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The Power of V - 95%

Grindocore, August 4th, 2013

Before starting this review, I have to say that I used to think that this album was Symphony X's worse by a long shot. I don't consider myself a power metal fan in the slightest; my metal listening diet is mainly death, thrash and grindcore. The first SX albums I ever heard were Paradise Lost and Iconoclast; when I first heard The Divine Wings of Tragedy I didn't really enjoy it because of the power metal elements. It grew on me with time and I decided to check this album out. Needless to say, nothing could have prepared me for a track like Evolution. "WHAT THE HELL IS THIS OVERLY HAPPY FIST PUMPING EUROPEAN FESTIVAL CRAP!?", my brain screamed several times. I don't remember if I actually heard the rest of the album or not, I was so damn frustrated.

Fast forward about two years, I've finally gotten the idea out of my head that "melody is bad/gay/whatever". I decide to give the album I loathe for reasons I can't recall a second chance; after all, this is the band that released The Damnation Game, The Divine Wings of Tragedy and Twilight in Olympus, all of which I love at this point. So. Intro: a bit cheesy but does the job right. Evolution: "A-HA!", I remembered why I hated this frickin' song in the first place, "It sounds like some other band wrote it and SX are playing other people's material!!", but I'm enjoying it more than I thought myself capable of. Strange. And then the rest of the album happened. And an hour later I sat there, mesmerized, wanting more.

Composition-wise, V: The New Mythology Suite has both a lot more of a power metal style (mainly the STD-catchy choruses in songs like Evolution or A Fool's Paradise) and a lot more progressive influences than previous albums (The Bird-Serpent War and The Death of Balance in particular), but manages it well and at no point sounds over-the-top just for the heck of it (see: The Odyssey). Although not explicitly mentioned in the album credits, the band members have stated over the years that several parts on this album (never actually mentioning which parts) were originally one long song that was meant to appear on Twilight in Olympus but was cut do to time constraints. It makes sense to me that this album (their last truly amazing album to date) was the last that had music written by Michael Romeo, Michael Pinnella and Tom Miller writing as a "team" of sorts; the same team that wrote the first albums (as opposed to their most recent outings which are basically The Michael Romeo Experience). And Miller doesn't actually play on the album; by then he'd been replaced by Michael LePond.

Speaking of LePond, props to him (or whoever was responsible) for the bass tone on this record. I'm a fan of Tom Miller's more "jazzy" tone, but the more gritty one presented here works really well in the mix. The guitar tone isn't the best they've ever achieved, but stacked up against the systematic aberration that is the guitar tone on The Odyssey, it's not really bad at all. Also, MAJOR props to Eric Rachel for the mix (assuming he did the mixing). You can hear everything perfectly at every moment of this album: drums, guitar, bass, keys, vocals, choirs and extra orchestra-thingys. I mention this because after this record the bass and keyboards started to get pushed further and further back in the mix with each release (again, The Michael Romeo Experience).

I'm dedicating an entire paragraph to Russell Allen just because. To my ears, his performance on this LP is the perfect balance of the "majestic" Russell and the "angry/growly" Russell; not terribly unlike his parts on Divine Wings, but with more intermediate steps and subtleties. Tracks like Communion and the Oracle and Abscence of Light showcase his melodic range pretty well, while Fallen or The Bird-Serpent War highlight the lower register that he now so fondly uses and abuses. However, the real standout tracks for Mr. Allen are Egypt and The New Mythology, where he uses both these "styles" to create truly memorable vocal passages.

This album is definitely a grower. While it may not capture the aura of some of their first efforts, I think it embodies the scope of what Symphony X are capable of when they don't give a crap about being metal or selling records. This is the band at its best: five prog dorks that wrote an hour-long power metal concept album about Atlantis, not caring about pleasing anybody but themselves. But I guess artistic integrity doesn't put food on the table...