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With "V: The New Mythology Suite," Symphony X moved away from their neoclassical sound that they had demonstrated on previous albums, opting instead for a majestic prog/power album. "The Odyssey" shows the band getting much heavier, not just with Michael Romeo's guitars, but also with Russell Allen's vocals and Jason Rullo's drumming. This slight change gives Symphony X not only a signature sound (even though they still show shades of 80's bands like Dio, Metallica, Queensryche, etc), but also the platform they need to push themselves to the forefront of the metal genre.
Michael Romeo remains an innovative guitar monster, writing riffs that are both progressive, yet are impossible not to headbang to. The fact that his guitar finally has balls makes his rhythm-work all the more effective. That pinch-harmonic riff in "Inferno (Unleash the Fire)" is an instant classic. The lead guitar work throughout the album is intricate and inventive; those who accuse Romeo of being a Malmsteen clone can finally shut up now. Whether he is shredding away, like in "Incantations of the Apprentice," or offering more melodic leads like in "Awakenings," Romeo proves himself to be one of the premier guitarists in metal.
Perhaps part of the reason that Romeo is so effective is because he has Michael Pinella alongside him. Pinella adds some atmosphere to songs as well as playing some truly inspiring solos. Unlike many keyboardists, Pinella adds some testosterone to his keyboard sound, yet even at his heaviest, he plays melodically, acting as a perfect foil to Romeo's heavy riffs and insane solos.
Despite the contributions of these two, Symphony X's biggest asset is surely Russell Allen. He uses a rougher growl during some of the verses to counter his clean singing in the choruses. And speaking of the choruses, every single one on this album is stirring, and frankly, awe-inspiring. During "Wicked" the band stops playing and Allen wails like a gospel singer! And his "I walk the road alone" part at the end of "Awakenings" is one of the greatest moments and most passionate moments in heavy metal. His work on "The Odyssey" is one of the greatest performances, not only metal, but rock as well.
The songs on "The Odyssey" range from heavy, to melodic, to epic, and pretty much everywhere in between. Although each of the songs is different and unique, the consistency of the entire album is admirable. The lyrics, at face value, seem cheesy and lame. A song about a knight defending his father's honor? Yet thankfully, the lyrical themes are pretty cool, with songs based on the works of Poe and Dukas. One is about a man who seeks shelter in a graveyard only to be seduced by the ghost of a beautiful woman. How awesome is that?! Then, of course, there is the title track detailing the journey of Ulysses. There are some breathtaking moments in this twenty-four minute epic, the final movement especially, but it could have been a couple minutes shorter, and that opening computer-generated orchestra, although impressive, still is somewhat silly and would have been much more effective with a real orchestra.
"The Odyssey," both the song and the album, is still a remarkable accomplishment by Symphony X. They have positioned themselves as one of the vangaurds of the genre. They blew the other third stage bands away at Gigantour 2005 and can hopefully gain more exposure with their next album "Paradise Lost." With this forthcoming album and a successful tour, perhaps a contract with a major metal label is in their future.