Symphony X – Underworld

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Nuclear Blast Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Any of you who have already heard these cats KNOWS what they are capable of, so it should come as no surprise when I tell you that I was duly impressed by their latest release.  If you are a fan of the grandiose, the spectacle, the bombastic stuff – then ye need seek no further.  Symphony X are the epitome of the prog metal genre in my humble opinion.  They eat Dream Theater Crunchies for their morning tea, folks.  These blokes are NOT messing around, they seriously mean business!  Upon my hearing the first ‘single’ for release, Nevermore, I knew that the wait had been worth it.  It was in these very pages where you must surely have read my musings on their previous release, Iconoclast.  They have stepped up their game even more, which probably should have come as a surprise, but alas – it did not!  Paradise Lost was also a gem, but we are not focused on that particular rock at the moment.  Today we focus on the Underworld

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The second ‘single’ release, Without You, is more of a ballad-style piece, but it also has its anger appeal factor, as we are blasted about midway through the track by a lead guitar solo par excellence from fretmeister Michael Romeo.  By the way, since we are doing a bit of name-checking, let us stop briefly and introduce the other key members involved here, shall we?  Those of you who are familiar with the Adrenaline Mob know of Russell Allen, who is the man behind the pipes.  Seldom have I heard a vocalist with such exuberance and skill(s) to match.  He is ably backed by Michael Lepond on bass and Jason Rullo on the drums.  The man tinkling the ivories is one Michael Pinella, and while not necessarily a Wakeman or Emerson, he is clearly in possession of some of the most innovative keyboard techniques I’ve ever heard.  The fellows who call themselves Symphony X are from Middletown, New Jersey.

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Also on our listening list for this endeavour are the epic title track, not to mention seven other worthy titles; Kiss of Fire, Charon, To Hell and Back, In My Darkest Hour, Run With the Devil, Swan Song and Legend.  We also have the Overture at the beginning, which is mainly drums and monks chanting (of course), but there are also horns and violins and that sense of creepy cool on the synths that always makes people want more, you know.  At about the one-and-a-half minute mark the gents really rock out.

The title track is quite possibly the best example of trip-hammer drumming and double-time Maiden gallop I’ve heard in some time.  The main riff is a wicked one, and the vocals really don’t make their presence known until about a minute in.  At 4:20 all hell breaks loose musically, and then at 5 minutes in they go back to the main riff.

Kiss of Fire features more of the monks and drums, but a minute in and the gents are off to the races again with the main riff.  There is also a big riff at the intro, and more enormous riffage throughout.  At five-and-a-half minutes in there is a wickedly cool lead guitar solo.  It also seems that the bass, guitar and drums are busy as fuck!  The only thing that makes me wonder is what the hell are five schmucks from Jersey talking about the Winds of Charon for?  Oh, crap there I go profiling again!  After all, there ARE some smart folks in Jersey, right?  Just busting your balls, guys!

To Hell and Back is a very large and beautiful ballad with a nice tight intro and another awesome main riff.  Three minutes in there is a lead guitar solo, and at 4:30 there is also an instrumental breakdown.  The lyrical couplet at 5:30 calling for ‘no quarter to be given‘ is very Westeros, but it is also very genuine.  These guys have grand ambitions, and it seems that their chops are, at last, on equal with their musical goals!  At 7 minutes in, there is another guitar solo – in fact, Michael Romeo‘s fretprints are all over this number.

In My Darkest Hour, at least compared to most of these numbers, is short but sweet.  There is a slamming double-bass drum-fuelled intro and a neat guitar solo at 2:45.  Run With the Devil is also a heavy slammer with the opening seeming to be the moment when everyone’s interest is captured.  After all, intros ARE important.  If they can’t grab you within the first 10 seconds of the tune, most punters will bail.  Trust me, if a song starts out stupid, nobody wants to stay on board for the whole thing…To be fair, there is a total jam at the four-minute mark!

Swan Song, another of the longer beasties, is mellower than most of the music recorded here.  It features some beautiful piano work, some nice lyrics (But now you’ve gone/ And the swang song echoes on), and some wicked shredding at about the four-and-a-half minute mark.

Legend is a closer, and again the shredding and the drums and the slamming take hold like a nice-fitting glove.  Any of you out there who are into Symphony X need to immediately discover this piece.  It will not disappoint you!

*****/5

 

 

 

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