I have been listening to progressive metal for over 10 years and it's strange cause I've never heard anything from Tim Donahue before. It's even more strange that he has released six albums already none of which I heard of until Madmen & Sinners came out.
This is so far one of the best progressive metal albums of 2004. I believe one of the factors Donahue has managed to reach a broader audience this time must be the inclusion of Dream Theater vocalist James Labrie. Obviously Donahue wrote this album constantly with Labrie on mind. When he finally got the chance to contact and invite him to sing on this disc, his dreams came true. Honestly I can't fathom a better choice as the singer of this disc since James Labrie does an outstanding vocal performance which matches the atmosphere of the album perfectly.
Madmen & Sinners is a 68-minute long progressive metal album consisting of Tim Donahue on fretless guitar, bass and keyboards; James Labrie on vocals and Mike Mangini on drums. I have been a huge fan of Mangini ever since I first discovered him in Extreme and then Annihilator, Steve Vai and finally Labrie's solo project Mullmuzzler. He recorded his drum parts back in the USA and sent his copies over to Donahue who mixed it at his home studio. The drumming sounds absolutely fresh and creative on the entire disc.
The fact that Tim Donahue has always played fretless guitar gives him his own edge. The sound of the fretless guitar is very distinctive and gives him a lot more freedom in his writing and playing. It has to be pointed out that Donahue's playing is very articulated, smooth and emotionally engaging. Although Madmen & Sinners is primarily his own project, this album in no way sounds like a one-man band project. There is plenty of room left for James Labrie's expressive and dark vocals plus some Gregorian chants which all give this album its own character. James Labrie sings quite differently from his role in Dream Theater and what's so interesting is that whenever Labrie takes part in a side project (Frameshift, Ayreon, Mullmuzzler), he has so much to offer. His singing style shifts from dark soothing vocals on "The End" to a really aggressive style on "Master of the Mind" or "Million Miles". You've never heard him sing the way he sings in "My Heart Bleeds" or "Children of the Flame". It's a pity he is severely criticised by most of his own fanbase for not sounding 'harsh' enough, but at least he has got a 100% James Labrie voice that is instantly recognisable. Instead of sounding like another dated Halford, Dickinson or Kiske clone, he sounds like himself -- the one and only James Labrie.
The first 10 plus times I listened to this album, I was reminded of Dream Theater's SFAM, only less complex and less flashy. But then slowly my opinion started to change and the similarities between to two albums began to wither. This album is definitely its own thing. The added Gregorian chants and fat organ sound with Latin language and the few spoken parts give way to the dark and brooding melodies of the album. You can tell why it took Donahue nearly three years to finish this album since he handled the recording, mixing and production duties solely by himself. Everything is so balanced and each instrument plays in perfect harmony with Labrie's vocals beautifully layered on top of it.
By listening to this album I have realised that Tim Donahue has created a great album and has every right to be proud of it. Hopefully we'll be hearing more from him but I'm in no hurry. This is already one of those discs that I will be playing on and off, for there is so much to discover here. Very highly recommended to prog metal fans who like their music intense, powerful and emotionally charged.