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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.

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