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Expectations can often make the difference in how an album is received, and anyone who doubts this need only look at the varied (albeit largely positive) responses to Symphony X's 2011 excursion into familiar territory in "Iconoclast". While what defines a typical album by a band like this can be a bit difficult to fully explain, this album basically embodies what can be expected out of Michael Romeo and company, and while evolution tends to happen regardless of style, Symphony X has had a consistent template from which each album has been drawn. The praise and complaints heaped upon this album are pretty much the same, namely that it sounds a lot like other albums that they've put out, but where the naysayers miss the boat is that limited variation is extremely commonplace where a truly great band is concerned, whereas rapid evolution rarely tends to work out as intended.
While a name like "Iconoclast" might indicate a continuation of the religious character of "Paradise Lost", a close examination of the album art reveals a Sci-Fi oriented approach on congregated single-mindedness that reminds heavily of the singular epic powerhouse of a song "Church Of The Machine", itself tied to an album largely dominated by imagery pointing to Greek Mythology in "Twilight In Olympus". It all ties together quite well given that the bulk of this album's contents largely sticks to the heavy, methodical character of that single song, as well as the groove oriented aggression that dominated all but the title song of "The Odyssey". This is not a concept album in the stylized, symphonic sense that its predecessor was, and it is arguably the least symphonic offering out of Symphony X since the late 90s. It comes off as one of the simpler offerings conceived in this band's history, yet it should be noted that this band's version of simplicity is heavily steeped in a blending of Malmsteen and Dream Theater influences that includes heavy emphasis on guitar and keyboard solos, not to mention elaborate rhythmic shifts and grooves that are all mixed together to create a multifaceted, yet still song-oriented result.
Unlike a number of solid offerings of late where things tend to flow together as one cohesive whole, "Iconoclast" is more of a continual contest between songs for the honor of absolute highlight, each one with its own unique character. Often elements of older styles factor in, such as old Judas Priest styled speed metal on "Bastard Of The Machine", though a band like this tends not to dwell on singular approaches for very long and this generally shorter song is still chock full of variations in tempo and guitar work. Other times things tend to be a bit more punchy and groove oriented, such as the chorus-emphasized and somewhat melancholy "The End Of Innocence", which features Russell Allen with a powerful blend of triumph and gruff that gives an already densely layered yet catchy song even more depth and appeal. Even the serene and all too typical closing ballad "When All Is Lost" has a special brilliance to it that, in spite of sounding heavily similar to the token balladry of the last 2 albums, shines as brightly as ever.
One thing that could be granted to the critics is that this album does not really break any new stylistic ground per say, whereas the last two had some clear moments of leaps in evolution from what preceded them. Even when hearing the chaotic mayhem that kicks off "Light Up The Night", which would seem to be a new pinnacle in Romeo's continuing quest to get heavier and flirt with thrash metal territory, can't help but sound remarkably similar to another "Twilight In Olympus" song "In The Dragon's Den". Likewise, the ambitious epic of a title song does have some degree of commonality with "Church Of The Machine" in overall structure, though it moves around a bit more from one section to the next and is not quite as catchy. Then again, all of the familiar sounds that characterized this band's 2002 killer of an album are on full display on the crushing speed/groove monster "Heretic", which turns out to be one of the most infectiously catchy yet also technically brilliant concoctions ever put out by this band.
It's definitely a stretch to call this the greatest album that Symphony X has ever put out, but it is understandable given that it does listen like a distilled combination of all their best works. Anyone who has liked anything they've put out since after their debut and the introduction of Russell Allen to the fold will derive a lot of enjoyment from what is contained here. While it functions quite well in its traditional 9 song release, the special 2 CD edition is a must have as it showcases a longer, yet far more varied experience. This goes for anyone with an interest in the album too, not just the hardcore fan base. Machines may or may not rule the world tomorrow, but as of now it's pretty well stipulated that Symphony X is running things on this side of the power/progressive equation.
Originally published at http://suite101.com
To say that Symphony X is starting to take their sweet time between releasing albums may not be an unfounded argument. Between various side projects, extensive touring, and the usage of a home stereo known as the Dungeon to satisfy the notorious perfectionism of guitarist Michael Romeo, it may be an act of the gods to have had this album released at all! But now four years after the release of the heavy but divisive Paradise Lost, Symphony X has returned with a new release that may be one of their most ambitious to date. In addition to serving as the band's highest entry on the Billboard chart to date, it is also the band's first album to be released on a special edition double disc format.
For the most part, it's safe to say that this album's sound isn't too far off from the mold that was brought forth by Paradise Lost. Russell Allen's vocals still largely consist of husky wails and borderline growls, the downtuned guitar work ranges from shredding to chugging, and the classical influences are still scaled back to an extent while still retaining an overall grandiose atmosphere.
In fact, it's hard to say that a lot has really changed since the last album. There may be a few more mid-tempo moments than there were before and some meaner sounding vocal lines here and there, but the jump between this album and Paradise Lost is much less dramatic than the jump that happened between that album and 2002's The Odyssey. In a way, it seems to parallel Helloween's recent sound evolution and the similarities between their two most recent albums; there has not much in the ways of a stylistic evolution. Instead, the band is getting a bit more comfortable with the changes that were previously made.
And like every other Symphony X album, there is a lot to say about the band members' performances. Romeo is still the star of the show as he continues to craft the familiar rhythms and spectacles of technicality while keyboardist Michael Pinnella continues to stand out amongst the more aggressive soundscapes. Much has been made about Allen's vocal performance, especially since this album and Adrenaline Mob's debut EP suggest that he'll be sticking with it. While there are moments where his cleaner tone is missed, he still shows a lot of range on several choruses as well as on the album's more melodic moments.
Speaking of melodic moments, the songwriting shows a little less variety than its predecessor and largely goes between faster power metal romps and mid-tempo groove run-throughs. Predictably, the faster songs win out due to the catchy hooks and more traditional feel that they offer. "The End of Innocence" was the first track previewed for a reason as its chorus is uplifting and the keyboards are fairly prominent. In addition, "Bastards of the Machine" and "Heretic" offer memorable choruses with the former featuring some nice backing vocals while the latter is a bit more bitter in approach.
Fortunately the slower tracks do offer some interesting moments. "Children of a Faceless God" ends up being one of the more memorable songs due to its melodic vocals and the feeling of it being a somewhat odd cross between "Wicked" and "The Serpent's Kiss." While this album doesn't exactly offer any twenty minute epics of yore, there are a few longer tracks to round things out. The opening title track is almost eleven minutes of awesome thanks to its drawn out introduction, simple but fist-pumping chorus, and choral flourishes that give things a nice old school touch. "When All Is Lost" is also a solid track as it seems to be the closest thing to a ballad to be found.
And if you've got a bit of extra money, I would recommend tracking down the double disc edition. While twelve songs may be a bit much to take in, the three extra songs that it throws in are pretty good. "Light Up The Night" is an almost thrashy track, "The Lords of Chaos" is a strong mid-tempo tune, and "Reign In Madness" closes things out in epic fashion.
In a weird sort of way, this is probably one of the weaker Symphony X albums that has come out in a while. Don't get me wrong, it's a great album and certainly worth looking into, but it's a merely great album in a discography of borderline perfect albums such as The Odyssey and the unshakable Divine Wings of Tragedy. Some fans may still not be used to the direction that the band has gone with and there's still a question of where the band will go in the future, but there are plenty of good songs to be heard on here. If anything, you certainly won't be disappointed if Paradise Lost was one of your favorite albums in 2007. I know I still love it.
The End of Innocence
Children of a Faceless God
When All Is Lost
Symphony X has always been sort of an enigma to me. I have always really enjoyed their records, if only just for the amazing musicianship of one Michael Romeo. The last few years, Paradise Lost, The Odyssey, and V: The New Mythology Suite (in descending order, of when it was released) all portrayed a really artistic side of Symphony X, and I believe encompass a string of opuses, let me reiterate, for this band. To which, I believe Iconoclast picks up from. A CD filled with amazing musicianship, catchy riffs and choruses, a signature ballad, but always leaving you a tad disappointed that the majority of the songs following the exact same structure. Verse, Catchy Chorus, Verse, Amazing musicianship/solo, Chorus. Its a shame, because the music on here has so much potential.
