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I reviewed this a while back for the Metal Crypt, but I decided I'd like to do a fresh one here for the Metal Archives. I remember buying this after having heard about them on a forum, around about the time their album Dominate had first come out. I kept hearing comparisons to Symphony X which, at the time, completely sold me. I was big into flashy guitar solos and long songs, and was hoping to find more of that here, which to my eternal joy was handed to me in spades.
Fortunately, it didn't just end at long songs and flashy solos, no, this album blew my fucking mind. I still feel that amongst the entire progressive power flock that this is one of a select few albums that offers something completely unique. It always manages to boggle my mind when people paint this band as a Symphony X clone, have they actually fucking listened to Underworld?
Kicking off with a stunning flourish of shredding guitars, cascading through an odd time signature and then out of nowhere incredible piano work dances across the speakers. Classically tinged, and wielding a dark, ever-so-slightly sinister edge this is Adagio ala 2003. When compared with the debut I can't believe the leap in songwriting. The addition of Kévin Codfert was the best thing that happened to this band, his keyboards are pianos are absolutely incredible, the perfect counterpoint to Stéphan Forté. David Readman was still singing here, although for the last time; fortunately he would leave on a high note, delivering maybe the performance of his career on Underworld(see "Chosen" or "From my sleep... To someone else").
Where this album succeeds the most, is in its guitar and keyboard duels. Stéphan and Kévin were bang on the money here, and as far as my money goes Underworld is quite possibly one the finest examples of dueling guitars and keyboards I've ever heard. To reinforce this point you should look to the solo section in "Chosen", a melodic harmonized guitar part segues into a ball crunching riff, this riff making way for a mind crippling keyboard solo, (by this part I can barely contain my excitement) a highly professional guitar solo delivers extra wow factor, right before a ridiculous string skipping segment results in the Scanners head explosion scene. You can expect similar levels of awesome throughout the album.
Worship of technical mastery aside, this album doesn't start and finish at shredding. The arrangement of each track is wonderful, and despite the fact most of these run over the 6/7 minute mark never feel overblown. David Readman's quality vocal work helps keep Underworld from becoming a mess of instrumental wanking, and in turn the wankery is all the more enjoyable, boasting enough heavy riffs for a cheeky head-bang too. I should also note the atmosphere, which thanks largely to the pianos gives this album its unique, classy feel. Restraint quite clearly isn't a word in Kévin Codfert's dictionary, which I'm glad for because he goes to town on this album, single handedly seperating it from the crowd.
If ever there was a prog/power metal album that deserves more recognition, its Underworld. A highly impressive slice of music, haunting, dark, majestic, grand, I could sit and drop superlatives all day. Whilst this album isn't without its flaws (as with the debut its a little top heavy) the good goes past outweighing the bad, and negates it. Mandatory listening for prog/power fans.
Now this is how a band should evolve! Underworld is not just more progressive than Sanctus Ignis but it has a distinct new sound while leaving you in no doubt that the band you are listening to is still “Adagio”.
The sound has shifted away from the overtly neo-classical sound of before and now feels more like a hollywood film score with some very romantic piano playing thrown in the mix. You won’t hear the harpsichord as much on this album but the presence of a choir and a synthesized orchestra keeps the sound almost more symphonic than before. In fact I would call this album more Symphonic than Neo-Classical. Personally I preferred the more epic, posh/Baroque influenced sound of Sanctus Ignis, but this newer more modern approach will suit listeners who are getting a little tired of the Malmsteen influenced sound shared by many modern Power Metal bands. The production is a little cleaner than before too with everything being very wisely placed in the mix for maximum atmospheric effect.
David Readman’s voice seems more restrained than before but no less effective and Stephen Forte is still god like on his 7 string guitar (one of the most emotional soloists in the business with a great guitar tone). Newcomer Kevin Codfert brings a strong romantic influence to the keyboards and rarely uses any other sound apart from the piano. His presence is very prominent throughout the album as he features on every song often without accompaniment for solos. The bass player gets some good opportunities to show off his skill too (he has a few Zero Hour style tapping bits). The lyrics while for the most part baffling (is Chosen about werewolves or something?) are welcomingly strange or esoteric.
