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Hit The Switch, You Son Of A Bitch! - 91%

Twisted_Psychology, September 12th, 2012

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.

Highlights:
Iconoclast
The End of Innocence
Heretic
Children of a Faceless God
When All Is Lost