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Smart guys trying to sound tough - 65%

kluseba, February 12th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

Symphony X's Underworld is a quite complicated record for me. Objectively, the American progressive metal quintet finds the right balance between simple thrash metal riffs, a few contemporary djent soundscapes and appealing melodic solos in quite varied tracks from instrumental openers over focused mid-tempo stompers to more elaborate epics close to the ten-minute mark. However, the album just doesn't click with me despite numerous approaches and the fact that people around me with similar tastes in music have spoken very positively about this album. The element that is missing to make this album more than just good for me is feeling.

Symphony X sounds like a faux progressive metal band that seems to try very hard to include tough riffs in each track and to revamp its style with djent influences without trying to come around with emotive yet intellectual ideas that made records of the past so appealing. Underworld sounds calculated, cold and contemporary in songs like ''Nevermore''. The talent of the musicians seems underused in the at times simplistic song structures. Russell Allen, who regularly convinces as guest singer in projects such as Ayreon or on his solo albums, doesn't manage to unfold his impressive vocal skills either. The band even lacks a truly unique sound and reminds of an angrier version of modern Dream Theater throughout the record.

There are a few more emotional moments as in the oddly chosen first single and half-ballad ''Without You'' and the smooth epic ''Swan Song'' but most of the heavier tracks sound dull, exchangeable and predictable. Surprises such as the promising instrumental opener ''Overture'', that should work very well in concert, are missing on this calculated effort.

Objectively, there is no stinker on this release which has a coherent guiding line but it just isn't my cup of tea. If you like American power metal that focuses more on aggressive riffs than uplifting melodies, you will certainly like Underworld. If you like progressive metal's technical aspects but don't want to sit through complex epics, this album's straighter approach might also sit well with you. If you are an unconditional Symphony X fan, you will also find a few redeeming qualities. But if you're looking for emotive, inspiring and melodic progressive metal, you should just skip this album.

The Legend Never Dies! - 98%

andreipianoman, November 22nd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

Symphony X is a legendary name in the prog metal scene with over twenty years of activity and a very dedicated fan-base that I am more than proud to be part of. These people are to me as immortal as the mighty Dream Theater and even better. And after such a massive history, in 2015 they released one of the most controversial albums of their entire discography, making discussions and frustrations that showed up after their change in style back in 2007 even more accentuated.

Underworld is a very important album to me, personally, not only because it's the first thing I heard from them just two months after the release, but also because it's one of the albums that opened my way towards progressive metal, something that I am most grateful to have in my life right now. The main reason why this album received so much criticism from fans of their old stuff back in the 90's and early 2000's is the undeniable commercialization and the overall aspect of a generic heavy metal album. It is only normal for fans of such a band to look for originality and show really high standards but the way I see it, they are all WRONG. And there's a good reason for that. I know that with a title and concept like "Underworld", you're more than inclined to think that your favorite (and my favorite as well) progressive and symphonic metal band has degraded to the point of just making music for money and for the label. Adding the typical heavy metal sound of the single to that may look like a confirmation of those assumptions but if you dig into the album you'll see that it is entirely not the case. Underworld is a fantastic and perfectly balanced mixture of emotion, power and jaw-dropping virtuosity. It is also probably the darkest album they've released to date and it is very typical heavy metal in sound. And to understand it and enjoy it you have to listen to it for what it is, not for what you want it to be. I know that heavy songs about hell and darkness have been done and overdone, and that gets you thinking that it's not original but always remember: Original does NOT mean good. And it also goes the other way around. There's nothing wrong with bringing the classic heavy metal atmosphere if you do it right. Symphony X have tackled this task in their own way, put their own print on it and turned it into something completely new.

