Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2024
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Privacy Policy

Michael Romeo > War of the Worlds // Pt. 1 > Reviews
Michael Romeo - War of the Worlds // Pt. 1

F*cking robots, man.. - 83%

Silicon Messiah, October 3rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Music Theories Recordings

Symphony X guitarist and songwriter Michael Romeo released his first solo album way back in 1995, as an instrumental show off of his guitar mastery. Let’s just say that the follow up is only loosely connected. While Symphony X seems to be standing fairly still at the moment, since 2015’s Underworld, with the respective members busy elsewhere (bassist Mike LePond released a pretty kickass album with his Silent Assassins earlier this year), it’s no wonder that songwriter Romeo should also feel the need to deliver.

And holy crap, does he. War Of The Worlds Pt. 1 sees him handle guitar duties, as well as keys and orchestration and production. He gets help from bassist John DeServio (Black Label Society) and drummer John Macaluso (Labÿrinth), but perhaps the most notable is previously unknown vocalist Rick Castellano.

The style on War Of The Worlds, heavy progressive power metal with guitar wankery aplenty should be of taste to every Symphony X fan. It drills hard with crunchy guitars, heavy riffing and fleshy progpower antics set to something akin to a film score like setting, with backdrop keyboards by Romeo himself to add a larger scale to the portrayal.

The opening fifteen or so minutes, from the intro to 'Black', is masterfully delivered. Holding back the progressive elements slightly to set the album off with catchy melodies and a punch packing vocal deliveries alongside meaty riffs it immediately catches. Vocalist Castellano is perhaps the album’s most interesting part. He showcases great command of his talents, bellowing heavily and crooning softly in turn. You could do some comparisons to Ronald Romero (Rainbow, Lords Of Black) in style and fittings, but Castellano brings an airy flow and sense of purpose without sounding like he’s trying to be someone else.

What with the soundscape lending itself to a rather theatrical flair, there is also a fair deal of experimentation going on. 'F*cking Robots' stands out the most with its weird robot noises on a symphonic backdrop, and quite frankly, is the song that takes away from an otherwise fairly set and heavy atmosphere. It just sounds pretty ridiculous.

Then there are other pieces throughout that fortunately don’t take it just that far, but stick within what’s proper for the album, which as a whole manages to be pretty cool. Romeo flashes a whole lot of awesome guitar stylistics, neat solos and hooks, but the way he lets the keyboards do half of the sound really sets it apart. War Of The Worlds Pt. 1 doesn’t quite measure up to Symphony X’s strongest efforts, but it’s definitely an album worth checking out and play back to back with the aforementioned Silent Assassins album when the Symphony X abstinence sets in.

Standout tracks: Fear The Unknown, Black, Oblivion

Symphonic, Progressive and Powerful - 89%

hardalbumreview, September 3rd, 2018

When it comes to giant names in music industry, widely known for their talent and genius within a band, who release their own solo albums, often one of the two following cases holds true: either they follow the beaten path of the fame and work within the framework they are renowned for, or they try to put forward something hugely different from the work of their bands and do whatever they please, usually showing off how capable they are as an individual due to the more liberate nature of solo works. Each of the two approaches has their own fans and fault-finders.

However, there is this third category, those in the middle-ground in fact, who try to play it safe. They fuse those successful elements of their band and the new ideas they might have and want to experiment with them a bit. I can say this new album by the virtuoso guitar player, Michael Romeo, belongs to the third category. He does what he is good at, (actually a master of) and adds some more experimentation to see what the results and the reactions of the fans will be.

The whole album gives the listener the vibe of a cinematic experience. From the title of the album (War of the Worlds) and the opening track (Introduction) to the last song on the album (Constellations) and everything in between, this album is an auditory movie. And just like every praiseworthy movie, it has its diverse sections.

To a great extent, this is a guitar album (why not? When you have one of the top metal guitarists at the moment), but that doesn’t mean it is solely guitar, like those of other splendid Guitar Gods (Michael Angelo Batio, or Yngwie Malmsteen, etc.), but in fact it is a masterly combination of everything metal (guitar, bass, drums, vocals) and orchestration, with tinges of electronic music and hefty chunks of film score. Even within the genre of metal, this work borders symphonic metal, progressive metal, or to a lesser degree, symphonic power metal. Maybe the best label for the genre would be symphonic progressive metal or progressive symphonic metal. Whatever you call it, it is an enjoyable composition.

Beginning of the album is right out of a grand Hollywood blockbuster (until1:09, when the mood shifts to a heavy metal orchestra). This opener quite sets the mood. I mean after the first song, I got everything I wanted, I thought well, that’s enough. What a perfect album. This track was the whole album in a nutshell. Moving forward the track list, a vast array of songs are presented in a reasonable order; we don’t have massive breakthroughs or sudden changes, the album flows gracefully from one song to another.