Iconoclast is a supposed "concept album" with themes centering around the heavily used topic of "Machines taking over the world, and our technology coming to follow through with our demise" I have grown quite tired of this topic as it reminds me a lot of the movie "I, Robot" With song titles like "End of Innocence" and lyrics like "Selling our futures for a song, we gave away" Its not hard to escape that theme. This theme seems to add to the CD becoming very stale, as well. Honestly, any theme will get boring if it isn't properly developed.
Russell Allen's voice has deteriorated a bit since their debut, which is to be expected when you have been involved with music for as long as you have. Perhaps it is not so much that his voice has deteriorated, it is just that he strains more when he attempts to use his vibrato. However, on songs like "Children of a Faceless God," or "When All Is Lost," the vibrato returns with a vengeance. As always his voice carries the music very well, and adds emotion to all the mechanical grinding that Romeo's riffs inject into the songs.
With all Symphony X albums there is always the obligatory up tempo piece, that is usually brilliantly aided by keyboards (How many times do you think people say that?) and is definitely what one would describe as "catchy." "Bastards of the Machine" and "Electric Messiah" follow this vein. This is what makes Symphony X so popular, they're ability to catch this media friendly, late 80's Priest-esque influenced radio worthy metal. Along with weaving intense technical ability from Romeo and company.
Overall, this is what I have come to expect and accept of Symphony X. You are going to get a general theme that gets stale very quickly, because of how poorly developed it is. You are going to get songs that start to blend together because of how similar they all are. You are going to get a myriad of amazing riffs, and some incredible solos from Michael Romeo, which still make me shake my head today. You will get the stereotypical "anthemic" ballad which is filled with despondent themes. The Iconoclast won't add anything to the genre of progressive metal. It won't really add much to Symphony X's pretty good résumé. But its a safe and catchy release, and I still find myself listening to it every so often.
This is a difficult album to review. I wanted to give it a horrible rating at first, but then I realized that it wouldn't be fair to. It really is an enjoyable album, but there are issues that need discussing. With Paradise Lost, Symphony X left a lot of their progressive roots behind and adopted a more power metal sound than before. I was okay with this because they have always had certain elements of power metal, but just enough progressiveness and other non-power metal elements to keep them out of it. Unfortunately, while I did like and approve of that direction, this time they seem to be shooting straight past it and going for a very mainstream Americanized sound (I am American, just an fyi). This is an issue that faces a lot of modern metal bands of all genres; many are selling out and becoming mainstream metal or even nu metal bands and are completely abandoning their roots.
While Paradise Lost was very power metal, that was okay because Symphony X has always sat on the border between progressive and power, but this time they're completely ignoring what they once were and are becoming Bastards of the American culture. The problem I have with American culture and society is that it absorbs and devours all creativeness and destroys it, creating things that are popular and catchy, but little else. So many "music" artists in America today really have no talent and hardly even play any instruments. This is an issue that I hoped would never reach Symphony X, but unfortunately the great bloated monster that is American culture has gotten there.
The songwriting and creativity is what has died in this album. It's got plenty of catchy hooks and awesome metal riffs and shredding and all of that stuff, but it has no real identity of its own. It's hardly progressive at all and I wouldn't even know Symphony X had written it if it weren't for a couple of things. First of all, Allen Russel has another great album with pretty good vocals even if they stay a bit too low for my tastes. Second of all, Iconoclast and When All is Lost are both amazing songs and probably two of the best they have ever written. When All is Lost is an amazing ballad/epic,and it's my favorite of their ballads. It's way better than both Accolades and all of their other ballads. What I love about it is that it has this really soft and beautiful tone at the beginning with some gorgeous vocals by Russel Allen, then close to the end it has this amazing guitar solo and some awesome riffage. I love every second of this song and if you are a true Symphony X fan, you will to. Iconoclast is pure power metal with amazing riffage and one of my favorite choruses ever. This song just rocks, plus is 10 minutes long, and with Symphony X, longer songs just mean more awesomeness. If you heard Paradise Lost, then nothing in this song will really surprise you except for perhaps how amazing the chorus is.
Now comes another problem. This album has very little diversity as most of the album is fast mainstream metal music. There are some good ones, though. End of Innocence, Bastards of the Machine, and Prometheus are great tunes with some really catchy hooks. I also singled these ones out because they retain a little more of the progressive sound of Symphony X, which is nice. The rest of the songs are just too samey and not truly great enough to be remarkable.
All in all, this album is important because it does introduce some really good live material for Symphony X and two of their greatest epics ever. If you are a metalhead, you will love this album, but if you are a hardcore Symphony X fan, you might not enjoy this as much. I actually did enjoy most of this album, but as per the problems I discussed above it's just not a great album and for me ranks 6th overall amongst Symphony X's discography.
Progressive metal band Symphony X is finally back with a brand new album entitled "Iconoclast." This is the eighth full length album that the they have released. The album is full of progression mixed with symphonic power metal tones. From heavy bass lines and distorted guitar riffs to operatic strings and piano keys, this album has it all.
The album kicks off with the song "Iconoclast," which is over 10 minutes long. This track has got everything. Monstrous guitar riffs fill the air immediately as Michael Romeo shreds the scales up and down. He is accompanied by high cymbals splashing everywhere and constant kick/snare action. This is then surrounded by heavy orchestrated strings, giving the melody a warm background as you jump into the verse. The lead vocalist, Russell Allen, soars over the guitars with aggressive clean singing. Putting so much energy and passion into his voice, he really draws you closer to the music. Half way through the song enters a beautiful guitar solo that destroys every note in sight. The guitar work is absolutely magnificent. Also, pay close attention to the drums as you will notice the constant change in pattern and how smooth each roll is as it flows right into the next one.
"Electric Messiah" fades in with distortion, leading right into a wall of guitars towering over you with catchy yet complicated riffs. After hearing the refrain a couple of times, you will be singing along, as I'm sure you'll find it as likeable as I did. The song also has a melodic breakdown that will have you bobbing your head straight through. The way the drums play off the bass and guitar riffs is incredible. This is followed by a beast of a solo that will leave you breathless as the notes grab you by the throat!
"Heretic" is overwhelming with crazy double bass pedals and constant snares cracking off left and right. The fills that are played between the verses are mind blowing. The guitars are massive as they chug away in heavy melodic patterns. As the verses take over, Allen throws more aggressive vocals at you as he hits both operatic and mid range tones. You'll also find similar elements in "Children Of A Faceless God." Quick guitar riffs accompany booming bass lines giving tremendous power to the lower end of the song. Allen fits in perfect as his vocals fly over top with angelic lyrics. This is a "must hear" song!
Just when you thought things couldn't get any better, you will run into "When All Is Lost." This song starts out soft with ravishing piano riffs and gorgeous lyrics sung with Allen's marvelous vocals. Heavier distorted guitars enter later on. However, they continue to keep sort of soothing feel throughout. Later, an astonishing piano bridge enters layered with consoling strings. This is then followed with an electrifying guitar solo keeping you at the edge of your seat all the way to the end. This is truly a stunning masterpiece with great structure and meaningful lyrics.
After listening to the album straight through, its leaves you begging for more, almost as if they could offer you some sort of encore. Well guess what, Symphony X offers a special edition of "Iconoclast" which includes three extra bonus tracks! I highly suggest you pick this up if you are looking to fill your metal addiction. The album is astounding from front to back. This is a CD you'll want to keep in your stereo for days.
I was very excited when I got this album. Much more than excited, I was euphoric! I had nothing but superb hopes for this album, especially after (what I consider to be their best album) Paradise Lost. So I popped the cd into my car driving to work one day and listened to it. When Iconoclast began I was all like, "Wooohooo this is sooo cool" with the little Metroid-sounding electric sound slowly going into piano and then the riff came in and I was like "wooo" and so on so on. Then the chorus came. Which was terrible. But I overlooked that when the solo came and after picking up pieces of my freshly melted face the song ended and overall an enjoyable experience.
Then came "The End of Innocence". Now don't get me wrong, the song is great, but it's "Set the World on Fire" with different lyrics. I really am not kidding very much. From the intro which is the same to even the weird 7/8 bridge to the first verse, which is the same and blah blah blah. Then upon listening to the rest of the album, it's almost a complete rehash of Paradise Lost, but not as good. It is all exactly as my title put - Americanized.
