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This was Symphony X's first release and, though weaker in comparison to some of their later releases, still features great riffs and catchy songwriting. Progressive and neo-classical elements are as present on this release as on any other Symphony X album, even possibly more so, as can be seen on one of my favorite tracks, "Masquerade."
One important thing to note is that this is the only Symphony X album without Russell Allen. Instead, the vocals are handled by Rod Tyler whose performance is solid, but nowhere near as good as that of Russell. On some tracks, such as "Masquerade", Tyler sounds great and on others, such as the otherwise awesome "Raging Season," they come off as whiny and nasal. The majority of the time everything sounds fine, but when he's off it sticks out like a sore thumb. And to further that point, Tyler just sounds "fine" as opposed to Russell who is almost always a highlight of Symphony X releases.
As for tracks, there a bunch of great ones on this release. "Masquerade," as I'm sure I've made obvious by this point, is amazingly good with a great verse, chorus, and a unique solo. "Premonition" is a very cool slower song which borders on a ballad at some points. It has almost a mournful atmosphere to it and uses piano and clean guitar parts to pretty great effect. "Shades of Grey" is another ballad on the album and, while mostly good, is very cheesy during the chorus. It sounds like a Broadway song at particular moments and is probably my least favorite song on the album. It has moments similar to "Awake" or "Images and Words" era Dream Theater. "Raging Season," though it suffers from iffy vocals, is a pretty good track and there are many more good songs on the back end of the album. The longest track, "A Lesson Before Dying," is pretty cool though not as memorable as other Symphony X epics like "Divine Wings" or "The Odyssey."
As always Michael Romeo's guitar work is a highlight. His solos shred just as much as always and his riff writing is solid pretty much the whole way through, but even that aside, his cleaner, more melodic guitar work on the track on "Premonition" is impressive. Piano and keyboard work is great all the way through and matches Romeo's guitar work in terms of virtuosity many times over the course of the album. The performances on the drums and bass are very good and keep things interesting the whole way through. Pretty much everyone, barring Rod Tyler, on this album is a master at their respective instrument and delivers an impressive performance.
Overall, Symphony X is a pretty solid first release from one of the best Progressive metal bands around. I would not recommend this album as a starting point for someone looking to get into Symphony X as the different vocalist and slightly rougher production quality make this album rather dissimilar to the rest of Symphony X's catalog. For a Symphony X fan or someone just looking for good music, however, this is definitely a great buy.
I've never found all that much fondness for the ever-so-popular Symphony X, but the one exception is their excellent debut album. I obviously stand in the minority on that and my next belief: Rod Tyler is a much better vocalist than Russel Allen, who is overrated and mediocre. Anyway, this album introduces many of their later qualities, such as their neo-classical progressive metal, except that it is not performed in the overdone manner and overlong fashion that Symphony X would bust out on every album afterward. Even on the one song that reaches ten minutes doesn't feel overblown.
One thing about the X that would stay proud until today is Michael Romeo's excellent guitar playing, and although it actually doesn't show through as much on this debut as it will on later albums, it should have become apparent to any listener in 1996 that he would go far on his journey and find success along the way. Like I said before, neo-classical is a good way to describe his style, and it shows on the solos of several songs. But even though he is in this sub-genre, that doesn't mean that he wont break out a classic, heavy riff here and there. I think the possession of more money to work with and a real studio with a real producer makes his performance better on later works, not because he actually does better now.
It will be a rare occasion if you can actually here the bass on this album, a problem associated with the main flaw of the album: not only does the production not fit with the style played, but it sounds dated and, well, rather awful now. However, it is hard to blame Symphony X for this mistake, because it's probably associated with their meager budget at the time. Luckily, it doesn't break the album, actually giving it an old-school, underground sound at times, which I can appreciate because of my taste for classic metal. Getting back to the instruments, keyboards have much less involvement on this debut as on later albums such as the newest, Paradise Lost. This is something I don't mind about, as I'm fine with or without them, or with fewer use and greater use.