The guitar sound is heavy, crystal-clear and might I add, awe-inspiring on the lead parts. As commercial as they could go, Michael Romeo is still Michael Romeo, and that means total epicness in the solos. And the duels with the keyboard are still here. Listening to those fantastic leads has to get something going on inside you. What I always loved about Michael Romeo and Michael Pinella is the unbelievable and unique feel that they bring to the music. Whether it's an old or new song or even a guest solo on some other thing, once you hear it, you hear it good and you know it's them. They never disappoint! And I actually love how what so clearly resounds as Symphony X takes a completely different face. The songs are very beautifully put together and despite the typical structure of verses, choruses, a bridge and a solo, they do sound amazing and complete each other very well. And despite the fact that there's no 20+ minute long colossus of sheer genius poured in millions of perfectly crafted notes like they did on the legendary "The Odyssey" and "The Divine Wings of Tragedy" the genius is still there, scattered across the creation and building up inside you as the album streams through your senses. In the end you will get to a very similar mood. And the one and only reason for this is that, in concept, the album actually does return to their roots and proves the very thing that people think it lacks! Am I crazy? No! You just didn't dig into it. This isn't a cheesy album about hell. It's a fabulous interpretation of ideas from "Dante's Inferno" and "Orpheus in the Underworld". And the main idea that they extract from these and manipulate into their own theme is "going to hell and back for something or someone you care about". That's Romeo's statement, not mine. So if you go through the lyrics you'll notice this. In the title track, the part where it says "Wrath and might - get me though this night Can I make it right? Or will you remain... Remain in Hell?" is a very accurate reference to Orpheus's descent into the inferno to free Euridyce. I also think that "In my darkest hour" could be a reference to the scene where he tries to convince Hades to free Euridyce and then "Swansong" could represent her descending back into the Underworld when Orpheus fails to look forward and turns to see her. This just might be me but do check out the lyrics. Maybe you see it too.

And who could possibly illustrate all the emotion, fantasy and adventure put into this concept better than Russell Allen? He can bring a downright explosive and apocalyptic feel in songs like "Underworld" and "Kiss of Fire" while going for the melancholic and quite romantic tone in "Swansong" and a fiery blaze of charisma in "Charon" or "In My Darkest Hour". His versatility is overwhelming and his range is phenomenal. He also seems to be singing everything from almighty rage to soothing emotion and even a few screams with ease and relaxation as if it was nothing. And the fact that he's getting older doesn't seem to be heard in his voice. Russell can do pretty much anything and it will sound very credible. He may very well be the best vocalist in metal.

Another lyrical aspect that I found really amazing is the crazy idea in "Nevermore" where the use of the number three from Dante's Inferno is twisted in a sick way as a reference to the third Symohony X album "The Divine Wings of Tragedy". Three songs from that album are mentioned in the verses of the opening track and I did find them but I will not ruin your pleasure (or frustration) in trying to find them. Just look close and you'll see them. Also on the cover artwork there are symbols for the nine circles of hell, also from Dante's work. This is also mentioned in the lyrics of the last song: "From the nine realms of woe I arise". Beyond all this, I've got a feeling like there are still a few stuff I haven't decoded yet about the concept of this album but I did get the main idea and it's fantastic. The artwork of the album as well as the pictures/arts/whatever that you can find in the digi-pack are really good and will totally complete the experience, making it feel like a fantastic adventure. And in the end, "Legend" comes as a closing track to prove that even if you sink into the darkest depths of hell, you can still find a way to rise back up. This song has a glorious and uplifting feeling and after the first half of the album seemed like and ongoing descent into darkness that then slowly took the form of a story, all you can do now is heal and rise back up there. There's really an amazing way that you can relate this album to real life because many of us did go through hell one way or another but in the end you just have to rise back up again.

So "Underworld" has a killer concept, insane skill and unbelievable emotion, all balanced in a truly unique way so that whether you listen to one song, or the entire album it will send shivers up and down your spine and drown you in goosebumps. It may not be their very best creation but it is everything that defines solid Symphony X material, only wearing a more accessible mask so all the metal listeners out there can find a way to enjoy Symphony X if their past releases were too challenging for the weak minds. Maybe it will get many others into the universe of pure bliss that is this band the way it did for me.

Better than Iconoclast - 88%

Mortal_Sacrifice, May 24th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

If you're like me and you weren't satisfied with Iconoclast (with the exception of When All Is Lost) then you definitely had high hopes for this album. Does it live up? Not as much as I wanted. Does it disappoint? Absolutely not.

What we have here is Symphony X, as they stated before this release, trying to tap back into their older material. However personally I would lump this into being more of an in between of Odyssey and Paradise Lost. They ditched the need for more modern metal throwaways (Iconoclast) and attempted to go back the route of having solid melodies. However the fatal misstep is that they underused Michael Pinnella quite substantially in this album. He does have moments where he truly shines but I can tell they didn't really deem him truly necessary to make the whole album complete. Of course that's a shame, you kidding?