Now not to say that there's anything wrong with American music (well, I believe there is, but you can come to your own opinions about that), but Symphony X has always set themselves aside for me as being the most melodic/harmonic metal band from America to still maintain awesomeness. But now this album is essentially 9 parts rhythmic and 1 part melodic (on a ten part scale). Very little, if any, harmonic elements to be seen. The vocals consist of Russel Allen's voice sometimes even doing what seems as rapping; senseless, non-lyrical, metered rhymes ("Pull the Switch", you son of a bitch", for example, from what I consider the worst song on the album) and at the end of the day, they're just very rhythmic. Which isn't bad. I just think it is. It's too easy and very unimpressive.
This album also evoked no emotion in me...at all...besides disappointment. Paradise Lost unleashed so much emotion that it was incredible; triumphant in "Set the World on Fire", remorseful on "Paradise Lost", so on and so forth. That album had a story, a purpose. This is about machines taking over the world. I can watch the Matrix and have essentially the same experience (though even that considered, there's still more emotion than Keanu Reeves in this album).
So here we are, me trashing the album for a good four paragraphs as you are all thinking, "now why, sir, did you give them an 80 if it was that bad?". And I shall indeed enlighten you - Symphony X is still amazing. Even their trash is good to my ears. I just hope they recover some lost ground on their next album.
What we have here is a group of very skilled and talented musicians, who know how to use the maximum of their instruments. As a team they work well, that is more important than their individual skills, and they are capable to make really impressive excellent songs. You don't have to be a huge Symphony X's fan to notice the sound change in their music. That refers to much modern guitar tone with over-used amount of distortion, lack of neoclassical elements, less keyboards and Russell Allen sings much more aggressive. Change of guitar tone and Allen's voice came with The Odyssey, and I can smell horrible Pantera's influence. Of course, you can't expect from progressive metal band to have constant sound, 'cause progressive means that their songs are complex and bands change sound constantly, and metal, which means it belongs to heavy metal music genre. Their tension to create complex stuff whole the time can result in making some mediocre and uninteresting songs. After this release came out, it left great impression, but after more, and more listens some songs lost their charm. Songs which really impressed me after the very first listen were: Iconoclast, The End Of Innocence, Dehumanized, Heretic, Children Of A Faceless God, Electric Messiah and Light Up The Night.
Iconoclast has really nice symphonic metal touch, with epic and eerie choir, massive riffs, well-made progressions which affect tempo change and enjoyable ambient. Choir and dark symphonic arrangements in the middle of the song are too long, they sound well after few listens, and after some time that part becomes annoying. In the beginning I tolerated weak refrains, but soon they become boring. Dehumanized was one of first songs which appeared on YouTube published by record label. They knew what to choose since that song is really memorable, real ear-candy, but refrains are weak, riffs are not much special and song becomes boring soon. In the middle it has some interesting parts and solo, that's all. At first I thought Electric Messiah was as good as The End Of Innocence, Heretic, Children Of A Faceless God and Light Up The Night. Despite good riffs, energetic tempo, solid technical solo and enjoyable ambient, refrains kill the song 'cause they become boring after repetitive listens, but it's very good song anyway.
Heretic progresses from mid to faster tempo, full of massive heavy riffs, Allen's voice is really strong and rough, and fits well in the song, drums are nice, and give pleasant feel. Michael made excellent technical solo, and keyboards in the background make whole thing sound better. Children Of A Faceless God has similar progressive structure, well-written lyrics, another excellent solo and it has the best refrain from this release. Light Up The Night is full of very fast riffs, double bass pedal work is fine, refrains are excellent and again Romeo raped guitar to make his solo. The End Of Innocence has constant mid tempo without any sign of complexity and progressions, just straight forward power metal, with excellent riffs, nice refrains, technical solo with more feel than many others from this release. Keyboards, drums and electric guitar make pleasant ambient. Good thing is keyboards do appear in these songs, but they don't have dominant role like on their previous work. They appear in some intros, after guitar solos sometimes, but mostly as backing instrument.
When All Is Lost shows how not to force complexity if it doesn't work well. Song is very good in general, but there are some chaotic bad parts because of the messy tempo variations - from ballad parts to really heavy riff driven parts. Other songs are not special. Songs like The Lords Of Chaos and Reign In Madness have terrible Pantera's Walk riffs which is result of notable Pantera worship. Also, Allen was influenced a bit with Anselmo since he shouts most of the time. However I don't count Anselmo clown as a singer. What the fuck is he, a shouter? Screamer? Semi-growler? Allen has got really powerful, unique voice with higher register, and he should sing normally, like he did on past releases.
Good sides of this release:
You have 4 amazing songs full of riffs with various speed, it depends on the song. They have excellent guitar solos, vocals are amazing, they have complex structure, so tempo changes constantly. Songs have well-written lyrics, and lyrical topic is about machines taking control over human kind. Science fiction. However, there are very good songs like Electric Messiah and When All Is Lost, and if they spent more time editing them I'm sure they could have been excellent.
Bad sides of this release:
Some of these songs leave great impression after first few listens, and leave you in the state of euphoria, but with time you will realize they are not that good. Many songs are weak, not well inspired and not memorable at all. That's because they tend to make complex songs at any cost. In most of songs refrains are not excellent. That's really weird, since they are capable of making amazing ones.
The End Of Innocence, Heretic, Children Of A Faceless God and Light Up The Night.
Russel Allen has worked in several projects such as Avantasia, Allen/Lande, and Star One in the past years and now he decided together with Michael Romeo that it was time for a new Symphony X release after their 2007 "Promised Land".
The band have released a special edition including a 2cd release, but my review here goes for the regular edition that contains 9 long songs. I'm not a real fan of long songs, but Symphony X can bring out great long songs such as their previous works like "King Of Terrors", "Smoke And Mirrors", "Church Of The Machine", and others to name. Here we have one of the best long songs I've heard, the title-track for its almost 11 minutes I can definitely say is a masterpiece.
Together with the title-track, my other two favorite songs are the songs the band performed live before the cd was even released, "The End Of Innocence", a fast rocking with a catchy chorus to remember for some time, and "Dehumanized", a very dark and aggressive song. Another song that is remarkable on this release is the final song "When All Is Lost". They have chosen the right song to finish the cd, a piano intro very nicely done and then we have one of the best vocals I've heard from Russel Allen.
We can also find other good songs here like "Heretic", a melodic and aggressive song (but it should have a better chorus), and "Electric Messiah", another great song done by Symphony X, but I'd rather have seen "The End Of Innocence" or "Dehumanized" as their video clip and not this song. Also "Children Of The Faceless God", but only for its amazing chorus as I didn't find the full song that special.
Continuing with the heaviness that defined their previous effort, 2007’s Paradise Lost, Symphony X made another compelling argument that they should be considered the dominant progressive/power metal band with Iconoclast.
Centered around a theme of technological uprising, the album is an astounding prog-metal masterpiece reminiscent of Dream Theater’s Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. That band/album is a good reference point when evaluating Iconoclast; since the follow up to Six Degrees…, 2003’s Train Of Thought ventures into heavier territory and the incorporation of a more modern sound has sat uncomfortably within Dream Theater’s music. This is certainly not the case with Symphony X. It's quite the opposite. The heavier direction of the past two albums has only strengthened the band's sound, taking it to places, while perhaps not sought after, out of reach during past eras of albums such as The Odyssey and The Divine Wings Of Tragedy. A lot of the criticism towards Dream Theater’s more recent output has centered around James LeBrie, claiming the band’s sound has outgrown him as a singer. Again, it is the complete inverse for Russell Allen. His voice sounds as perfectly suited here as it did on their early albums, sitting somewhere comfortably between LeBrie in his heavier moments and the mighty Dio. His performance is a standout of the album as is also that of drummer Jason Rullo, whose drums don’t play a lead role like the Mike Portnoys of the world would, but firmly laying down the foundation for Iconoclast’s sonic chaos to take part atop, seamlessly shifting time signatures and tempos.
The highlight of the album is certainly the opening title track, a ten-minute epic driven by its irresistible, anthemic chorus that, despite its length and like all the tracks on Iconoclast, only ends too soon.