Rod Tyler delivers vocally, although his performance is taken away from by the mediocre production. He is actually pretty good in my opinion, and I can't believe he pretty much never went on to any other prominent groups. His vocals are pretty low, although occasionally they can reach higher points, which is admittedly similar to replacement Russel Allen. Drums are pretty standard for this kind of thing. Romeo's songwriting shines through on this one, always finding a way to be catchy as well as progressive, something that they fail to do now. Influences are actually kind of hard to pick out, and I have to admit that Symphony X were pretty ahead their time. Even on the ones I don't like that much, I can still respect their musicianship.
Overall, Symphony X-Symphony X is an outstanding debut, and it should be used as the golden standard for all first-timers in the power/prog genre. I advise that you see where Symphony X started, because it isn't just a work in progress, it's the final product, and it deserves much more respect than it gets from both fans of the genre and the band itself. Let go of the fact that it doesn't have Russel Allen and simply enjoy the music! Despite production value woes, this album is highly recommended-progressive gold.
A debut album can either make or break a band. If the debut is popular the band will most likely create more albums and make money. If it’s bad the band will likely break up and the members will join other bands. The first album by Symphony X is quite enjoyable, even though it doesn’t sound anything like their latest material.
A lot is different in this Symphony X then what they have been doing recently. This is the only album with the original vocalist Rod Tyler, and he does a pretty good job on it. His voice cracks a little bit too much on the album, but other then a few mistakes he’s not really a down point to the album. The main difference is that his voice isn’t as high as to what Russell Allen can hit. His range is just a little bit shorter really. The biggest problem isn’t his voice itself, but it’s the backup vocals down by the band. They just don’t fit in properly. They use them in quite a few songs, the backups are hitting (or trying) higher notes then what Tyler is singing, which I don’t really like. They also do this on some of their other albums, which even though I don’t like it they improved at it a bit. Tyler should be hitting the high notes and the backup vocalist should be doing the lower notes.
Another big difference would be lyrically. All their albums after this one basically have to do with Greek mythology and other fantasy based stuff. No fantasy in this one-which I don’t mind-but it’s like as if the lyrics were designed for a theater performance, kind of like the songs are from some weird musical or something.
One thing that has never changed for Symphony X however would be the guitar solos they do. Just listen to any Symphony X song and you get the usual neo-classical solo with hints of power metal in the mix. Some of the bigger solos have a keyboard part over it that actually works with the guitar part. It not for atmosphere or anything like that it it’s blazing fast key work that just goes up and down the keyboard.
Well it’s not their best album, and it’s not a bad album at all. Fans of Symphony X who haven’t heard this should check it out, and fans of progressive music will most likely enjoy it also, even though it feels just a tad bit simplistic at times.
Symphony X has always managed to impress me. They consistently manage to mix elements of progressive metal and power metal into such a natural fusion genre, improving on both without sacrificing either. The virtuosity of their members, the intricacy of their compositions, their unique level of keyboard integration: all contribute to their excellence, notable even in their debut. And with that, it truly is a shame that Russell Allen wasn't yet a member of the band, as this album contains some of my favorite Symphony X songs, held back only by an interesting but inferior vocalist.
This album is carried entirely by the instrumental prowess of the band. Even from this debut, it's clear that Michael Romeo is one of the best guitarists around. The riffage on here is mighty: Romeo's compositions surmount the oddest of time signatures, key changes, and rhythmic variations and his neoclassically inspired leadwork could get Malmsteen himself to do a double take. Thomas Miller's bass playing is just as head-turning, as is Jason Rullo's ability to competently fuse jazz-style patterns with the standard melodic power metal all-out double time beat. These foundations alone, coupled with the great songwriting, would make for an impressive ensemble, but it is Michael Pinnella's keyboard contributions that launch these songs into the stratosphere (and he continues to do that to this day). Using a variety of textures and synth sounds, from pianos to strings to wispy vox to church organ, his fantastic playing sets the tone for every song on here, creating an immense atmosphere of fantasy and mysticism perfect for representation of the band's lyrics. "Premonition" stands as a prominent display of his abilities. Check out that 5/8 grand piano intro and the sweet delay melody over the verse riff and expect the same executive treatment on every other song.
