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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.