Beginning with their last album 'Paradise Lost', American prog metal legends Symphony X took a new direction with their music, abandoning some of their neoclassical and progressive roots in favour for a harder-edged metal sound. As with most stylistic changes a band can take, this divided the band's fanbase, and while I do find myself preferring the unique and complex sounds they had with 'The Divine Wings Of Tragedy', I was not entirely opposed to the new, darker sounds Symphony X was going for. The band's latest album 'Iconoclast' continues exploring the same style as 'Paradise Lost', and keeps the same high quality of speedy riffs and intensity of the band. Despite Symphony X's consistent technical brilliance here however, I can't find this latest installment of the Symphony X saga nearly as engaging or interesting as they used to be.
Although sold in single-disc format as a budget alternative, Symphony X's 'Iconoclast' is a sprawling double album, composed of eighty minutes or hard hitting progressive-tinged power metal. Taking main stage here is the neoclassical shredding and vicious riffs of guitarist Michael Romeo, and the acrobatic howls of singer Russell Allen. When compared to the band's earlier work, the most noticeable difference is the seeming lack of keyboards here for the most part; 'Iconoclast' is an album that relies almost exclusively on gritty riffs and guitar-based songwriting, with the other instruments like keyboards only taking center stage sparingly. Although ten minute songs are no stranger here to 'Iconoclast', Symphony X are a much less proggy band, instead focusing more on the intensity and bite of their ideas rather than their inherent complexity.
Despite the change that Symphony X has made to their sound, they still play absolutely incredibly. Michael Romeo may very well be one of my favourite guitarists of the entire power metal spectrum, always managing to find that perfectly heavy guitar tone for his perfectly executed neoclassical sweeps. The production here is also very professionally done, and the package as a whole really feels polished. The songwriting and riffs here are even quite well done, but even despite the fact that the band executes things perfectly here, much of 'Iconoclast' sadly sounds alike, and especially for the sake of such a long album, this tends to really test my patience. Also, I have never been a fan of Russell Allen's voice even despite his obvious talents and skills as a singer, and on 'Iconoclast', I am finding myself liking his vocals less and less. There is warmth being exchanged for angry shouts, and while it's still difficult not to be impressed by the man's range and ease of delivery, there is not much about Russell Allen's performance here that really attracts me to it.
The songwriting is good, but often feels a little cut-and-pasted together, and the choruses are sometimes outweighed by cheesiness rather than that sense of 'epic' they so strive for. 'When All Is Lost' is the highlight here for me, beginning quite softly, but building up to some of the most impressive vocal melodies from Allen on the record, as well as the always- incredible lead work of Romeo. The songwriting is fairly consistent on 'Iconoclast', although the album's length does make one wish there was some more variety here to freshen things up, especially by the time the first disc is over.
'Iconoclast' is a good album for Symphony X, and even great for fans of the gritty power metal they are doing here. I do find myself really wishing they could go back to their more unpredictable, well-rounded and epic progressive metal of the earlier days despite the quality here though, and although Symphony X's performance here is technically brilliant, I find myself a little bored by what they are doing here.
Symphony X's previous album Paradise Lost finally succeeded in putting the band into more mainstream metal areas, uncharted territory for the band. Thanks to that album and exposure via some massive world touring with the likes of bands like Dream Theater and Megadeth, Symphony X is now a band that really everyone and their brother who's into metal can say that they at least know about. And that's a good thing, because this band does deserve some real recognition. But at the same time, I did find myself to be a bit disappointed with the product in Paradise Lost. The songs were a bit too long, Michael Romeo seemed to be lacking in the solo department, and generally it was an overtly bombastic affair that seemed to kind of just drag on and on. Despite these issues, Paradise Lost did a lot of things very good and I wondered if Symphony X could build on some of those good qualities exhibited in Paradise Lost while reigning in some of the other issues on their next outing.
Well, it's pretty safe to say they did. Iconoclast is a much improved album over Paradise Lost in most categories. The songs are shorter and more concise, the atmosphere has been given great attention to a huge payoff, and it is a more consistent album throughout than it's predecessor. In that respect, Iconoclast does build off of many of the good things that happened on Paradise Lost, but in some other ways it does fall short from being an amazing album by arguably the most accessible progressive metal band out there to date.
If I could pick one thing that really jumped out to me about Iconoclast on my first real listen through the entire album, I would have to say it's the atmosphere and how Symphony X went about constructing it. Atmosphere is not something I typically care about, but on concept albums like this one it is something that must be considered. Does the music immerse me in the story world? Dare I say does it live up to the cover art? Well yes, it does. For album that's rife with a sort of Terminator-esque storyline and talks about man's fusion with machine, one must say that Symphony X did create really the best possible atmosphere for this album. It's loaded with synthesizer sounds and mechanical riffing with synchronized drumming to boot. Sounds kind of like Fear Factory, but it's not. It's much better than that. While Fear Factory and other bands that take up the whole "mechanized' feel to things, the atmosphere on Iconoclast is rife with life as if this album is a cyborg that's trying to show it's a lot more human than it is machine.
The result of all this attention to a mechanical atmosphere is the most keyboard driven Symphony X album to date. Michael Pinnella clearly had a lot of freedom on this album when it came to what exactly he was playing and the composition of the album. It's rife with the sounds of machines and samples that make you feel like you're in the Matrix or Terminator. That's a good thing to, as the last album had such a broad concept that making it sound believable but not over the top was extremely difficult. Here though, the fact that there are so many synths and there are so many samples really enforces the atmosphere of the album to the utmost degree. Not to mention Mr. Pinnella has not taken a back seat in the technical department either. The lines are all rife with scaling runs and arpeggio patterns that will make your head explode from repeated exposure. But it's never really overwhelmingly technical and it never really gets boring like you think it would. It's done so well that you really feel you're in the world of this music.
However, there is a drawback to this. It does rather negatively affect the guitar work. While I will say that as a whole the guitar work here is better than it was on Paradise Lost, I do think it comes in part due to the fact that the band clipped the song times rather than that Michael Romeo actually got better with the riff composition. But that's unfair to say because in reality, he did get better in that area on Iconoclast. The moments where the guitars just take over, like Light Up The Night and Electric Messiah. But it's the moments where he just kind of plods along with the keyboards that really show where things are lacking. Thankfully those moments are in general shorter and not as easily apparent to the casual listener as they were to me. The parts where the riffs do drive the songs really do stand out as well in comparison to Paradise Lost, and I feel like those parts are in general better on Iconoclast then they were on it's predecessor. Not to mention the guitar solos on this album are ripping and seem much more up to par with what Romeo can do that they did on the last album. No all out shred fests, but the solos are all extremely strong in their own regard.
Iconoclast is a bit less bassy than Paradise Lost, but actually it's a bit more rhythmically advanced than it's predecessor. I find it so impressive that the band can have some really great beats from Jason Rullo and have them be so advanced. This is a very fast album in the drum department, which a lot of double kick and some great drumming throughout consistently. Jason appears to have really stepped it up in the technicality department on Iconoclast, which I think is good because the past few Symphony X albums have something to sort of be desired on that side of the drum department. I like this, because he finally seems to becoming a true force behind the kit to go with the other members. Michael Lepond's bass lines are as tight as ever, and I'm very pleased with the majority of them. No real bass solos on this album, but the bass work here is more than you'd expect. It's very pleasing.
Russell Allen had his work cut out for him after putting up a great performance in Paradise Lost. And to say he matches it well, is not really accurate. But saying he fell short is as well. He sounds a little less emotional and angry when compared to Paradise Lost, but he loses next to nothing on his overall ability when compared to Iconoclast. I have to say that the choruses on this album are overall much better than it's predecessor. Many of them are much more catchy and I think in general contain better and more stronger hooks to make you want to keep on listening. Not to mention there are few moments where I feel there could be some singing when there isn't. That is perfect. As stated, the lyrics about man's fusion with machine and humanity's consumption by the technology it created is readily apparent throughout Iconoclast. The lyrics are written well, a bit more abstract and less in your face when compared to Paradise Lost. The one downfall though is that the lyrics do not seem to connect, as while they all have an overarching theme they do not seem continuous in regard to a story.
On top of that, the mixing and production of Iconoclast is awesome. It does not sound as loud and overpowering when compared to Paradise Lost, but it has a similarly mixed sound overall. It is much better equalized and clear, and I think it definitely enforces the mechanized theme of the album without making it sound too cold. Everything gets pretty good attention and nothing overpowers anything else. I'm very pleased with the job in the studio this album was given.