And then we have the vocalist. Usually I tend to be a defender of the debut vocalist (Gene Adam, Neil Turbin, Charlie Dominici, among others), but Rod Tyler is certanly an exception. This is his first and only appearance on a Symphony X album and probably for good reason. His voice, while capable of hitting some high notes ("Taunting the Notorious" is his magnum opus) and giving a pretty convincing effort throughout, lacks the maturity and depth required for this band's sound. It may just be hindsight, since most of us discovered Symphony X through a Russell Allen album, but his voice just doesn't cut it here. You can really hear him reaching for some of those higher parts and that's just not good at all.
And it's a shame too, since some of these songs are just so damn good. "Premonition" is definitely my favorite, due to the keyboard work and vocal melodies, but there's plenty of worth contenders. "The Raging Season" and "Absinthe and Rue" provide a solid example of the powerhouse progressive neoclassical fury these guys are capable of, while "Shades of Grey" displays their delicate side. Also note the band's first attempt at an epic, "A Lesson Before Dying." There's a lot of good elements in it, namely a broad variation of dynamics and some nice bass work, but it tends to meander a bit more than a Symphony X epic should.
But even with Rod Tyler on pipes, I still think this deserves its high score. The compositions are solid and expressive and should be easily liked among fans of power metal, if they don't mind the vocals of course, and this album deserves to be recognized a bit more often than it generally is. At least give it a chance before writing it off as one of their weaker albums, because even if this is their worst album, it only goes to display the enlightened level of song construction that Symphony X has obtained.
Though Symphony X may deserve the crown of neoclassical metal masters, they’re far from having initiated the genre. Even it’s always hard to give a definitive answer at the little and somewhat silly game of “Who was the first”, let’s admit here Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen are likely to win the prize. Two men exhibiting monstrous egos, incredible guitar skills and unlimited admiration for composers/musicians like Beethoven, Vivaldi or Paganini. But if both men undoubtedly contributed to introduce classical elements, especially the characteristic arpeggios-based guitar parts and solos, into rock music (at the largest acceptable sense), and brought structural complexity as well as virtuosity back to the front of the scene, more than half of their production can’t be truly considered as metal. What of course won’t diminish their merit – that’s not the point.
So if the fat, ugly but extraordinarily talented Michael Romeo, who not surprisingly always claimed to be influenced by Blackmore, Malmsteen, Beethoven or... Judas Priest, had to jump nothing less than the last step leading to genuine neoclassical metal, there’s no wonder the first Symphony X release smells of imperfection on so many points. Again, the presence of Blackmore and Malmsteen is obvious, making this album often sound more like prog rock than metal, while the kitsch and pop-ish choirs backing almost every chorus remind more of bands like Queen. Said choirs remaining one of the main characteristic of the band up to Twilight in Olympus (Church of the Machine, anyone?), even if they’ll become far less of a caricature after The Damnation Game.
The fact is, Symphony X self-titled isn’t bad, and all songs but the instrumental intro are more than listenable – on a sidenote, it’s amusing than the two Symphony X albums showing intros are the two weakest. However, anyone a tad familiar with the band, and especially with albums up to Twilight in Olympus, which are the ones really worth to be remembered, won’t find anything here which couldn’t be heard elsewhere – often in a better fashion. In other words, this sounds far too much like a draft of the following works to show more than historical value. Important historical value for the Symphony X fan, that is, but nonetheless only historical value. Eventually, just listen to the very first line of the first song The Raging Season and tell me, doesn’t it ring a bell? Orion – The Hunter, of course.
That could apply to every other track. They are few riffs, solos, melodies, vocal lines or harmonies which won’t be used again on The Damnation Game, The Divine Wings of Tragedy or Twilight in Olympus, in a more or less distorted form. Michael Romeo may already shred like a madman, Michael Pinella and his eerie piano may already be present, and Thomas Miller may already punctually escape into crazy soloing bass parts, nonetheless this trio of uncommon musicians doesn’t manage to really mark this release with a truly distinctive print. Who will really remember songs like the syncopated Taunting the Notorious, the very pop-ish piano-driven ballad Shades of Grey (and I’ll rectify here a tiny mistake I did while re-visiting my The Damnation Game review, when I wrote Whispers was the only genuine ballad Symphony X had ever written. That was wrong, but I guess I could easily be forgiven for having forgotten Shades of Grey...) or the long, but nowhere-going ending track A Lesson before Dying?
Indeed, a sign the act still lacks of maturity is the presence of several messy parts. Symphony X may be a “progressive” band, but they usually NEVER sound messy, even while releasing 20 minutes long tracks. For some progressive extremists they might even sometimes look desperately simple. But on this album they still sometimes can’t prevent the music from embarking into mindless Dream-Theater-like nonsense, who knows why.
The right mood is here however, an atmosphere of mystery, spiritualism and dark magic proper to early Symphony X releases, well embodied by the two Venetian masks which are still nowadays the symbol of the band. Lyrics may be the best part of this work, with their usual carnival of ghosts, candles and mirrors, and the omnipresent theme of the both distant and malevolent Other. But the atmosphere alone can’t redeem everything, especially when someone sounds so radically out of place – the singer!
That will be the last point: if Symphony X without Thomas Miller isn’t fully Symphony X, Symphony X without Sir Russel Allen isn’t fully Symphony X either, and Rod Tyler won’t probably go down in History. Granted, his voice may show some similarities with Allen’s, especially coming to the slightly raspy tone they both show, but Tyler is usually more high-pitched, and unfortunately far less powerful, giving the impression he’s always straining and fighting to emit a proper sound. This, as you may guess, tends to become rapidly irritating. To get the best imaginable comparison, just listen to the re-recorded version of Masquerade with Allen on vocals (which is available on the Prelude to the Millennium compilation as well as on some versions of The Odyssey): even if Masquerade might be the best song of the self-titled, there’s still a huge gap between the two recordings.
But again, no one could have asked a young, innovative band to immediately come out with a landmark like The Divine Wings of Tragedy.
Highlights: The Raging Season, Masquerade
Symphony X's first album seems to be a very underrated album, or at least an album not talked about much. In fact all the ingredients are present, except for the singing which I will mention later on. The album starts off with a one minute intro that shows the power that Symphony X is able to unleash. Then the album blazes into one of the best songs, The Raging Season, which is a very catchy Symphony X song.
This album is set to what will come with Symphony X. Most of the riffs are laid out nicely and have awesome guitar solos; which are neo-classical, a concept that has stuck with Symphony X throughout their career. While the drumming is in place and the production sounds semi-decent, the thing that pushes this album in to the "yes" category is the keyboards. Like in the beginning of the song Masquerade shows an awesome keyboard solo backed by Romeo's awesome guitar licks. Absinthe and Rue, the next song, shows the keyboards playing almost on a harpsichord setting. No matter what song it is, the keyboards and their use of symphonic pushes this album, and gives it feeling.
The only thing I didn't care for on this album was the singer. This was before the Allen years, but it almost sounds the same. Rod Tyler, to me, comes off being whinny at times. I think he tries to make his voice to powerful, when he just needs to lay off a little. His singing could also have some negative qualities do to the semi-goodness in production. Symphony X fans will still feel familiar with the singing however; Tyler tends to hit the same notes and styles that Allen does, and the same style that kind of makes Symphony X stand out from other similar bands. Over all if you are a Symphony X fan or a fan of power and/or neo-classical metal then definitely get it. There are a lot of good songs on this album (The Raging Season, Masquerade, Shades of Gray, etc.) and it seems to me that this is a step to unleashing some other good material in the future.