My favorite songs are Nevermore, Underworld, Charon (reminds me of Eyes of Medusa from Divine Wings of Tragedy a little bit), To Hell and Back and the solo on Swan Song is exceptionally fantastic.

But I feel the absolute best song is Legend. Here you have Symphony X doing what they do best; making great music with a borderline corny premise that is just flat-out infectious and awesome to crank up. If anything, THIS song is the Symphony X we wanted to hear all these years. Making excellent use of ALL the members' talents. Each member shines through in this one song and it's a damn fine way to end the album. I'd say buy the entire album for this one song.

All in all, if you were like me and disappointed with Iconoclast and looking for them to (ugh..) "go back to their roots" as cliched as that sounds then absolutely get this album. It has a couple missteps (The by-the-numbers, completely forgettable Overture, Run with the Devil...) but all in all it's a great effort and a step in a better direction.

Flogging a dead horse - 17%

Human666, April 24th, 2016

In terms of creativity and inventiveness, Symphony X is more or less done. Since The Odyssey, Symphony X's musical output has been a dull array of uninspired heavy metal songs, with a growing emphasis on the heavy side of things and a gradual deterioration towards the generic realm of boredom and meaninglessness. Underworld is no surprise.

This album is a collection of predictable and tramping songs that reach no destination. After a humdrum overture of meaningless Latin chants and casual strings, that just fail to reach any level of excitement in spite of the hard effort, we are being thrown straight to the first real track, which bears the extremely unoriginal title of Nevermore. As usual for the last decade, Russel Allen mumbles some hackneyed lyrics over a monotonous vocal melody that fits perfect with the dull, characterless fast guitar riffs. Once in a chorus, Pinnella will play some static chords with his keyboards, so that the lifeless vocal melody won't sound completely numb in spite of Michael Romeo's endless attempts to break the speed of light with his superficial arpeggios, as if we haven't already heard that shtick for an endless amount of times since Malmsteen discovered the harmonic minor scale and a tape recorder.

Without You is the band's most desperate attempt to write a pop song with heavy metal arrangements, even though they are just unfit for such a task. This song is probably the most forced song they ever written, each vocal melody and each guitar riff sounds just so trite and spurious that I really wonder how they haven't cut this track out from the final product.

The rest of this album is just the same. Everything is just going through the motions and sounds superficial, as if the only reason for creating this album was to fill contract obligation. Each song has its own extremely unoriginal title ('In My Darkest Hour', 'To Hell and Back' and 'Legend', just to name a few), its own pile of heavy and characterless guitar riffs, the same banal choruses that could be replaced with each other with no one will ever noticing, and the same half assed fast guitar solos that one wants to hear. I couldn't find any outstanding moment in this album, nor any catchy riff or semi interesting moment of inspiration. Underworld is just another Nuclear Blast product that will satisfy these who'll get orgasm just by any disposable CD with a sound of electric guitars and superficial vocal lines, all wrapped in a dark and "cool" cover art.

In conclusion, this album is a joke. Move on.

Just doesn’t do it for me anymore - 50%

Writhingchaos, January 20th, 2016

Oh yay another Symphony X album. Better than the overloaded and overlong Iconoclast you say? Well you’ll just have to listen and figure that one out for yourself. But I will say this (as many fans have already said) - These fellas have not really done anything musically invigorating since Paradise Lost and this album does nothing to change that fact, I’m afraid. Of course that’s better than Dream Theater’s track record in the last decade, but that’s not really saying much. Honestly, am I the only one who finds it incredibly ironic that they ripped off the album name from Adagio’s breakthrough album Underworld back in 2003 who were, in quite a twist of fate, wrongfully accused of being a Symphony X clone band just because of a similar neo-classical influence? Surprising that no one stumbled upon that one in the previous reviews. Anyways Adagio’s album is miles better than this one, so if you haven’t already, I’d advise you check that one out instead.