Iconoclast solves many of the issues of it's predecessor and is definitely worthy of being considered a strong effort in Symphony X's catalog. Just as advanced musically as anything they've done but better composed throughout, Iconoclast outdoes it's predecessor and is another worthy addition to a great resume of awesome progressive albums. This album is a lesson in how to upgrade musical mechanics.
I had always heard Symphony X as being a progressive metal band, frequently coupled with the likes of Dream Theater and Stratavarious. From my general dislike of most progressive music, I made the huge mistake of never giving Symphony X an opportunity until overhearing bits of Paradise Lost a few years ago. They’ve since quickly ascended the ranks of my favorite bands. Much of their older material – although good – is a bit too progressive for my taste and my preference leaned towards their heavier songs such as “Of Sins and Shadows” or “Smoke and Mirrors.” With Paradise Lost, the band’s offering of heavier, more traditional metal songs, created a high level of anticipation for Iconoclast.
The band has now masterfully created the ultimate Symphony X album. They have taken another step in toning down the progressive elements of their music, creating an album I find more fitting and appropriate to their sound. More traditional song structures, memorable melodies, and heavy riffs with groove elements but maintain an edge of technical orchestration. Michael Romeo shines once again on guitar and is vastly underrated in the guitar community. A particular feature of Romeo is his ability to generate technically precise riffs while still maintaining a steady flow throughout the song, instead of spotlighting a five minute guitar solo. His riffs and solos have something to offer to each song and I never perceive them as merely an excuse to shred. I am pleased with the guitar tone on this album, although there was some unusual tone adjustments on a few solos. Another rewarding attribute of Symphony X is the unique and talented vocalist Russell Allen. He is the perfect choice for this band and he once again gives a brilliant performance on this album.
Iconoclast has wider offering of songs which would likely be pleasing to fans or “Set the World on Fire” or “Domination.” The opening title track makes up one of their more progressive tracks on the album and is reminiscent of their early material. The following two tracks, “The End of Innocence” and “Dehumanized” are catchy, fist pumping, anthems which finds yourself singing along before the end of the first listen. “Electric Messiah” particularly stands out as a heavier track likely to surprise anyone who, like me, had assumed Symphony X was strictly progressive. “When All Hope is Lost” is another fine offering of a ballad opus which seems to improve with every listen.
Overall I think Iconoclast is great. I was pleased to find their latest offering has expanded on what was introduced with 2007’s Paradise Lost. If you prefer their heavier and faster songs from past albums, Iconoclast will be quite a treat. In my opinion, this is the Symphony X album I have been waiting for.
Symphony X's "Iconoclast" is the latest in a series of albums by formerly more melodic style metal bands where they put much more emphasis on heaviness than they did previously. This isn't exactly a bad thing per se, except when trying to be heavier they always opt for more the groovy, Pantera influenced kind of heavy as opposed to a more thrashy or doomy kind of heavy, but even when they opt for the latter, it never seems like they are totally comfortable with it. Plus, to me at least, it usually seems like they are only doing it because of the frequently negative reactions and accusations of "gay" that are often thrown at more melodic, progressive, or symphonic forms of metal.
In Symphony X's case, it may be they are just in the mood lately for this heavier style, but it does seem like they might be trying to widen their audience a bit. Certainly I can't fault them for this but think about it. They have dropped the fantasy/mythology/literature themed lyrics of the past for a more technological, and dystopian theme which certainly seems more digestible to the majority of metal fans who often find the former style of lyrics cheesy or pretentious, which in addition to their heavier sound seems like it's catering a bit.
So yeah as you may be able to tell, this is my main problem with this album. Yes it is true that Symphony X have been putting more emphasis on guitar riffs, groove, and heaviness since "The Odyssey", and it is also true they have always had groove riffs thrown in her and there but never as much as they are doing here, and "The Odyssey" and "Paradise Lost" were certainly a bit more in tune to their old sound than this.
But enough of that, how about the material itself? For me, along with the stylistic and lyrical changes, the band also seems to have put far less emphasis on melody than they did previously and for me this REALLY sucks out the mood and feel I get from listening to Symphony X and so I have to take away a few points for that alone. But as for the actual songs, the opener "Iconoclast" is easily the best here. This is one of the songs on the album where the heavier, darker approach works because the riff really feels like a signature Michael Romeo riff, and when accompanied by Pinnella's haunting keyboards, really helps support the futuristic conflict the lyrics describe. Russell Allen gives one of his most remarkable performances here, and the rather catchy chorus in addition to the heavier feel reminds me of one of the better songs from "Paradise Lost", which is always a good thing. Not to mention that the solos by Romeo and Pinnella are amongst the best I have heard all year, and perhaps in their entire career. Another song in this category is the nearly as fantastic closer, "Reign in Madness" which has some extremely metal lyrics ("treads of iron crush the skulls of the damned") and appropriately headbangable riffage, but also manages to balance in the symphonic edge of their old sound, and of course the great solos. It also has a captivating clean section reminiscent of "Burnt Offerings" era Iced Earth, of which I almost never get tired of hearing. Then in a similarly awesome move, we have the ode to musical chops on the album with "Bastards of the Machine" which will certainly go down as a crowd favorite I imagine.
So that's one side of the album being the songs that still sound like Symphony X just with a bit of a heavier emphasis and a more technological feel. But on another side of the coin you have songs like "Heretic", "Dehumanized", and "Lords of Chaos". Other than the obligatory brilliant solos (Romeo is easily one of the most interesting, original, and exciting guitarists in metal these days, and Pinnella has little competition in the prog metal scene as far as keyboard arrangement goes), are rather annoying to listen to, due to the extensive groove riffage and "tough guy" vocals, even if they are decently constructed. Plus we also have a fair amount of filler that drags on far more than it should like "Children of a Faceless God", "Prometheus(I am Alive)", and "Electric Messiah".
I feel I should take a moment to discuss the rhythm section. It's easy to forget about them, but one of the best elements of this album is Jason Rullo's and Mike Lepond's performances here. I think this might be the best rhythm section performance of any Symphony X album. Just listen to the thundering double bass and odd meter control heard in the title track by Rullo, or the commanding bass lines in "Bastards of the Machine" to name just a few examples. They really brought their game up a notch or two for this album and it's all for the best in the end.
For the people like me who walked into this desperately hoping there would some song resembling classic albums like "V: The New Mythology Suite" or "The Divine Wings of Tragedy" your in luck. "When All is Lost" and "Light up the Night" have very strong choruses, plenty of melody, and some subtle twists and turns that stop them from being repetitive which is what Symphony X has always been great at. The former is a 9 minute pseudo-ballad sort of along the lines of "The Accolade" though not nearly as good. Despite that it does include Russell singing in a more clean vocal style for a change, and a bit stronger symphonic edge which is refreshing to hear on this album. The latter track is a fast paced heavy song with a very good chorus, and just a touch of a power metal feel.
So yeah, it's not a bad album at all and half of the songs are certainly worth revisiting. However I really miss the more neo-classical feel of old, and I also feel that the overt attempt at heaviness negatively affects the songwriting of the band in some of the songs (see the aforementioned filler tracks for example). But overall I would still say the band hasn't broken their track record of never putting out a bad album and I look forward to their next one.
Symphony X just keeps getting better and better. Paradise Lost was a masterwork with powerful riffing and the unstoppable vocals of Russell Allen, and so the pressure was really on for them to come back with something stellar. And with Iconoclast, they truly have created something special.
In the past Symphony X crafted meticulous, celestial slices of heavenly progressive metal with soaring vocals and crunchy guitars contrasting against one another like night and day, and yet still coming out to sound quite majestic and magical. These days they honestly haven’t changed that formula too much, despite what some people might tell you. The soaring vocals don’t soar so much as bellow, and there aren’t as many elaborate prog-isms in the songwriting, but those are pretty minor changes overall, as the band always had the dark, heavy riffing and attention to hooks and choruses that they do on here. The songwriting is not too much different overall. It’s just that before, they never sounded as sure of themselves as they do on Iconoclast.