Songwriting wise, this album is all over the place. “Next Profundis” is the best example of this as it is (some crazy time signatures too I presume) a truly unpredictable song that still maintains very catchy vocal lines throughout. Even when you sometimes forget you are still listening to the same song, the chorus comes round again to make you realize that it’s all one song after all. The “title track” (a mammoth 13 minute piece) meanders with symphonics for about 4 minutes before the real band come in and start the real song. “Chosen” is the only real Power Metal song here and is also the most accessible song (double bass!) with a very catchy chorus. Harsh vocals appear twice on the album (once with blastbeats) so you can see that Adagio aren’t afraid of being unpredictable. “Promises” is the oddball track on the album. It’s a very cheesy/touching ballad with a great, long, relaxing piano outro. The other songs have many interesting moments, sounds and catchy vocal lines. If you can get hold of the Japanese bonus track as well, get it! It very much fits with the rest of the album.
For negative points, this is Progressive Metal at its most self indulgent. The song Niflheim for example perhaps wanders on for too long without reaching its climax. The album has only one ballad and so if you’re not paying attention (this is prog!) if will sound samey eventually. It’s very long, very long songs and with the bonus track the album is over 70 minutes long. It’s not exactly the most uplifting album either.
Overall I recommend this album heartily! Its darker, more modern and more progressive than Sanctus Ignis but also a bit less accessible and harder to enjoy immediately. You really will get your money’s worth with this one as you try to get your head round the labyrinthine songs and the lyrics as well. This is an essential masterpiece of Symphonic Progressive Metal which I very much doubt will be met with something similar to challenge it.
Anyone who says that this is mindless emulation of Symphony X is so full of bullshit that I'm surprised they can stand up and walk around. There is a difference between progressive metal (Symphony X) and neo-classical metal(Adagio). But apparently the difference is too subtle for most people. Chh. Anyway, that's enough of that, To the music!
Right from the enigmatic opening of Next Profundis, we can tell that we have waded headfirst into an album filled to the brim with neo-classical godliness. Forte's guitar tone is magnificent through-out the whole thing, whether or not he's having fun with note-filled neo-classical shred that would make Yngwie proud, or showing off his melodic side. There's just really not enough to say about Forte's guitar tone. It's just eargasm after eargasm. BUT, it's not ALL classical. There are some EXCELLENT heavy riffs in this music as well.
Even though Forte's guitar work and song-writing skills are fantastic, he is NOT the high point of this album. That belongs to the vocal brilliance of Mr. David Readman, who IS the greatest singer alive today, WITHOUT question. There is no way to describe his sound to someone who hasn't heard it previously, as there is nobody to compare him too. He is unique in the vocal world which is saying something. He sings with such passion and energy that it's almost infective. He turns what would have just above average neo-classical songs into masterpieces.
The keyboard work in this album is just as fantastic. And the fact that an actual piano is used adds depth to the counter-melodies that the keyboard is providing. Not to mention the blistering speed that Kevin Codfert is able to perform. The piano in the beginning of Next Profundis is so amazingly fast, you wonder if you're listening to some of the great pianists of old.
The bassist and drummers mainly stay in the background giving this music a nice solid backbone. Sometimes though, Dirk Bruinenberg decides to go ape-shit on us and pound out some double-bass action that surpasses the typical "machine gun" and gives some rather eccentric, double bass patterns.
In my eyes, the opening song Next Profundis and the close The Mirror Stage are the two finest songs on here, but don't let them detract from the grandness of the middle songs, as they are fantastic as well, but don't be surprised if you find yourself putting the opener and closer on repeat for a few hours.
Overall, if you're a fan of neo-classical excellence, buy this album. It is the pinnacle of the genre.
If you want something that sounds like Symphony X, STAY THE FUCK AWAY.
High Points: Next Profundis, The Mirror Stage, and Underworld
Low Points: Crying when it's over
It seems like everywhere I turn there's some kind of comment claiming that Adagio are a cheap offshoot of Symphony X. Well, even though both bands are quality, it's sort of like comparing a chocolate cake to a giant turd - sure, they're both moist and brown, but that's about where the similarities end. That's also the first and last thing I'm going to say about Symphony X here.
