Even without the slightest knowledge of their songs or albums, I still have heard of the band Symphony X. That’s how big of a name this band is in their music scene. Another one of those bands that’s been recommended to me over the years, progressive metal giants Symphony X has released a new album last Friday called “Underworld,” their first album in four years. I took it upon myself to share with you my first experience listening to the band over the weekend.
From the first track “Overture,” I knew what I was getting myself into: a very proggy, very technical, very heavy, and very symphonic album. With a keyboard and synthesizer introduction, the listener experiences the cinematic approach that will last throughout the entire album. It’s a familiar sense to fans of the genre, characterized by its soaring vocals, aggressive guitar sections, and a dramatic keyboard presence. Unfortunately, it’s one of those sounds that’s present in most progressive metal albums. I immediately think that bands like this mimic bands like Dream Theater, or perhaps vice versa.
With that said, “Underworld” is still a very enjoyable album. Within the first few songs on the album Symphony X is able to jump between different genres of metal as influences. The symphonic “Overture” blends into the power metal sounding “Nevermore.” After jumping into another symphonic “Underworld,” the direction completely shifts towards an almost ballad-like “Without You,” a song that sounds like a Rush cover. The incorporation of acoustic guitars provides a necessary tonal change, especially after the bashing received in the previous two songs. I thoroughly enjoyed this track, and consider it one of my favorites after my first few listens.
The album’s longest song “To Hell And Back” is perfectly titled, and although contains the finest performance by each individual member of the band, is probably one of the album’s most repetitive songs. The listener is brought to hell and back as the soft introduction shifts to a very metal rhythm section. Sprinkle in some tasty guitar and keyboard solos, and the listener is locked into ten minutes of bashing and thrashing. Guitarist and main songwriter Michael Romeo guides the band through twists and turns, providing quick paced rhythm sections riddled with time signature changes. Teaming up with keyboardist Michael Pinnella halfway through the song, the two perform an amazing solo battle, one of the more memorable moments of the album.
The rhythm members, consisting of drummer Jason Rullo and bassist Michael Lepond (how many Michael’s are in this band?), are experts in setting the tempo for the rest of the band. Although I didn’t recall a single drum or bass moment that stuck out to me, both of them perform admirably behind the rest of the band. Suffering the fate of most progressive metal musicians, Rullo and Lepond are shadowed by the front men, being the lead guitar, keyboards, and singer. I will say, though, that “Run With The Devil” contains some of the most technical drum and bass fills on the album, using the signature double bass pedal and tremolo picking sound.
The second to last “Swansong” feels oddly place to me, but contains the most personal and moving vocal sections in “Underworld.” With a voice similar to the likes of Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden and Brent Smith of Shinedown, Russell Allen is able to invoke so much emotion and sadness in this song, especially the song’s chorus:
“With you, I wouldn’t change a thing / Just for you, I’d do most anything / But now you´re gone / And my swan song echoes on” (source)
The album closes with “Legend,” a barbaric piece with continuous shredding reminiscent of the Dream Theater album “Train of Thought.” It is fitting that the album’s final words are “the legend never dies,” befitting of the status and popularity of their own band.
For my first dose of Symphony X, “Underworld” was a great listen and introductory album to the band’s discography. I will admit that much of the material sounds very similar to every other progressive metal band out there, with very little deviation from the genre. Although there isn’t much originality in the album, I was still impressed with each musician’s performance, especially the amazing speed and skill of Michael Romeo. If you’re a fan of Symphony X, I would recommend albums by Hemina, Ayreon, and Fire Garden. Please support this band by visiting their website, or by following them on Facebook or Twitter. They will be touring the United States this fall, which I can only guess will be an amazing performance. If only more bands hit San Diego instead of Los Angeles, I’d be more inclined to take a chance and see them.