This album is about 90 minutes long. Oh, sure, there’s the lesser version with only 9 songs instead of 12, but that’s not really getting the full experience – it does not allow the listener to understand why this is so great. Iconoclast is a masterclass in heavy-assed, balls to the wall riffing, powerful Dio-esque vocals and intricate, progressive songwriting that doesn’t need to constantly show off in order to be good. The huge running time at hand might seem intimidating, but really it’s the reason why this is so good, because the band always keeps you interested, even through multiple 6 minute songs that seem like they’d get boring one after another, played for so long. But this is a band with talent and vision, and they attack the long runtime and conceptual lyrical ties with ferocity and unified vision pretty much untouchable by lesser bands. Each song is completely singular and captivating, and the whole album experience is something amazingly gratifying once it sinks in.
And it is quite a grower. There is so much material on this album that it seems unfriendly and obtuse at first, and some songs get lost in the mix, but with time they reveal their powerful hooks and get lodged in your brain as if stuck there with magnets. At first, as on Paradise Lost, the band’s newer sound appears to be less complex, but really the band just learned the virtues of writing more concise, tight songs – and the ones on here are simply the hardest, heaviest and most metal the band ever wrote. Symphony X sounds completely possessed by this huge world-crushing energy. Everything about this is super-charged, and the guys have a newfound dedication to stripping their songwriting down to its bare essentials. Symphony X have not simplified their sound or changed too much at all, beyond simply writing songs that are more visceral, more powerful and just all around better. There isn’t a boring moment on here. None of these songs has left my head all week.
I just can’t see why people would dislike this if they like metal at all. Everyone loves to tout metal as supremely heavy, ballsy, loud music, and Iconoclast is a distillation of those traits. It is supremely heavy, unnaturally ballsy and as loud and proud as it gets – isn’t that by DEFINITION heavy metal in the flesh? I think it is. People will complain endlessly about power metal not being heavy enough – well, here’s some really heavy-assed power metal for you! It’s practically like the band just sat down and decided “we’re going to make the most metal thing we can possibly think of, and it will be completely and utterly awesome.” Iconoclast takes no prisoners. It is always ruthlessly heavy and unbelievably powerful. But also complex enough to stay interesting after many, many listens.
Conceptually this is pretty much a story about machines dominating mankind in a Terminator-esque plot. The lyrics aren’t terribly focused on characters or anything, but each song paints a portrait pretty well, even if a lot of them say the same thing. I don’t know – I kind of think of it not as a linear progression between ‘chapters’ as some other concept albums are, but as a more unified, overall painting; a portrait of what this sort of chaotic, desperate war between man and technology would look like. Sometimes the lyrics are a bit sparse, but they’re delivered with passion and might and they do their job sufficiently enough – which is to get the message across. So I’ve got no complaints there. And notice how the mood of the album shifts over time, telling the lyrical story – at first with the title track it is defiant and warlike in a structured manner, but as it moves through the ravages of mechanical takeover, it gets progressively less structured, less upbeat and less optimistic, with “When All Is Lost” representing the sort of ‘turning point’ in the story, a chilling reflective piece on mankind’s fall from grace. By the second disc, all hope is just about lost, and the remaining songs sink deeper and deeper into despair until the all out insanity of “Reign in Madness” shows a humanity with nothing left except their primal, animal instincts to fight with. Masterful atmospheric songwriting and a great attention to detail. These guys are geniuses.
The musicians are all on point, with Mike LePond and Jason Rullo forming an ironclad rhythm section and Michael Pinella’s keyboards being pretty damn awesome when they’re given the spotlight. Russell Allen’s vocals are simply jaw-droppingly good. He has that excellent grit and tone that he had on the last one, which I just love and wish more bands would do. Every song on here has stand-out vocal lines and hooky moments galore due to his impenetrable snarl. Dio would be proud. And Michael Romeo’s guitar! The tone is dark, punishing and heavy as fuck. Frankly the band has never written better riffs. Check out depraved closer “Reign in Madness” – they thug out some of the most pugilistic, nasty galloping riffs you’ll hear this year, especially with that excellently vicious pre-chorus. Or the housebreakers “Heretic” and “Electric Messiah,” which both pack a set of riffs determined to render you and your wife impotent. “Bastards of the Machine” is a fast old-school power metal tune with a speedy tempo and wry, crackling verses, spliced up with a big shout-along chorus. “You’re the BASTARDS…OF THE MACHIIIIIINE!” Hell yeah. “Light Up the Night” is another old school power metal tune, with buzzing guitar harmonies and a screaming chorus for the ages. And let’s not forget the power metal bombast of the lead single “End of Innocence,” with its catchy chorus and inviting harmonies.
The rest of the songs are a lot more atmospheric and bleak, like (one of my favorites) “Dehumanized,” which varies from an angry, fickle burst of aggression in the verses to a somber, sad tune for the incredibly depressive chorus, along with a particularly invigorating interlude before the climax. “Prometheus” and “Children of a Faceless God” are hypnotic, swirling stomps with big, mesmerizing choruses and creeping keyboards formed around the walls of sound of the guitars. In between those comes the drone of “The Lords of Chaos,” with its almost zombie-like chorus creeping up from the bowels of the dead Earth, and subtle dramatic moments making it almost Thespian-like. The opening salvo of the title track shows the band’s progressivisms in full, and the 9-minute half ballad “When All is Lost” has a pining, longing chorus, some delicate pianos and also some of the band’s most grandiose moments ever. Its place in the album’s concept is just all the more tragic – “Is this all they’ll ever know?” I just find that so powerful. It’s the cry of a despairing old-timer looking at the devastated world and lamenting the tragic fate of those yet to be born, who will never know the beauty of the Earth as it once was. The fact that this is the only song on the album like that really makes the poignancy stick out. They don’t have to have two or three long, saccharine ballads – by lowering that count to one, they make its emotive power really count.
I can’t give this masterpiece anything less than a perfect score. It gets a perfect score because the songwriting is second to none, with subtlety and care balancing out the angry tempos and violent riffing tendencies to create the best of both worlds. It gets a perfect score because the sheer number of amazing songs and the long length make it proportionally better and more exciting to listen to. How can I argue with that? The only logical score to give this is 100, because it is simply that good. Symphony X is a fantastic band with seemingly limitless power, and even if they never produce something this good again, the power of Iconoclast is as great as its name suggests. We’re only halfway through the year but I’m calling this as album of the year. If you only like frilly, elaborate prog, then you won’t like this, but if you like good music, then you will treasure it just as much as the older albums from the band, and maybe moreso. A songwriting gestalt and a powerful, vital statement of true metal in 2011; I see no reason to miss this for the world.
Ouch, I never thought I'd give a Symphony X album below 50%, let alone this low of a score. What a sad state of affairs. Did waiting for four years build my anticipation too high? Was I just expecting something else than what I got? I'm not sure, but I'll try and collect my thoughts for this review.
As many of us know, Symphony X are an American progressive metal band, with, as their name implies, some symphonic elements. We lose a lot of the progression and symphonic stuff with this album, and mostly get "METAL METAL METAL METAL." WHERE IS THE PROGRESSION?! Where's the symphonic shit?! Where are the infectious choruses and keyboards and Russell Allen's angelic singing?! We get none of that here. All we get here are a bunch of quasi-groove (though still very technical-sounding) riffs and more of Russell Allen's gruff barking from their previous effort "Paradise Lost." But the gruff vocals sounded good, then. They were used sparingly. Now they're in EVERY FRIGGIN' SONG ON ALMOST EVERY FRIGGIN' LINE. And it REALLY grates after a while, especially when one knows that Allen can do better than this. Everyone in the band can do better than this.
There are no real stand-out tunes on this album, even on the 2-disc edition. Everything is a mish-mash of rejected Odyssey/Paradise Lost riffs and songs that aren't catchy or memorable in the least. Yeah, there's a unifying theme about how technology is slowly overcoming man or some shit like that, but this is such an overused theme in music, it seems really cliched here.
So, yeah, there's really nothing going in favor of this album. Among other annoyances, Michael Romeo's riffs and solos are quite same-y. You could probably literally cut and paste the solo from any one song in the album in place of another and have it make just as much sense. They're technical for technicality's sake, and don't flow into any of the songs well (not that the songs had much flow to begin with...)