I mean yeah the songs are technically good and there’s nothing wrong with them in that sense. Except that that’s exactly the problem here. The songs are just there, plodding along with hardly anything memorable jumping out at you and grabbing your attention. A large majority of this album just coasts on the same/similar melodies and progressions that made The Odyssey and Paradise Lost the classics that they were, hardly offering any fresh or exciting moments. This was the same problem even with Iconoclast, but now the problem seems to have become chronic. I mean come the fuck on guys, those albums were more than a decade back, surely I don’t think it’s too much to expect them to play something a bit different this time around. Plus these guys are veterans in the progressive metal scene after all.

Honestly the way I’m going, I’m sure most of you are already thinking “Oh wait, if that’s the case then the album seems to be just more of the same! Nothing’s wrong with that now”. Well you wouldn’t be completely wrong, but then again what worked for bands like Anubis Gate, Pagans, Mind, Vader, Krisiun, Melechesh, Nile, Rudra etc (the art of mastering consistency between each album by having the same blueprint yet mixing it up with something new and enjoyable each time round) clearly doesn’t work for Symphony X, at least not anymore.

At this point you can clearly see a lack of inspiration and ideas plus the slow drying up of the creativity well, especially in the case of the guitarists. I mean sure, I’d be the biggest fucking idiot to deny that Michael Romeo is one of the most versatile and amazing metal guitarists out there right now, both in the lead and rhythm section (which is rare by itself) but man he’s just rehashing the same old riffs and progressions that we’ve all heard before in the previous albums. Even the leads fall flat. Just listen to “Charon” and “Run With The Devil” and tell me if I’m wrong. And yes, it does hurt to say that believe me, especially since his playing in every single Symphony X album up till Iconoclast has been nothing short of incredible, but this is clearly a phoned-in performance. Russell Allen is the same since Paradise Lost, nothing to really complain or write home about on that front, but having said that, I do miss his high pitched screams and soulful singing of the past. Here he's just bland. Yeah that pretty much sums up my feelings towards this album as a whole.

Also is it just me or are the song titles incredibly silly? It’s like they put no effort into it and literally flipped through a random thesaurus thinking about cheesy Dragon fables and lost love. I mean just say them out loud - To Hell And Back? Without You? Kiss Of Fire? In My Darkest Hour (Hello Megadeth!) ? Seriously?? Normally I’m not at all the kind to be complaining about song titles, but here this just adds up to everything being so forced and simply going through the motions on every level.

Though I gotta say, in spite of all the negative things I've said so far, Michael Romeo does kill it in the soloing department for the most part (even though the rhythm section leaves a lot to be desired) proving that he is still undoubtedly up there with the best. Lastly it's some relief that the keys play a (slightly) more prominent role in comparison to their previous two albums where they were just pushed into the background with hardly any afterthought.

Some songs like "Nevermore", "Kiss Of Fire" and "To Hell And Back" start off on a promising note only to fall back into cliched power metal riffing with little or no substance, being merely a retread of their past albums. It's even more frustrating when that happens because nothing is more annoying than squandered potential. The twin ballads "Without You" and "Swansong" are honestly just lame, with lyrics bordering on the cringe worthy side of supposed poetry. Urgh. Seriously one of the few prog bands that could actually pull off ballads with emotion and class once upon a time and now this....oh well.

And yeah I know that since The Odyssey, the band has shifted to a more power-metal oriented sound, abandoning a bit of their progressive edge that made them such a force back in the day, but still that’s no excuse for shoddy and weak songwriting. They managed to successfully pull off the more power-metal oriented sound only once with Paradise Lost before unfortunately getting stuck in the same stylistic rut ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I would be the last person complaining about a change in musical style, just as long as the music remains interesting to listen to. And that’s exactly the problem with Underworld. I can barely list out my favourites here when everything sounds so contrived and generic, but “In My Darkest Hour” and “Underworld” are probably the only tracks I derived some enjoyment from.

Eh just stick with their older classics people, and leave this one for the diehards. Better yet, check out Adagio’s album of the same name instead. Believe me, your ears and wallet will thank you. Maybe their next album will be better, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Your Silence Tells Me All I Need to Know - 75%

Twisted_Psychology, September 25th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

Symphony X has taken their sweet time putting together the albums that have come out since The Odyssey's release in 2002. A slew of side projects and higher profile tours has kept the band members busy along with guitarist Michael Romeo's notorious perfectionism. The frankly similar sounding records have led some to wonder if the band was also starting to run out of ideas. The well still hasn't run dry on Symphony X's ninth studio effort but there are a few causes for concern.

