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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.