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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.