For the most part, Underworld's style is about the same as it was on Paradise Lost and Iconoclast. The tone is as dark as ever and the instrumentation is still largely driven by Romeo's aggressive, downtuned riffs with the odd symphonic flourishes here and there. However, there is a sense of restraint that hasn't been seen on the album before it as the vocals aren't as rough and the songwriting is more melodic. The aim may have been to make a more accessible effort but the approach ironically keeps even the heaviest of songs from hitting as hard as they could.

What keeps this album's head above water is the still great songwriting. While nothing here lives up to the bar set by the awe inspiring "Overture" and a bunch of the pre-choruses sound alike, every song on here manages to be memorable. "Nevermore" and "Without You" proved to be smart single choices due to their solid hooks, "Kiss Of Fire" and "In My Darkest Hour" come close to matching the heaviness of past efforts, "Swan Song" makes for a sweet ballad, and the nine minute "To Hell And Back" and the closing "Legend" channel classic Dream Theater with their upbeat tempos and energetic keyboards.

But like the self-titled Dream Theater album, Underworld starts off excellent but has ideas that leave less of an impact than usual. The songwriting and strong performances still make it an enjoyable listen but it is mere prog metal comfort food compared to their finest outings. I wouldn't call this a disappointment but a new direction may soon be called for.

"Kiss Of Fire"
"Run With The Devil"
"Swan Song"

Underachieving - 55%

NoSoup4you22, September 15th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

It's not just me, right? Apparently I'm in the minority here, but I never liked post-Odyssey Symphony X. They've been doing this "simpler and heavier" thing for nearly a decade now, and what should have been just a phase is now the defining character of the band. It's worked out quite well for them in terms of popularity, so I can't blame them for sticking with it, but I feel like the kid in The Emperor's New Clothes. Apart maybe from the title tracks of the last two albums, no SX song since The Odyssey has wowed me like an Egypt or a Candlelight Fantasia. The creative spark just hasn't been there. Nevertheless, I was feeling optimistic for some reason, and wanted to legitimately try and get back into my former favorite band. Enter Underworld...

Speaking frankly, the cover art and song titles didn't do a lot to raise my hopes, but otherwise the album makes a good first impression. The mix is huge, the best they've had thus far; the intro is epic; the songs generally have strong momentum and choruses. Stylistically, you pretty much know what to expect if you heard the last two albums: Michael Romeo thrashes, shreds and rehashes the riff from Evolution two or three more times, Russell Allen still growls through the verses, and presumably Mike Pinella does something also. We do get some occasional soaring vocals and lead keyboard work, e.g. on "Underworld" and "Legend", which incidentally are two of the better tracks on the album. I also appreciate the more mainstream sounding power ballad, "Without You", which is a bit of an oddity for them. It's not my usual cup of tea, but it's got a fantastic chorus with some subtle musical depth for good measure, and it's just nice to hear Russell Allen sing cleanly and break things up a bit. Overall, I was enjoying myself for the first half of the album, even though it wasn't life-changing.

Unfortunately, things started to unravel for me around "Kiss of Fire," a Symphony X-goes-brutal gimmick song which is more memorable for what it is than its actual musical ideas. Following that, we have the boring filler "Charon," and at this point I started to get very weary of the monotonous riffing style. Probably about 3/4 of the album is the same style of groovy phrygian riffs. They might have some extra notes compared to other bands' riffs, but they're all the same, and they lose their impact and get really mind-numbing after awhile. Just as "To Hell and Back" promises to alleviate things with an epic and inspiring intro, it dumps us right back into the same nonsense for its second half. This is precisely the moment where I stopped giving a shit. The rest of the album just sort of went in one ear and out the other until "Swansong," an OK ballad in the vein of Paradise Lost, and the final track "Legend," a nice blend of old and new SX that actually sounds distinct from the other songs and doesn't try too hard to be heavy.

Let's talk about lyrics for a second. Normally I wouldn't care, but these are really insipid. Symphony X never had the greatest lyrics after Thomas Miller left, but the more epic-themed music could support some cheese back then, and at least they were never actively distracting for me until now. These lyrics are so vacuous and riddled with cliches that they actually bring the music down a bit. There was some talk in interviews about themes of sacrifice and loss, etc, but upon listening, I'm painfully aware of middle-aged dudes trying to string together metal-sounding phrases. Take a look at "Run With the Devil:"

Run with the devil, run for your life
The truth of the moment cuts like a knife
Chasing a shadow, still chasing a dream
When it's do or die, you know there's no inbetween

What ideas or imagery does this chorus conjure? It's an album about nothing - the musical equivalent of Seinfeld.