When the album DOES try to show diversity, ("When All Is Lost," and "Reign In Madness") it's too little, too late. What a shame this album is. It's not really BAD, just very disappointing, especially for SymX's incredibly high standards. Maybe that's the problem; the bar has time and time again been set so high, my expectations were just too unreal to achieve. But that's no excuse for retreading all this old territory! Yeah, I probably shouldn't expect something amazing every time... But I should at least expect something new each time, and not more of the same, like with this album! Especially after a four-year wait!
I can't even stress enough how unmemorable this album is. I honestly can't remember one hook or riff or solo or chorus or moment that caught me by surprise... Nothing. In the end, the entire album is actually quite annoying to listen to.
Symphony X, I am disappoint. I'll see ya around again in, by my estimation, 2015 or 2016. And if you're gonna rip off one of your own albums again, rip off "Divine Wings of Tragedy!"
**EDIT** Adjusted score. 10% seemed a bit harsh, as it's not like the album is performed incompetently, but as a whole, it is a major letdown, much like Symfonia's "In Paradisum."
I am in the minority. Unlike many of my headbanging peers I tend to view the album that preceded this one, “Paradise Lost”, was an over-ambitious effort that to these ears saw the band having a slight identity crisis. The mix (in particular the guitar tone) was too digital, the performances seemed uninspired, and Russell Allen was not in top form by any stretch, and seemed to be really trying to be as “metal” as he could be, and with disastrous results. So to say I had high hopes but low expectations for this album would be an understatement.
Imagine my surprise, when I hear a blistering guitar tone coming from the speakers, not to mention a mixdown that is truly worthy of this sonically-exciting band. Michael Romeo is one of the few guitar heroes of that past 15 years who upon hearing a few notes you can instantly tell it's him, but sometimes his technique has been slightly mushed on recordings of the past where he fully-embraced what we guitarists refer to as digital amp-modeling; a novel idea that to some ears offers a give-and-take between the convenience of switching amplifier sounds on one amp and having to contend with solid-state-brittleness in a guitar amp's tone. Here on this record however, his tone is full and warm; the highs are crisp, his palm mutes resonate with low-end oomph, and his inventive solos truly cut. Michael Lepond even gets to less loose a bit more than on past releases. A not-very-well-kept secret in progressive metal is that Michael Lepond is an amazing bass player who has the class to hold down the low-end and retain a song's structural integrity tying everything together like the best bass players in rock have always been able to. But the man needs a chance in the spotlight on occasion, and some downright impressive bass noodling creeps through the mix on more than one occasion here (4:02 of “Bastards of the Machine” comes to mind quickly). As for the aforementioned Russell Allen, I think he finally realized that we've been calling him one of the best voices in heavy metal since probably about '98, so he left out a good amount of the unnecessary gruffness that ruined his performance on the last disc, and he brought back that smooth rock tone that he's always had and that we loved him for. As for the gruffness, it is here, albeit where it ought to be...on the absolutely most metal moments of these incredibly heavy tunes, and even there it's been toned down slightly to make it a decidedly musical weapon of the man's vocal arsenal.
As for the songs themselves, these tunes aren't simply catchy...they are force-your-ear-to-the-speaker-catchy! These are some of the strongest songs that Symphony X has recorded in their entire almost-20-year career. “Iconoclast” is a 10-minute romp of progressive metal greatness complete with a solid chorus and an intense instrumental jam that would make any Dream Theater fan pay attention. “Electric Messiah” has deceptively simple moments of riffing that give Russell a real chance to shine in the pre-chorus and especially in that big rock chorus section. That's just a tip of the iceberg...one really needs to take the album as a whole and digest it all to truly appreciate it. It's been a long time since an album has truly been this great as a sum of all its parts.
I think we have a contender for album of the year here.
Finally it's here, coincidentally today is when Iconoclast is officially getting released in the US. For the fans, the 4 year long wait since Paradise Lost, is finally over, another mega studio album, their 8th in a career spanning almost 17 years now. Being an honest fan of this band, since when they were relatively new to the progressive circuit in the mid 90's, I had to buy the extended version. It contains 2 discs with an arrangement of 6 songs in each, packing a total 82 minutes of pure progressive metal with definite nuances of heavy metal riffs and even incorporates elements of double bass drumming nailed with flawless precision by the mighty Jason Rullo.
With the exception of Michael Lepond (bass 2000-present), the rest of the members have been fairly around right from the days when Michael Romeo (guitars) conceived the idea behind the band's creation. I will briefly run over the reasons why I have not given the album a perfect score.
I'd like to look at this band in 2 different timelines (pre & post 2K). While the pre 2K era saw Symphony X, churning albums with fair rapidity, as is expected of a band. They just came out with their mammoth sonic sphere mixing symphonic and progressive elements, winning tons of fans' respect worldwide in the likes of The Damnation Game, Divine Wings of Tragedy, Twilight in Olympus. The post 2K era has only witnessed the release of 4 studio albums with wait times of four and five years between some of them. This to me is dangerous for sustaining a consistent fan base and loyalties in today's world, where there is an abundance of talented bands. Admitted though, they have phenomenal world tours lasting for years.
Like I mentioned earlier, this release spans 82 minutes and to the casual listener it may seem a bit overmuch and easy to get lost within. Even to a decent fan, I'd recommend giving the CD a few spins before they come to lasting conclusions, as the story and the songs grows on one, with familiarity. Personally, I am an ardent Symphony X-ian with supreme faith in more being the merrier!
The last piece for me and I'll shut my gob on critiquing the album furthermore. There have been instances of the usage of existing riffs particularly harkening back to their The Odyssey days. This in itself is not a bad thing, as if I have enjoyed a riff once, I shall enjoy it again in another manifestation in another track!
Now towards the awesomeness of the album. Let me start off with the cover art, incorporating the typical Sym X masks in a subtle way as we all have come to know, over the years. It has been designed by Warren Flanagan (film concept artist of the fame of The Watchmen and The Incredible Hulk). The cover art also complements the lyrical concept behind the album wherein misguided technology gives birth to Frankenstein-ish horrors and sees the world being taken over by machines.
The title song is the first song on the album, an epic 11 minutes in length that starts off with a superb guitar based riff and the synth chimes in before the drum & bass settle in. The song has a very catchy chorus, "We are strong, We will stand and fight" and I would more often than not sing it aloud while banging my head away. Russell himself has more growls on the album, than I've ever heard on any other. In his own words, 'the singing is very melodic, the choruses are real strong, the verses are real strong, but I'm singing aggressively — a lot of that going on — cause the topic is, again, very dark'.
Dehumanized, Bastards of the Machine, Children of A Faceless God are monster tracks with no lack of the epic riffages. I can already foresee moshpits going beyond control on Iconoclast tours. When All is Lost forms the quintessential ballad and is probably the only song that lightens up the atmosphere a tad bit, not in terms of lyrics though as they still follow dooomed to darkness pattern and have been crafted superbly! Michael Pinnella's keys accompany the song for the most part. Gives me a feel of 'The Accolade' from the Divine Wings of Tragedy. It's difficult to dissect every song and it's a wasted effort in doing so. The album is meant to be heard at one listen and then a few more times. Leave your worries behind and be prepared to go on this journey. Be prepared, you may have to fight the damn machines in your mind along the way, but bring them down in 'iconoclasmic' style :)
Moving on and indeed the album is very heavy, crisply produced and at the same time very, very compact with all the musicians playing their craft at their very best! The album instrumentation style reminds a little of Fates Warning's 'Awaken the Guardian' or Queensrÿche's 'The Warning' days. I would not say Symphony X has totally abandoned their roots but rather has morphed into this new sound that blends heavy, speed and progressive metal in a unique fashion. Paradise Lost was the trend setter towards this and with Iconoclast the sound's more stable with a distinct identity.
US prog metallers Symphony X appear to have aimed for quantity rather than frequency with their latest, Iconoclast. Over 80 minutes of progressive metal is a lot to absorb, but the band are masterful in ensuring the tightness of the material, whilst tackling the newfound lyrical topic of man vs. machine.
The opening 10-minute title track certainly sets the bar high for the rest of the album, continuing the flavor of Paradise Lost in a more epic style. Romeo is on top form in his roles as guitarist, songwriter and producer, creating both heavy riffing and technical solos like on “Prometheus (I Am Alive)”, but still integrate well with the rest of the musicians. Pinella, with the volume boosted this time, delivers impressive keyboard solos and beautiful piano such as in the pseudo-ballad “When All Is Lost”, while Rullo and Lepond showcase a tight and well-mixed if slightly uninteresting rhythm section, from the lighter “The End Of Innocence” to the heavier “Heretic”.
