like "Above the Grass," "Your Eyes," "La Mer" and "Origins and Miracles" slide in seamlessly with such scorching progressive-rock/metal tracks as "The Gene Machine," "Spiders," "Nice Guys Finish First" and "Arms Races." It's hard to believe that LaBrie recorded 18 songs (these 15, plus three others for a forthcoming multiple-artist rock opera called BabySteps) in 13 days, belting out mind-swelling lyrics for up to 10 hours a day.
This is a complex album that requires several listens before it even begins to make sense, thanks to the depth of the music and the subject matter. As the liner notes state, attempting to explain the disc's connection to Dawkins' work in the fields of genetics and biology: "These songs can only hint at the complexity of the chapters they are based on — they do not attempt to be a summary of Dawkins' ideas."
I wish I'd have heard Unweaving the Rainbow in time to include it on my Top 10 of 2003 list. Hey, Mr. Editor, can it go to 11?