Adagio are essentially a neoclassical metal band with heavy progressive tendencies and leanings to the dramatic and elaborate. Stephan Forte, Adagio's guitarist and primary songwriter, is perfect for the job - not only does he have amazing aptitude in composition, making his arrangements come across soundtrack-like in scope and cinematic in execution; but he also possess an immaculate sense of melody, making for highly memorable riffs, leads, and solos. The synths, strings, pianos, choirs, and orchestral elements are integrated seamlessly, making Underworld play out almost like theater. Indeed, while metal and orchestra are often found side by side, the progression of this album sees the two trade off in a far more distinct fashion - upon the end of a song, the band will depart the stage, allowing the orchestra and choir to arrive in their place for a transitionary performance, only to have the band move in once more for their part, and so forth. This approach does wonders for the album's sense of scale and really refines the entire concept of "orchestra meets metal".
Both sides of the coin are equally plausible. The orchestral portions are authentic-sounding, powerful, and enveloping... featuring strings, classical piano, brass, and other forms of classical instrumentation. The choral portions are performed by an actual professional choir, and sound very rich. The metal is highly complex from a compositional point of view, is arranged elaborately, and executed flawlessly. As already mentioned, guitarist Stephan Forte puts heavy emphasis on melody, which melds wonderfully with the classical elements... just listen to that solo towards the end of "From My Sleep... To Someone Else" - wow. Keyboardist Kevin Codfert maintains a role in the background for the most part, providing symphonic backing, though he also performs some beautiful piano pieces (such as in the intro to the opening track "Next Profundis", or throughout the ballad-esque "Promises"), and also has his share of proggy keyboard leads. Bassist Franck Hermany doesn't exactly indulge himself, but he does an admirable job of working with drummer Dirk Bruinenberg to establish a dynamic rhythmic pulsing, and actually does have several moments throughout the album where he shines (check out "The Mirror Stage"). Speaking of Dirk - he is the real highlight for me. I tend to be very picky about my drummers, but Dirk's playing here is phenomenal. Specifically, his footwork. I'd be lying if I said that Underworld is completely devoid of typical double-bass marathons, but far more often you hear Dirk working out some very intricately crafted double bass patterns with his feet that add considerable depth to the music. Impressive performance on his end.
That leaves vocalist David Readman, who's sort of the odd man out here as he came into this project from a hard rock background. Considering that, I must say that he performs here effortlessly. He brings all the brooding power, mid-range aggression, and dramatic delivery without the over-extended histrionics you find in many metal bands of this sort. There's also a guest vocalist who rears his head for some throaty screaming on several occasions... he isn't anything special, and doesn't really detract from the overall experience as his appearances are few and far between.
...and that's Adagio's Underworld in a nutshell. A dark concept album with a brilliant balance of orchestral and metal elements that should satisfy neoclassical fanatics, prog lunatics, and orchestra enthusiasts.
Did someone count how many times the name “Symphony X” appeared on this page? We're not speaking about Symphony X however, but about Adagio, this French neoclassical power metal band whose debut album, Sanctus Ignis, sounded like a mix between these two great bands – Symphony X and Angra. A promising beginning, then, if not original.
Alas, this second opus, Underworld, is... well, Symphony X it is not. Unfortunately. Let’s begin with the positive points on this album, as there are few of them. As you may have understood, Underworld incorporates many classical elements, and most of the time it is very well done. The choirs, especially, which are performed by a true classical ensemble, the Ensemble Vocal de Lyon, are of beautiful effect and fit the best with the music. Listen for instance to the title track or the beginning of the second track, Introïtus... Solvet Saclum in Favilla. The other element is the classical piano. I’d never heard of keyboardist Kevin Codfert before, but yes, this young man is really talented! Some piano-only parts, especially in the opening track, Next Profundis - easily the best track here - are more reminiscent of Chopin than of neoclassical metal – an excellent point which could have made this album a unique blend of metal and classical music. Alas...
On to the metal parts now. And now the problems arise, and there are of importance. First, guitarist Stefan Forte is indeed skilled, but his style is too much reminiscent of Malmsteen to be really convincing now. Arpeggios, arpeggios and arpeggios, we didn’t need a 2436th clone of Yngwie, did we? Michael Romeo he is not, far from that. David Readman, the singer. The great Russel Allen he is not either, even if there are some similarities between the two in the more harsh parts. And don’t tell me about the guest appearance of Anorexia Nervosa singer on the third and seventh track, he just has nothing to do on a neoclassical album – he is not even a good death metal singer.
The bass can’t be heard, case closed.