Overall, I wouldn't say Underworld is a bad album; they can still play like nobody else (even though Romeo is recycling stuff too much - That octave-jumping lick from Rediscovery gets rehashed in two different solos, and I could name a few others,) Russell Allen can still kill it when he wants to, the production's excellent, the individual songs don't have any glaring flaws... I just can't make it through the whole thing at once. It's too samey, and - even though I tried to judge it on its own terms, I have to say it - lacking in creativity compared to previous albums. I might revisit a couple of the songs from time to time, but overall this is another "meh" album from modern Symphony X. Go listen to Adagio's "Underworld" instead.

Slightly Saccharine, Still Symphony X - 80%

raoulduke25, August 25th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

For most power metal fans, Symphony X needs no introduction. Like them or not, they have remained one of the more consistent and prolific bands in their genre since their debut more than twenty years ago. Underworld is their ninth full-length album and is every bit as Symphony X as you could possibly expect. For those of you who are already familiar with their epic and aggressive style, this will fall nicely into their discography as another compilation of Michael Romeo’s neoclassical compositions.

In spite of being a band from New Jersey, Symphony X have always had a sound that more closely aligned with the European power metal scene. Underworld has all the classic trademarks of Symphony X: the choral arrangements of Nightfall-era Blind Guardian, the Baroque-influenced keyboard and guitar solos reminiscent of Yngwie Malmsteen, and the orchestral majesty of Rhapsody. And yet, in spite of being derivative in these ways, Symphony X have a way of making each of these things their very own, owing in large part to the insane instrumental virtuosity of each member.

This album is every bit as aggressive as previous efforts, with Romeo’s speedy and bombastic riffing playing against the relentless yet tasteful drumming of veteran percussionist Jason Rullo and Russell Allen’s vocals, which can range from the operatic to the extreme. But this release has not come without the ruffling of a few feathers. There are a couple tracks on here which can only be described as power metal with schmaltz. And it isn’t as if this is a new thing for Symphony X, but in the past it has always been more subtle, or at least more transient. All of their big epic pieces from previous efforts have always had sections with campy electric pianos and overly polished interludes. But they went a little bit further here with two entire tracks that have enough corn syrup in them to fatten entire third-world countries, namely “Without You” and “Swansong”. And as a lifelong Symphony X fan, I can tell you that hearing these tracks is pretty jarring, especially in the context of the rest of the album which by and large has stayed true to their signature sound.

I think the best thing going for this effort though, is the same thing that has always been going for the band, and that is the unbelievable chemistry that they have always had, each member finding his perfect place amongst Romeo’s music. And of course, Romeo’s stellar guitar work is as enchanting and haunting as it is fast and furious, making for an enjoyable listen for any power metal fan.

If you like power metal and haven’t heard Symphony X, this would actually be a great introduction to the band even if it might not be my first pick. If you like Symphony X, but haven’t heard this record, you should listen to it. And even though I stand by my criticisms of the syrupy ballads on this particular effort, they don’t take away enough from the rest of the album to warrant skipping it altogether.

Originally written for

Learning to fly - 91%

Empyreal, August 12th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

You know, I really think Symphony X was what I pictured 'metal' sounding like back before I really got into the genre and knew what I liked – big, heavy, thick guitars, gruff vocals, epic lyrical themes. Their modern sound pretty much encapsulates what I envisioned metal as a whole being like back as a teenager – it's like someone just asked them 'what do you think is the most metal sound ever made?' and they just started cranking out albums in response. This new album Underworld is more mastery along the lines of what they've been doing lately.

This is a very calculated album, where every song is different and fits together in a satisfying whole. Russell Allen is a force to be reckoned with – he growls, he shrieks, he croons and he powers out in a gritty midrange. He does everything. Michael Romeo's guitars are a pastiche of the band's career up to now, with technical, pounding riff sets and long, flashy leads – if they come off as a bit too familiar, it's just because the band's sound has been so firmly entrenched and trademarked by now. The rhythm section is tight as a well-oiled machine and the keyboards are celestial and atmospheric. The production is heavy and clear – probably the best production job they've ever had.

