Pagan’s Mind – Heavenly Ecstasy and Symphony X – Iconoclast

Pagan’s Mind
Heavenly Ecstasy
SPV/Steamhammer

Symphony X
Iconoclast
Nuclear Blast

There are some differences between these two bands; Pagan’s Mind are from Skien, Norway, whereas Symphony X claim New Jersey for their home. When acting as purveyors of their chosen genre (progressive metal), though their subject matter may vary, their musical intentions appear to be very similar–and both are undeniably intact.

Trademarks of the two, then, and ubiquitously obvious throughout, are as follows; LOTS of double-bass drumming thump for the faithful, incredibly speedy yet melodic guitar runs, showy keyboards, and soaring vocals. What seems to set them apart, in the end, are their lyrics. While both consult the many gods for the answers to their questions, one gets the distinct impression early on that they are indeed praying to different deities! The titles alone tell the tale, even in the album title itself for Pagan’s Mind, and one need only take a quick glimpse of the Symphony X song titles to get a clear picture of what I’m driving at here: End of Innocence, Heretic, Children of a Faceless God. In short, Pagan’s Mind represent the light, whilst Symphony X decide to take up residence on the dark side of town.

So we have the age-old yin/yang of heavenly vs. hellish, then. Good vs. evil, if you will, which, in my opinion, should have been one of the classic conflicts in Modern Literature class (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, etc.). For every story, like every coin, there are two sides. Both bands have the prog metal chops in abundance. In fact, in both cases, their chops even SOUND like chops, or stabs, if you will. There is an innate power behind both outfits, no denying that. To be blunt, they have both nailed the genre here. It has occurred to me that both have also probably taken the piss for being Dream Theater and/or Queensryche clones, as there are doubtless comparisons to be drawn there as well. For that matter, has anyone ever noticed how Shadow Gallery vocalist Brian Ashland bears an almost uncanny vocal similarity to Geoff Tate? Perhaps all of these prog-metal rockers are in cahoots. It is a popular genre, but there is, as always, the potential for overkill.

On to the light and the dark, then. With Pagan’s Mind, you get the celestial, heavenly side, even in the musicianship. Throughout Heavenly Ecstasy there are exquisitely melodic piano runs, bells, chimes, blissfully pure harmony vocals, and even the occasional vocal effect (phasing in particular seems to be popular with the PM boys). Eyes of Fire is an excellent example – this is metal balladry at its finest. “Walk Away in Silence” boasts an entire heavy metal ‘heavenly’ choir. Revelation to the End even poses the biggest poser of them all, namely “why are we here?” In fact, it becomes rather a chorus throughout the rather lengthy number. By the way, though both bands have essentially longer numbers in their repertoire, the Symphony X lads tunes are longer for the most part. Witness the fact that, with Pagan’s Mind, 11 songs fit on one disc, whereas the Symphony X selections are 12 in number, with one major difference – it is spread across two CD’s. Lengthy indeed.

On the dark side of the street, we see that Symphony X is having a video contest for their song Electric Messiah, who is a ‘reborn, redesigned’ deity, essentially a machine evangelist of sorts. Another SX character is Dehumanized, and wants to ‘resurrect his soul’ because he’s ‘dead inside’. At one point he tells, presumably, his executioner, to “hit the switch, you son-of-a-bitch”. Bastards of the Machine features ‘demons’ and ‘righteous’ bastards, of course. In Children of a Faceless God, SX even bemoans the fate of our (religious) society, claiming ‘misery is our destiny’. Indeed, in SX’s world, The Lords of Light rule, and in the end, When All is Lost (the longest tune save for the title track, clocking in at just over nine minutes), one can only assume that mankind’s need for religion has failed him, even doomed him, to an empty, soul-less world.

Both sets can be found in deluxe format, and, with the Symphony X package in particular,we get all the bell and whistles, or the ‘whole Iconoclast experience’, as it were. This double disc deluxe digipak (say that one five times fast, Carl!) also features artwork from illustrator and film concept artist Warren Flanagan (Watchmen, 2012, The Incredible Hulk). Both can be found on Amazon or iTunes, or through label links via the bands’ websites. If you appreciate the genre, get down to your local recorded music emporium or go online and pick up these two very powerful representatives of the genre. You won’t regret it.

Pagan’s Mind: ****

Symphony X: ****

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