But here is the worst of all. Did you hear this fucking triggered drums? A lame drummer playing on lame drums lamely triggered and mixed by a lame producer (Dennis Ward I think), that is. The mark drops of 15 points because of them, an insult to progressive metal, and metal in general. And forget these fucking blast beats, why the fuck now every (bad) power metal band feels like adding 20 seconds of lame blast beats played on their lame triggered drums in each of their lame songs? Listen to the beginning of the fourth track, From my Sleep... and you’ll understand.
Eventually, the songwriting is poor. Almost every track exhibits the same chorus, on the same tempo and the same chords, uninteresting verses and tons of random wankery in between. The sixth track is a ballad almost as poor and cheesy as Tobias Sammet’s ones (almost, as it can’t be worse of course), and on every song the lyrics sound like uninspired Symphony X recycling (listen to The Mirror Stage... well!).
To conclude, Mr Codfert should leave the band and play genuine classical music, great opportunities await him. For the rest... sorry, but I return to my dear Symphony X.
Highlights: Next Profundis
This band, the first time I heard them and to the unobservant I've spoken to, sound remarkably close to Symphony X, due in part to the strong similarity between the vocalists. On closer examination, one can find a gem that shouldn't be passed up.
Adagio incorporate a lot of classical elements into their brand of prog. The use of an actual piano, in addition to the keyboards, gives this album a touch of class I find that the majority lack. The piano is played as a piano should be as well, bringing to mind the works of Chopin (in stark contrast to the "music" of most keyboardists/pianists in metal today). A chorus is, at times, used to a similar tasteful effect as well, adding atmosphere and elegance as opposed to bombast.
This album is not all classical, however, with some heavy riffing and beats from the rest of the band. Their playing is extraordinary, showcasing excellent musicianship, but a welcomed element of restraint. As they aren't fighting for the spotlight, as it seems most are, they manage to work as a cohesive whole, allowing everything to flow marvelously without ever degrading into mindless wankery. Truly, that is a wonder in itself.
Overall, this album has a sound not unlike Symphony X, but with a dark atmosphere reminiscent of Sigh's "Hail Horror Hail" and the strong classical influence shown in Anorexia Nervosa's post-"Exile" work. Of possible note, Anorexia Nervosa's vocalist can be found on two songs on this album, so perhaps the resemblance between the two bands is more than just a passing one. In my opinion, there is not one weak song on this album. The only flaw of this album, if one could consider it a flaw, is that it puts the rest of the genre to shame.
Fans of progressive and neoclassical metal will either love this album, as I have, or look down on it for lacking the wankery that has become a staple in the genre. Fans of symphonic black metal may also find this album thoroughly enjoyable as it's atmosphere and overall sound bear some strong resemblances to a few of the more able bands of the genre.
Adagio's first album Sanctus Ignis had me thinking they were a Symphony X clone. A great clone but a clone nonetheless. Listening to their latest release, Underworld, has caused me to change that opinion. I think they share a lot of the same influences as Symphony X thus the similarity in sound. On their latest CD Adagio has definitely evolved in a different direction than recent Symphony X . Well there are still some resemblances since Adagio have not gone Death Metal and still play neo-classical metal.
Adagio has integrated a lot more classical influence into their music. The use of an actual piano in addition to keyboards has given the music a different texture. The piano is very effectively used as a counterpoint to the guitar on a couple of songs. Adagio has also used a choir in a couple of the songs further co-opting classical elements in service of the metal cause. The feeling evoked by the choir is unlike the ones evoked by Rhapsody where the choirs usually come across as bombastic. In Adagio case the choir is used a bit more subtly but the effects are still as grand.
All this talk of classical influence can leave the impression that Underworld is a less heavy offering than its predecessor but that is far from the case. It features blistering guitar work and at times devastatingly brutal drums. The guitar work throughout the CD is amazing. Stephan Forte, the guitarist and main songwriter, is smart enough not to hog the spotlight to the detriment of the songs. His guitar work while not the focal point of the album is of undeniable importance. He’s a tasteful soloist in the line of Blackmore and Mamlsteen.
The lead singer, David Readman of Pink Cream 69 does a great job on the vocal department. His vocals have depth and power and he is never overwhelmed by the extravagance of the music. He is a solid presence throughout the CD.
The album opens with the excellent and grandiose sounding Next Profundis. The classical piano is used very effectively and the choir adds a majestic element to the song. The title track is a 13 minute masterpiece that would be worth the price of entry by itself. There is not one weak track on this CD and it will certainly become the reference for quality CD’s in its field.