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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.