I did keep my breath held when Symphony X announced they started working on a new album, to be released in July 2015. For oh so many reasons!
They are one of the monsters rocking the progressive scene for over two decades, alongside giants such as Dream Theater. Their albums are modern classics which, I am sure, will be remembered and enjoyed by many generations to come.
To me they are also, a bit, ahem, unpredictable, as much as I hate to admit that. I am totally addicted to their work, yet with “Iconoclast” (2011) I didn’t feel “it” any more: that was way too angry, too harsh and too thrash metal for me. I hardly made myself listen to that CD and did put it somewhere at the very back of my music collection, hidden away so well that I will probably never face listening to it again. To me “Iconoclast” was what “Angry Machines” was for Dio: out of their ordinary style… and not my cup of tea. I love Symphony X as they were up to 2011: an amazing amalgamation of really heavy stuff, powerful screaming vocals, classical orchestrations and motifs, and heart breaking lyrical romance up to the point of drawing tears to my face with masterpieces such as “Candlelight Fantasia”.
I was apprehensive in anticipation of what they would have to say this time for one more reason: their solo projects. Vocalist Russell Allen, the most amazing versatile metal singer alive, having worked with Adrenaline Mob over the past years, unarguably embraced heavy metal at its very best, but clearly (and a bit sadly to me) did also derive from progressive music. Bass player Mike LePond realised his true potential with “Silent Assasins”… So do they actually still have future together as Symphony X?? Or are they simply no more…
So yes, I did ponder: what will the band come up with this time? Will it reaffirm my unconditional love for them… or will it make me conclude: their best is in the past and I will always remain a fan of their older material?
You will understand why, when I did receive the long awaited new album, I couldn’t help my mixed feelings. I am a 100% dedicated fan, so please, God, tell me they are not dead!!
Dead?? I couldn’t have been more wrong! From the very first chords it becomes glaringly obvious that this is Symphony X at their very best. Guitarist Michael Romeo’s song writing talent shines through, having produced eleven tracks bringing together the very essence of the band: raw, powerful, still perfectly thought through and polished prog metal. The whole album is glued together by great, ever so easy to grow on you melodies, perfect instrumental performance and, generally, the very spirit of these true masters of greatest quality metal.
An pic start with “Overture” brings back memories of “Paradise Lost” (2007). And yes, bloody hell, they are back, as good as they have ever been! This album totally, utterly and absolutely rocks. Furthermore, the more I listen to it, the more I reaffirm my opinion that Symphony X are the Gods of prog metal, they haven’t lost it and are not likely to do so in the near future!
If you are unfamiliar with Symphony X’s work and I did made you a tad curious to find out what all this is about, have a listen at the title track: this is the most representative song which is also very typical for the band. Speedy heavy metal backed up with sound background choruses, lyrical melody rushing in out of a sudden, bringing in a melodic dimension to this ever so tasteful, absolutely delicious metal. Sir Russell Allen (as known amongst his fans) does roar like a true demonic lion, but also soars into angelic vocal heights – proving once again that he is The Metal God.
Very characteristic to the band’s traditional sound are tracks like “Kiss of Fire”,“Charon”, and “In My Darkest Hour” where the speedy union of drum and base power is enriched by Sir Allen’s deceptively hoarse (as in restrained and very well controlled, whilst capable of anything) voice, and the backing vocals bring the usual deeper dimension. Listening to “Kiss of Fire” heavily reminds me of some really favourite stuff like “Serpent’s Kiss” and “King of Terrors”. My metal heart cannot help but beat to the maximum here, and head-banging in pure metal pleasure seems like the only option.
There are also tunes here for those who prefer the more melodic dimension of progressive metal: tracks like “To Hell And Back”, “Swan Song” and the inevitable hit of the CD: “Without You”. “The Hell And Back” is another typical track for Symphony X: after tricking the listener into a enchanting romantic mood, it takes a totally different direction towards speedy, powerful, this-is-the-real-thing riffs. But, then, this is what Symphony X is about: that perfect amalgamation of metal and melody that that forms a beautiful juxtaposition.
One thing I can’t help but notice is a slightly new dimension to the band’s lyrical melodies. Typical examples of this are “Run With The Devil” and “Legend”. Somehow they sound slightly unusual to what the band did before. I cannot quite put my finger on it – perhaps they have found their voice in yet another dimension? What is important is that whatever this is, it sounds as good as you would expect it from a band of this range. So does Sir Allen’s voice which seems to be using more and more vocal techniques. The band doesn’t seem to be getting older: they are indeed like fine wine.
I do love the album in its entirety and am unable to find a single fault with it, but if I had to single out my favourite tracks, those would have to be “Underworld”, “Kiss of Fire” (on the speedy side) and, on the melodic side: “Without You” and “Swan Song” – purely angelic, heartfelt, and yes, dedicated to that one and only love, ballads. These are tracks that can be put on a pedestal alongside masterpieces like “Candelight Fantasia” and “Edge of Forever”.
“Without You” is one of the couple of songs the band has released officially on YouTube as a video. This is a classical ballad which could potentially top any rock charts and would appeal to any fans of classic melodic rock/metal. The gentle guitar riffs, subtle keyboard work and choruses blend in together with Russell Allen’s slightly toned down vocals. They sound masterfully, yet powerfully, restrained and soothingly melodic. Even if you are not a fan, please cross your heart and tell me you don’t like this:
Now, next thing to hold my breath over… please, please, please come for a gig in London!!