Along the way we have heavy and speedy tracks (Fear the Unknown – Believe - Black), mid-tempo ones (Oblivion, Djinn), futuristic tones (F*cking Robots), oriental melodies (Djinn) and even some more ballad-like parts (Believe - Constellations). From long compositions (Believe-8:22 - Djinn-7:29) to shorter ones (War Machine-3:10), even two instrumental tracks (Introduction – War Machine) are all present on the album. So whatever you want from a metal album, you may find here, and at a world-class level.

Other musicians Romeo has hired for this endeavor are also quite competent. The bass that John DeServio (Black Label Society) puts forward is strong, though mostly unnoticed (maybe except for the final part of Djinn) and the drumming of John Macaluso is savage. But the point which caught my attention was the vocals which was delivered by Rick Castellano, a rather new name in the genre. Inevitably, comparisons are made with Russell Allen of Symphony X. Maybe Rick’s voice does not have the range and power of that of Russell, but it sure builds up hope for an up-and-coming star.

But how about the lyrics? They are mostly dark and foreboding, giving the image of a pitch-black future where the robots have arisen and are in control and strangely, they are the ones who aim to sooth us and tell us “don’t be afraid”! The larger parts of the lyrics are written in the form of a narrative, telling the tale of mankind’s apocalyptic battle against these “vengeful machines”. Perhaps the highlight of the lyrics on this album is this line: “In failing to plan, you plan to fail”, a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, which relates the essence of the narration of this album. Overall, the lyrics were artfully musical and accompanied the composition of the album well.

Any down sides? Well, to be honest, with all due respect to Michael Romeo, the idea of incorporating elements of EDM and dubstep, though adding to the robotic-ness of the album in some parts (especially on F*cking Robots), was unpleasant to metalhead’s ears (at least to my ears). This, however, should not cause you to change your mind. This album is a MUST in 2018.

Ratings out of 10:
Lyrics: 9.5
Artwork: 8.5
Musicianship: 9.5
Vocals: 9.0
Overall: 9.0

Film score Symphony X - 96%

andreipianoman, August 13th, 2018

As a huge fan of Symphony X, hearing of Michael Romeo's new solo album came as very good news to me. However, to many fans of the band, this may be a bit of a disappointment since they hoped for a new album from the whole band. And to those I have to say that "War of the Worlds part 1" is just as good. This album is very similar in songwriting style to the last three albums of Symphony X but also carries a unique signature that sets it apart from their discography.

"War of the Worlds" is, to me, the perfect blend between accessible and progressive. It's packed with heavy, fast and dynamic riffs and blistering leads all the way through. When it comes to guitar, there's absolutely nothing to complain about. If I were to describe Romeo's style it would probably be a blend of Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci and God. He is undeniably one of the best guitar players in the world when it comes to technique but what I like even more is the way he can make that technique sound so beautiful and fluid all the time. No matter how fast and intense the shredding may get there is not one second in his solos where technique seems to be a higher priority than musicality. He uses it as a tool rather than a purpose in itself. I guess the only reason why I'm not getting a jaw-drop from his style in this album is because I could already see it coming. And it's not just the solos. All the riffs in here are seriously impactful and badass. Check out "Black" to get a feel for how heavy and purely "metal" he can get. It's often catchy and headbang inducing. There's a consistent treat of down picking and chugs blending with fast runs that create most of the riff content. And then there's the progressive side where he just starts slicing and mixing everything up into sheer skill and compositional genius.

Despite all the previously mentioned elements, this is not a guitar album. Unlike other guitarists' solo releases, Michael Romeo wanted to do this one a proper metal album. Although the guitar is what steals most of the attention, the whole band builds up a great performance. And even though they're not Symphony X, these people have no trouble keeping up with Romeo's crazy playing and composing style. I really enjoy the double pedal based drums and the bass doesn't only do its thing on the background but also comes forward sometimes. The ending of "Djinn" is one moment where the bass really grabbed my attention. I also like the vocals. Although it is impossible to avoid the comparison with Russel Allen, which in my honest opinion is a better singer, Rick Castellano brings a good vocal delivery. He's got a very good, slightly power metal oriented vocal style that goes very well with the music on the album.

