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A Power/Prog. Masterpiece. - 96%

hells_unicorn, December 5th, 2006

Progressive Power Metal is probably the most musically diverse yet accessible genre within the heavy metal umbrella. Combining the intellectual and musical prowess of Rush, the technical prowess of Deep Purple, and the heavy atmosphere of Black Sabbath, it abounds with potential outcomes. If there is any flaw to the genre, it is that many acts tend to choose similar concepts upon which to draw inspiration from. The concept of Greek Mythology has been tackled by many metal acts historically, be it Manowar’s rather bombastic interpretation of a segment of the Iliad in “Achilles: Agony and Ecstasy in 8 parts”, or Virgin Steele’s magnum opus “The House of Atreus: Parts 1 and 2”.

Symphony X’s “The Odyssey” did not stand as the lone progressive work that sought to recapture the spirit of a Homer classic, as Blind Guardian’s “A Night at the Opera” contained tracks lyrically and musically inspired by the Iliad. Both drew heavily on orchestral and keyboard ambiences in order to create towering epics to bring the metal sound into the field of historical dramatization. But where Symphony X has the edge is in terms of accessibility.

This album is probably the simplest work ever put forth by Symphony X, in terms of song structure and in terms of harmonic progression. Tracks such as “Inferno (Unleash the Fire)”, “Wicked” and “King of Terrors” all have clearly defined and catchy choruses, meshed together with minimalist guitar riffs that would almost qualify as groove riffs, minus the odd time feel and proper amount of development. “Incantations of the Apprentice” and “The Turning” are more up tempo and draw heavily from power metal influence, complete with plenty of double bass action. All of these songs are neatly tailored for accessibility, clocking in at 4 to 5 minutes, and having shorter solo sections than previous albums would tend to have.

The ballads on here are in good form, resorting to the nostalgic and heavily keyboard driven aspects of their classical influences, yet also lasting longer and having more involved song structures. “Accolade 2” is highly melodic and sorrowful, accurately portraying a person remembering a dead friend. “Awakenings” is a bit more agitated, flirting with non-tonal devices at times, yet maintaining a ballad atmosphere. Both of these tracks see a more melodic side to Michael Romeo’s soloing style to contrast his more Malmsteen influenced shred leads on faster tracks.

The title track of this grand album is the obvious highlight, owing to influences from Rush’s “2112” and Fates Warning’s “The Ivory Gate of Dreams” for its multi-sectioned approach to musical storytelling. It resembles the former more than the latter in terms of structure, playing on recurring melodies to give it a more opera like feel. However, technically this work is more in line with the latter, and contrasts melodic sections with tonally progressive elements. Influences from both Beethoven and Bruckner can be found in the orchestral sections, while the clean guitar sections are heavily reminiscent of 1970s era Rush. Although this song is consistently riveting from start to finish, the high point is the final part “The Fate of the Suitors/ Champion of Ithaca”, owing to one of the most triumphant choruses ever put to CD.

In conclusion, this is a brilliant blend of Power Metal and Progressive Metal, and can appeal equally to fans of both individual genres. Fans of shred, particularly fans of past Symphony X albums, may be a bit let down by the shorter solo sections. The solos still shine with the best of them, but they are methodically structured to appeal to a broader audience, unlike the consistent efforts of Malmsteen on all his releases. But Symphony X is not defined solely by its guitar lines, and that is more than obvious on here.