This is the most straightforward the band has ever been, with songs that are built on catchy, hook-driven choruses and powerful, thrashy riffing. “Nevermore” isn't one of their more dramatic moments, but its subtle riffing changes between verse and chorus and the way Allen's vocals seamlessly shift styles is deft and more complex than it initially seems – it's a good introduction to the album. After that it's a carnival of contrasts and drama, with the Grave Digger-esque chorus of the title track offset by that very same song's more dramatic, atmospheric clean vocal part in the bridge. “Without You” is a heartfelt power ballad, and one of the album's most emotive moments, but it's contrasted brilliantly with the vitriolic venom of “Kiss of Fire” - perhaps the band's most aggressive song yet, and where they show the most confidence in themselves.

The real album centerpiece is “To Hell and Back,” a 10-minute epic that comes off as the band's answer to “Stairway to Heaven” - a huge song that opens up with ominous synths and then goes into a serpentine coil of chugging riffing, lots of different parts to it and a soaring chorus to wrap it all together. I can't praise this song enough, as it is a huge dramatic opus that grabs you by the balls and forces you to pay attention – this, pure and simple, is what I want out of music as a whole; a tremendous, engaging epic rock song. It shows how far the band has come and how much they understand what makes a great song – tension, build up and release. The album as a whole is excellently paced with lots of emotional crests in between thrashy bouts of aggression and moments of celestial beauty, and “To Hell and Back” is the rightful centerpiece – the album's greatest peak.

If the rest of the album can't measure up to that song, it's no crime, and the songs are still good anyway. “In My Darkest Hour” won't ever be lauded as one of the band's most stirring or intense moments, but it's actually a rather clever song, seeing the band dialing back their guitar/keyboard duels and going for the throat with a simple, anthemic chorus done far better than many of their contemporaries manage. Likewise, “Run with the Devil” is a more 80s metal-oriented song than we're used to from them, with Allen digging into a David Coverdale-esque croon and forsaking his usual grit and muscle – an addictive song that grows on you, complete with pounding, resonating guitar riffs.

“Swansong” is a beautiful, heart-aching song, and closer “Legend” initially threw me off, as it's one of the most direct and traditional tracks the band has ever done – more in line with older Euro-power metal, except done up with the band's rhythmic tightness and instrumental proficiency far beyond what most of those bands had.

While there aren't as many surprises here as on the last two career-defining albums (and overall, it isn't quite as good as their last two), Underworld is as good as any album the band has done over their career. They might have lost the prog-rock instrumental parts old fans loved, but it's a trade off, as they instead gained a powerful, iconoclastic songwriting command and have mastered the art of writing immediately pleasing yet tight and clever songs, with no filler moments as there sometimes were on their classic albums. Their past as an ornate prog band is what made them so good at writing the kinds of songs they do now. This, I think, is what every prog band should aspire to – an even mix of instrumental proficiency and stadium-pleasing bravado, making an unstoppable sound.

Fans of their older albums might never be happy with their new direction, but fans of kick ass metal music should find much to love here. They are more than an instrumental showboat band – they're just a great heavy metal band. Go get this one, it's top five material for this year easy.

This is What I Expect From Symphony X - 95%

mjollnir, August 6th, 2015

I remember the first time I heard Symphony X. It was their New Mythology Suite and I was blown away. I must have played that album continually for six months. The fusion of progressive metal and power metal was incredible and the musicianship was top notch. However, the albums that followed did not seem to grab me like that album did. And of their previous works, Only Divine Wings of Tragedy seemed to grab me like the Mythology Suite. The musicianship was still there but the songs were not that catchy and did not make me feel the way I did when I first heard this band. With their newest full length, Underworld, they finally brought back that magic that drew me in the first time I heard them.