The similarity with Symphony X is undeniable. If you take the guitar/bass/drums package, I'd say it is most similar to the album "Iconoclast" but there are also many parts that remind me of their earlier stuff. What makes it different is it's personality. "War of the Worlds" has a very modern almost space-age vibe and a a lot of film-score elements. In fact, there's no denying that there are some orchestral themes straight out of Star Wars. There's one particular melody that shows up in "Introduction", "Believe" and "Constellations" which will get you sold on this. And with that type of stuff, the album gets a bit of a high-tech fantasy adventure sort of feel. It's very lively and flamboyant. I should say that the symphonic side is very pronounced and covers a great deal of moods and atmospheres in tone with each song. Another thing I liked is how he linked all the songs with thin layers of orchestra to make the entire album run as a whole but also kept the songs feeling individual and having their own personality. Although when referring to the music itself this is pretty much the same as Iconoclast and Underworld, it is a lot more diverse when it comes to each song's own signature. There's speed power metal stuff like "Fear the Unknown" and "Differences" and more heavy mid-tempo metal songs like "Black" that also feel a bit evil. The two instrumental tracks "Introduction" and "War Machine" are very good for the atmosphere and also for the virtuosity to unleash itself. Especially in "War Machine" there's a fantastic mixture of dynamic progressiveness and cinematic symphonic elements that brings me back to the intro of "The Odyssey", one of the greatest prog opera songs ever written.

However the songs that stand out the most and that I feel I must refer to separately are "F*cking Robots" and "Djinn". "F*cking Robots" is an unbelievable mix of neoclassical metal and electronic dubstep elements. Don't get the idea that any of it sounds like dubstep. The title says it all. It sounds like robots and it has an amazing personality. There's no way I can describe to you what this one is actually like but you just have to hear it. It blew me away instantly. And from the electronic machinery stuff, the album flows into "Djinn", which is easily my favorite song on the record. It's the most epic and has a pretty evil atmosphere but what I like the most is the oriental music that hits you half way through the song. It also has some licks in the solo straight out of Symphony X. I can tell, one of them is from "Nevermore" and the other one is from "Candlelight Fantasia". If you know Symphony X's discography as well as I do, it's impossible not to hear it.

Squeezing all those elements, the album is still beautiful and pretty accessible. It's very well balanced and even quite catchy. Despite the intricate guitar work, he still made it a collection of catchy choruses and riffs that simply invite you to headbang. And what I noticed is that it's just as easy to enjoy the first time you hear it as it is after you've already got to know all of it really well. Drawbacks? Well sometimes it feels a bit predictable and maybe the vocals could use some diversity. Other than that, I can't come up with anything else. It is a fantastic album blending multiple genres and elements and certainly one of the highlights of 2018!

Make Your Presence Known - 75%

Twisted_Psychology, August 8th, 2018

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Michael Romeo’s second solo album sounds exactly like Symphony X. It certainly makes sense if only due to his first effort, 1995’s The Dark Chapter, essentially serving as a demo reel used to form the prog giants in the first place. But when the real thing has been sporadically releasing albums that all sound the same for the last decade, questions are inevitably raised when a near identical sound pops up under a different name.

To be fair, War of the Worlds/Pt. 1 isn’t exactly the fourth coming of Paradise Lost. The hooks are similarly streamlined with matching choral effects, but the sound honestly reminds me more of The Odyssey than anything else. The guitar tone has a modern tinge but “Fucking Robots” aside, the implementation is surprisingly subtle. The vocals are also quite melodic, entirely avoiding the growly inflections that Russell Allen has become infamous for in recent years.

On top of that, the musicianship is rock solid. Rick Castellano’s voice will inevitably draw Allen comparisons, especially since he occupies a near identical range without boasting that distinct grit, but he’s good enough to make you wonder why he hasn’t been featured in a prominent project prior to this. The rhythm section also demonstrates technical skill without getting too flashy and the symphonic work is strong throughout. Even if it’s impossible to not imagine how this would’ve sounded with Lepond or Pinnella on board, you can’t deny Romeo picked some talented guys to play alongside him here.

And even at the heights of solo artist self-indulgence, Romeo still remembers to write actual songs. Singles “Fear the Unknown” and “Black” aren’t quite classics, but their upbeat tempos and catchy choruses do help keep them memorable. Following that, the aggressive mid-tempo “Oblivion” may be the album’s best overall song and “Believe” is the best of the longer, more melodic tracks. Much will also be made of the dubstep flavorings on “Fucking Robots;” having those effects sputter awkwardly in lieu of vocals during the verses was an odd decision but the actual composition honestly doesn’t differ from just about anything else on here.

War of the Worlds / Pt. 1 is a hard album to view “objectively.” Despite the solo artist tag, your views on this effort will depend not only on your feelings towards recent Symphony X material but also on the notion of a different band mirroring it in several aspects. There is an uncanny valley running throughout that could be a deal breaker for even the best songs on here. I enjoy this album overall but if it’s an indication of where Symphony X is headed, it might not be a bad idea to let Mike Lepond do some extra writing on the next one.