New influences are creeping in; Nevermore can be found in some sections, while “Dehumanized” could have been taken from Cowboys From Hell, right down to the Dimebag-esque solo. Unfortunately, this results in a confusing album where there is little sense of flow, and the placement of “When All Is Lost” in the special edition gives the idea of a false ending, when there are still 5 tracks to come.
Russell Allen, fresh from his ventures in Lande/Allen and Star One, delivers one of his best vocal performances yet, from the harsh anger in “Bastards Of The Machine”, through an uncanny Dio-worship on “The Lords Of Chaos” to trademark emotion-filled choruses on many others. His range is fairly extensive, including a Plant-style high in “Children Of A Faceless God”, although he does tend to overuse the newly-introduced more aggressive side to him. The choral element fortunately saves this from turning into monotony, and in the end balances the album out.
The lyrics, as promised, cover the theme of technology in society, with varying degrees of success. For some inexplicable reason, there is more profanity in the lyrics (“Come on, hit the switch/You son of a bitch”), and a death metal feel in others (“The flesh breeds corruption/Eradicate the insect prey, exterminate”) to match the heavier take on their music. However, he still shows the ability to write great vocal lines throughout the record, creating memorable choruses, and injects a power metal feel into the closer, “Reign In Madness”, showing he’s still got that knack.
Although not a flawless album, Iconoclast has little to complain about in every aspect. Occasionally the album will feel a little bloated, but that is part of Symphony X’s trademark for me: too much instead of too little. “Light Up The Night” and “The Lords Of Chaos” can feel a bit like filler after an album filled with highlights, which justifies the 2CD more than a 1-disc, but overall the CD is a blast from one end to the other.
Long-term fans will claim the band have abandoned their roots, but Iconoclast is definitely a step back from Paradise Lost in terms of bringing a more progressive feel to the direction established on the latter record. Sure to top many Best Of 2011′s, it is surely a record worth experiencing, and proof that 8 records down the line, Symphony X still have a lot of zest left in them.
Originally posted on www.blackwindmetal.blogspot.com
After four long years the charismatic American progressive metal band comes back after a strong predecessor with more than eighty minutes of music. Already the first epic title track "Iconoclast" proves that the band has put all their technical skills, all their passion and all their creativity into this release. The title song varies a lot and every musician delivers the best he can without losing a clear line and forgetting about catchy passages. This song is probably one of the best songs this band has ever done and the album is worth to be named after this monster of an opener.
While many progressive bands lose themselves into long solo passages that are technically excellent but emotionally cold, Symphony X orientate on heavier structures and are sometimes more metal than progressive like in the really addicting "The end of innocence" or "Dehumanized" that have already been performed very well during the last concerts of the band. The good but too similar "Bastards of the Machine", the darker and slower "Prometheus" which is one of the greatest tracks and the thrash orientated epic "Light up the night" that reminds of the older works of the band could also be great live performances and are three songs that stand out on this record.
One must especially underline the gripping and unique vocals that keep the pieces together and add many memorable passages to those shorter and straighter songs. While many progressive bands have excellent musicians but often rather limited singers, Symphony X can be proud to have one of the genre's best and most charismatic vocalists in their rows. He simply does an outstanding job on this record and impresses me even more than the musicians do.
The problem is that a few too many songs head for that heavier direction and some patterns are repeated for example in "Heretic" or "Electric Messiah" which creates sometimes a lack of experiments, surprises or changes in style. That's why I take off ten percent for this technically brilliant masterpiece.
Russell Allen proves his skills once more in the only ballad of the record which is "When all is lost". The song lives from his powerful vocal skills and continues in the vein of the last album's brilliant title track. Within many overloaded, heavy and ambitious tracks, this one is a needed and yet breathtaking break.
Any fan of progressive music should buy the extended edition of the album that includes a total of three more songs and where the music has been separated to fit on two discs. I must underline the closing masterpiece "Reign in madness" where the band shows once again all its skills and delivers an as detailed, diversified and gripping performance as in the opening title track and where the circle is closed in a suitable way.
The only problem with this album is that one simply gets delivered too much material. Many good songs get buried or lost beneath the mentioned masterpieces in over eighty minutes of music. This record requests several tries and much attention before it truly grows. I would have preferred if the band would have released an album with only eight tracks and would have released the other four ones with some new material one or two years later. Now, we have an overwhelming record and must nevertheless wait several years for the next great output and that's not the ideal solution by any meaning. I take off five little percent for this little mistake they have done in my opinion but add another percent to underline the positive tendency of the record.
In the end, we still have the best progressive metal record of the year in here and the bar is set quite high for the upcoming release of the American concurrence of Dream Theater. I must underline that I'm quite sure that the new release of Symphony X will eventually slightly grow above the rating I give today as there is not a single bad song on this album.
Symphony X's The Odyssey, was a zenith I felt they would not return to. It's nothing against Symphony X - every band peaks at some point. And Iconoclast confirms that they aren't going back to that zenith. In 9 years we've only gotten 2 albums from them, and considering the time between albums, I expect more.
Iconoclast seems to mark a big shift in Symphony X's sound. There's nothing subtle about it, they were going for darker and heavier. This album is much more straightforward, aggressive and fast paced than anything they've done. Sure, you had dark riffs, and speedy passages before - but here all (except the last track) the songs are dark, and aggressive throughout. Russel uses his gruff sounding vocals much more frequently, and the drums are a lot less complex-syncopated-craziness and more straightforward double bass.
And therein lies my problem with this album.
Symphony X is first and foremost a progressive band, in my mind. When you phase out the interesting rhythm, subdue the role of the keyboard (heavily), and lose focus of the importance of song structure, you're missing the point. Speed and aggression are not the reasons one listens to this band.
The second problem, is rehashed riffs. There is an abundance of recycled riffs. Most of the borrowed riffs come from The Odyssey (the album). Especially The Heretic (borrows from Wicked) and Children of a Faceless God - it should come as no surprise that these, along with Dehumanized happen to be the worst tracks on the album.
My third and final gripe would be general lack of catchiness in the choruses. They're just not up to snuff.
These three problems would put most bands in the 20% - 30% rating bracket. But this is still Symphony X after all, so - let's look at the upside.
Electric Messiah, opens with a ridiculously awesome set of riffs that make you want to bash your face against something. A few of the best riffs this band has forged, and that's saying something. End of Innocence is an exception to the aforementioned lack of keyboard and has an absolutely sick opener, and is one of the best choruses on the album. Kind of sounds like it belongs on the last album, really. End of Innocence also is one of the most dynamic songs with nice refrains with the keyboard carrying the song for brief periods(translation: this is what you want to hear from Symphony X!) Bastards of the Machine also falls into the "what-is-going-on-Symphony X-is-playing-thrash" catagory. The chord progression in the verse owns vast quantities of souls.
When All is Lost has a sweet middle section that recalls The Accolade's layered mid part. This song also has moments of what you'd want to hear out of the band.
The title track has it's moments, to be sure. With all the eargasmic technicality I want from the band; but at the expense of a wee bit of redundency (feels like I've heard some of these riffs before), and again, the chorus isn't doing it for me.
A saving grace of the album is flat-out stellar drumming. At times, the drums elevate a solid riff, to an awesome riff. And let's face it, Symphony has never had very good production on their earlier releases - not here. This guitar tone and drum sound are absolute perfection.
So there you have it: heavier, less interesting Symphony X. It's kind of cool to hear Symphony X put out what is probably going to be their darkest album ever. The novelty and "fun" of that offsets the lackluster showing in the areas of creativity and songwriting. The album could have been really good, but there is some serious inconsistency from song to song - 4 of the 9 songs are completely mediocre and leave no real impression - Dehumanized, Prometheus, Heretic, and Children of a Faceless God. I never thought I'd skip tracks on a Symphony X album. If these songs were as good as the others, this album might have measured up to expectations.
On a side note about the special edition: this album would have benefited immensely from Reign in Maddness being on the regular version, in the place of Heretic, for example. Reign in Maddness actually has some flashes of power metal in it. Lords of Choas is an homage to Pantera (ew ...) and Light up the Night is a solid tune.