From the beginning of the first track, an instrumental simply titled "Overture," I was transported back to the first time I heard them. But it being only an intro, I was not getting myself worked up thinking this was the Symphony X I remembered. Then "Nevermore" fills my ears with speed and riffs that just rolled right over me. This song kicks ass and my hopes for this album went through the roof. Vocalist Russell Allen seemed to know how to balance his vocals with some of his signature gruff sounding vocals to some really melodic cleans. As a matter of fact, the chorus of this song is some of his best singing. Clean and melodic it seems he's lost nothing when it comes to his ability to be a world class vocalist. Then comes Michael Romeo's monstrous solo and at that point all was right in the world. If the rest of the album sounded like this then we have a true masterpiece on our hands.

One thing that has always struck me about this band was when they were on they had this uncanny ability to merge melody, progression and aggression without it sounding forced or pretentious. Songs like "Without You" or "Hell and Back" feel almost like ballads in places without being sappy. Instead they come off as epic tracks, especially the latter. What a beast of a song. The intro makes you think ballad but then the verse comes in and you realize this will be much more. The riffing is catchy, the keys are just enough to provide atmosphere, and the chorus is so melodic and catchy. Again, the solo is fucking godly but so much more than just a wank fest. Instead there's feeling and emotion. This song is almost nine and a half minutes but none of it is lost or dragging. Halfway through the aggression picks up a bit and it's at this point that I feel like this song is a musical journey showing all sides of this talented band.

There is no shortage of powerful tracks on this album. "Kiss of Fire" fucking slays with powerful riffing and aggressive speed even throwing blast beats into the song. The keys provide an eerie atmosphere and take the song to a new level. Mr. Allen makes you feel his aggression in his gruff vocals but they are still not overused as been the main complaints of their latest offerings. The solo is as awesome as ever. This is actually becoming one of my favorite songs on the album. In contrast you have "Swansong" which is a real melodic song with nice riffing. The piano is also quite prominent in the song. This is the closest to what would be considered a ballad on the album. There are a lot of emotions on display here and it seems that the title is quite fitting.

I honestly did not know what to expect with this album and I had doubts about whether or not I would enjoy this album. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. They seemed to hit all the marks and create an album that not only showed their incredible talent but still contain great, memorable songs. Will this album be stuck in my CD player for the next six months? We'll have to see about that....

The Elitist Metalhead

Underworld - 80%

Zerberus, July 24th, 2015

Introducing Symphony X should almost be unnecessary. Symphony X have been a mainstay in both the progressive and the power metal scene for many years now, each album reaping heaps of great reviews and praise from critics and listeners alike. Their reach is far and wide, spanning neo-classical, progressive and groovy compositions. Fronted as always by the immensely talented Russell Allen, Underworld is an album that needs only a few listens to convince.

Disregarding the quality or lack of the same of Russel Allen's many collaborations and appearances, including Jørn Lande, Ayreon and Adrenaline Mob, Symphony X will always feel like the vocalist's true home. His variation between gruff Anselmo-ish vocals and higher melodic vocals are in focus on almost each and every track, leaving no doubt that he is as essential a part of Symphony X's music as guitarist and main songwriter Michael Romeo. Where 'Iconoclast', the band's previous album, dealt primarily with mankind's promethean relationship with modern technology, Underworld has returned to the more mythological subjects as the albums from earlier in the band's career.

Though not among the initial singles, the track 'Charon' feels like one of the strongest tracks on their ninth album. There are several strong tracks that I for one will be listening to for years to come, including 'Nevermore' and 'Kiss of Fire'. Symphony X are masters of the power ballad, and of course there is one on Underworld as well. 'Without You' is as strong a ballad as ever, but Underworld lacks the lengthy prog display of power that most have come to associate closely with the group. Almost every album up until now has had one of these tracks, but 'To Hell and Back' is the best we've got this time around. A mighty track, but not quite akin to the masterpieces like the Divine Wings of Tragedy and the Odyssey title tracks.

In many ways Underworld feels like a mix of the band's three previous albums, combining the neo-classical progressiveness of The Odyssey, the lofty compositions of Paradise Lost, and the heaviness and powerful groove of Iconoclast. You always hear talk of "the difficult second or third album" when talking about a band's career. Never the impossible ninth album. Most bands have lost their flair long before reaching that point, and in that way it's refreshing to hear Symphony X release such a powerful and well carried-out album more than twenty years into their endeavour. Their output has been incredibly consistent quality-wise, and while Underworld may not be in their top 3, it comes incredibly close. Closer than many bands could ever hope to achieve this late in their career. This is unmistakably Symphony X as we know them.

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