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First of all, let me begin by saying I hate to give out a score like 100%, because that implies that an album is perfect. Nothing could ever be absolutely, 100% perfect; there is always some small problem here or there. However, this album is so good that I have to give it the highest score possible. This is one of the few albums that I could just listen to all day and not get bored. Needless to say, it is a must buy. BTW, this is NOT a concept album like the last reviewer said ---- there is only one song about Odysseus; it is not a concept explored through the whole album.
For those not familiar with the band, Symphony X is considered progressive metal, although there is some general disagreement over that classification. Whatever you want to call their music, it is extremely technical metal that never falls into boring lapses such as a lesser band like Dream Theater tends to. No matter how technical the music gets, it is always pleasing to the ear and sounds like it fits in perfect.
Every track here is a stand out. The album starts out with "Inferno", an aggressive five and a half minute track with vocalist Russell Allen sounding downright angry and menacing (taken even a step further on the track "King of Terrors"), something that he hasn't really done on Symphony's previous albums. As always, Michael Romeo's riffs are top notch, from the all-over-the-place intro riff to the short and aggressive riff during the verses. It is obvious right from the get-go that the band is going in a heavier direction on this album.
"Wicked" is slightly less agressive, though no less impressive song, featuring some great back and forth guitar and keyboard soloing in the middle. "Incantations of the Apprentice" features horror-tinged lyrics that sound like they're straight from an H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe story. Allen's vocals almost sound Graham Bonnet-like during the verses, and Romeo once again shines with his riffs and soloing, although there is not a lot going on with the keyboards during this song. However, this is made up for almost instantly once "Accolade II" starts off, featuring some beautiful piano from Michael Pinnella. There is also nice bass riffing right before the first verse starts for the alert listener. This is definitely a softer song, being a sequel to "Accolade" off of Divine Wings of Tragedy. The piano provides beautiful melodies throughout the entire song, and one of the best parts of the song is about four minutes in when only the piano is playing and Allen sings a few lines ---- very powerful stuff. Romeo has some excellent guitar parts starting at the five and a half minute mark and continuing through his solo. A very moving and powerful song, the type of songs which Symphony X just seems to have a knack for writing.
Next up is "King of Terrors", which is on the total opposite end of the spectrum from "Accolade II". This is probably the heaviest song the band has done up to this point. The riff is a little more simplistic and repetitive than what Romeo usually writes, but it accomplishes exactly what it's supposed to: it's supposed to be HEAVY, and it certainly is. Allen's vocals (as mentioned before) are taken to a new level of aggression during the verses, calming down for the pre-chorus with some piano thrown in. The chorus features some nice double-bass drumwork while Allen's vocals soar. Right in the middle of the song, there is a spoken word section with a quote straight from the Edgar Allan Poe story "The Pit and the Pendulum", which the song is based on. Allen utilizes a deep voice to read the section and sounds similar to the deep voice that Geoff Tate sometimes uses. Some nice keyboard work leads into a very nice section of the guitar and bass playing a complex riff together, and from there Romeo goes off on another amazing solo.
"The Turning" starts off with a frantic riff that almost reminds of something Yngwie Malmsteen would do. This is one of the shorter songs on the album, but is another excellent, straight ahead heavy song. Things calm down a little during the pre-chorus, but the chorus features the intro riff prominently while Allen sings, giving the chorus a strong sense of urgency. "Awakenings" is quite different than anything else on the album; it starts out with a lot of keyboard, piano and some nice bass rhythms, and it reminds me a lot of something from the video game masterpiece Castlevania: Symphony of the Night if anyone is familiar with it. From there, for a good part of the song Allen sings while only the piano plays, and this section is beautifully done. Once it ends though, the song gets quite heavy with Romeo interjecting some nice riffage and leads. This is probably my second favorite track on the CD, with my favorite being the next track - the epic "The Odyssey", which clocks in at just over 24 minutes long. One of the best things about this band is that when they write long songs, they vary things and keep things fresh throughout the whole song. To me, when listening to "The Odyssey", it only feels like six or seven minutes have passed, not 24. That, to me, is the mark of a great epic song --- it shouldn't ever feel like it's dragging on too long or become boring. The song is divided into seven parts, starting out with some orchestral playing and then running the gamut from slow, acoustic material to fast and heavy music. I won't describe everything in detail, but this song should be heard by everyone who considers themselves a fan of music ---- this may be the best song I've ever heard. This song makes you feel as though you're accompanying Odysseus on his journey and conjures up a lot different images and ideas. Very, very epic. There is a bonus track on the limited edition called "Masquerade", which is basically a re-working of a song from Symphony X's self titled debut with Russell Allen on vocals. Another excellent song, and I would suggest tracking the Limited Edition of The Odyssey because it's worth having.
Overall, this is a fantastic album, and I'd have to put it up there as one of the best albums of all time. How these guys can consistently pump out such awe inspiring music is a mystery, but I hope they can keep it up for a long time to come. I would encourage metal fans of all genres to give this album a listen - almost everyone I introduce to this band loves them, no matter what their musical tastes are.