“Fear the Unknown”

Originally published at

Oh, where has this been - 90%

NovembersDirge, July 28th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Music Theories Recordings

Michael Romeo is one of prog/power’s finest genii and is deservedly renowned for his day job as the guitarist and primary composer in Symphony X. Little known, however, is that Romeo released a solo album called The Dark Chapter in 1995. Only available on YouTube, the album is a mind-blowing display of, on the one hand, Romeo’s virtuoso talent and, on the other hand, just how far recording has come in the 23 years since its release. The Dark Chapter‘s first followup record is entitled War of the Worlds, Part 1 and on the surface, these two albums have little in common. War of the Worlds is not just Romeo, a drum machine and all the eye-melting guitar gymnastics you can eat. Instead, Romeo’s latest soiree sounds like a damned fine Symphony X record, with a band filled out by bassist John DeServio (BLS), drummer John Macaluso (Labÿrinth, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, and many more), and the voice of surprising newcomer Rick Castellano.

War of the Worlds clocks in at a hefty 54 minutes and is comprised of ten movements seamlessly weaved together by Romeo’s orchestral compositions. From the overture to the album’s final strains, the orchestra bolsters Romeo’s frenetic, thrashy—and maybe a bit tech—riffing, linking ideas, buttressing rhythms and adding tension and drama. While the guitars and orchestras are center stage, Rick Castellano’s power metal tenor and an adroit, adaptable rhythm section fill out War of the Worlds‘ sound. The songs chug, wind and soar as necessary; held together—or aloft—by Romeo’s deft compositions.

There’s a cinematic feel to War of the Worlds reminiscent of Symphony X‘s The Odyssey. Romeo establishes his themes in the overture and evokes John Williams’ feel for majestic, memorable melodies. As the themes are recapitulated throughout the album, they further establish an energetic sound—bold, bombastic; like Gustav Holst composing power metal. Even when Romeo branches out beyond the orchestra, War of the Worlds retains a soundtrack feel. “Fucking Machines,” for example, features Romeo wandering into EDM-soundscapes that evoke the ROBO-BLAAAAAAATS from Mass Effect 3.

Nestled comfortably among the violins, horns and timpani are great metal songs. From start to finish, War of the Worlds demonstrates Michael Romeo‘s best qualities: smart, techy riffing; catchy, anthemic choruses, and subtle, tasteful—but fucking ridiculous—guitarwork. Romeo is both ‘tech’ and ‘prog,’ but unlike bands who make the simple seem complex, Romeo has a way of making the complex seem simple. At first blush, for example, War of the Worlds‘ choruses seem like straight power metal fair: sustained power chords letting Castellano’s clear tenor carry the melody. Start counting, though, and it turns out that “Black” and “Differences” are in 7/8, “Djinn” is in 11/8, and “Oblivion” has a rotating feel that caught me off guard. Even “Believe,” the obligatory ‘uplifting power ballad,’ knocks out sections in 7/4 before giving way to a techy bridge. And despite (but also because of) the subtle complexity the songs are fun. A rogue AI *BLATS* the verses in “Fucking Machines,” leaving just the chorus to the HU-MAN. “Black” thrashes out Romeo’s trademark, eminently groove-able riffs and “Djinn” features gorgeous, subtle sweep arpeggios that soundly disprove the Malmsteenian Theory of Value.

War of the Worlds is also bolstered by excellent performances. Chief among them, Rick Castellano’s debut is lights out. Castellano has a brassy vocal timbre that’s common among my favorite metal vocalists—including pre-Paradise Lost Russel Allen. While the vocal compositions aren’t operatic in difficulty, Castellano shows off both power and touch. He works very well with cleaner tones (like “Believe,” or choruses like “Black”), he can also add a healthy growl for flare and his soaring upper range is impressive. The outstanding vocals are bolstered by a world-class rhythm section that hits all the right beats. Or Macaluso does. JD’s bass is, unfortunately, buried beneath a dense-as-hell master and gets lost—one of the album’s only drawbacks.

The Dark Chapter and War of the Worlds may not share much, but even separated by nearly 25 years, they demonstrate that Michael Romeo is a double threat—a virtuoso guitarist and metal’s finest symphonic composer. War of the Worlds nails the sweet spot between memorable songs and techy and proggy goodness. This guy doesn’t just shred or craft riffs, he composes metal symphonies that one can either admire for their depth or just bang your head to. And to top it all off? The promo sheet says that War of the Worlds Part 2 is almost ready to go.

Original review written by me and published at: