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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.