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I’m puzzled as to why I don’t worship Symphony X. They are all very good players, not bad songwriters, and they play prog/power, one of my favorite styles. But this album lacks a certain quality that I usually refer to as “the ‘hell yeah’” (shitty Vinnie Paul band notwithstanding). You know. The “hell yeah”. The “oomph”. As Ozzy would say, the “c’mon people, MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE!”
But maybe it’s not fair, starting off my review like that. It’s definitely unfair to Russell Allen, as he does a godly job on vocals. The easiest singer to compare him to would be David Coverdale, but that’s really not taking into account the diversity his vocals have. I mean, he does some nice angry growling on Inferno (decidedly not death growling, but still), some very cool bluesy singing on Wicked (“In my nightmare she SAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIID”), etc. The general style that his vocals take is still power metal, but he uses all different kinds of things to keep you on your toes.
The bad thing is that his lyrics are not on par with his singing. Evil women, dark fantasies, and Greek mythology have been done before, and better, too. My one real lyrical complaint, though, is with the title track. Near the end, Allen sings “Minerva guides my way.” There might not sound awful to anyone who doesn’t actually know Greek mythology, but to someone obsessed with the subject like me, it stands out immediately. Minerva is the Roman name for the Greek goddess Athena. If you’re doing Greek legends as a lyrical subject, fucking get the names of the gods right in the name of Zeus. And not in the name of “Jove”, even if you need it to rhyme with “above”.
Unfortunately, the rest of the band isn’t as good as Allen. Not instrumentally, as it’s pretty obvious they can shred until the sweep-picking cows (“Moooooooo guitar solo moooooooo”) come home, but in terms of what they’re playing, the riffs just aren’t that good.
They come in two basic varieties – the groove riffs, and the speed metal riffs. Symphony X’s groove riffs (King of Terrors, Wicked, Inferno) are just…meh. I’m not the most vehement hater of Pantera, but I sure as hell don’t want Pantera riffs in my prog/power metal. The two-chord stop-start thing just isn’t heavy. The speed metal riffs are somewhat better, but let’s face it; they’re not on the same level as the Grave Digger riffs they sound like.
The riffs are specifically what lacks “Hell yeah”. If Russell Allen grabbed me by the throat (I have no idea why he would need to, because I suck at singing) and asked me whether the riff on Wicked was heavy or not, I’d be forced to admit that it is indeed very heavy. However, the heaviness is very forced and synthetic. It sounds like the part was specifically engineered by robots that were given the definition of “heavy” and then told to make a riff. It does not sound at all natural.
The songs themselves aren’t catchy. If you asked me to sing a chorus from the album, I could give you Inferno, but that’s it. All the other choruses sound like that one. Granted, I don’t mind them, but they bore me, and they aren’t the awesome “rawk star” moments that choruses are supposed to be.
Michael Romeo’s soloing style doesn’t endear him much to me, either. It’s not that I don’t like the kind of wanking he’s doing here; it’s that he doesn’t do it particularly well. Yes, he can play better than I’ll ever come close to. That doesn’t mean I enjoy his solos, which are mostly “Look, I can play REALLY fast! Aren’t I the best thing since Ritchie Blackmore?” They are not memorable at all, and neither are Michael Pinnella’s keyboard solos. Mindless fast playing does not a genius make, or some crap like that.
So my recommendation? Get this album. You’ll most likely love it if you’re into prog and power metal, and want to hear the two styles mixed. I didn’t particularly love it, but these songs are decent, and I'm generally a picky sonuvabitch - I didn’t like Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian either. But even if you like it, you’ll also long for something that doesn’t have the flaws that this album does.