Symphony X “Underworld”

Symphony X Underworld Review

I can’t think of many bands who have made a career turn as successful as Symphony X did a few years ago. Always finding themselves regarded as a poor man’s Dream Theater (though I’ve never seen it that way) the ban transitioned from being a virtuosic progressive metal band to a power house of heavy and loud power metal, while maintaining the progressive elements that keep them unique. I can’t be the only one who noticed the transition on their Paradise Lost album, where band leader Michael Romeo turned up the distortion on his guitar and Russell Allen, already a fantastic vocalist, added more balls to his voice. The reason I call it a success is because I only heard the name Symphony X mentioned here and there before the release of that album, but afterwards they became what I regard as a household heavy metal name. That continued on their next album Iconoclast and still continues on their recently released Underworld.

Underworld shows Symphony X venturing deeper into their power metal present while retaining many qualities that fans already love about them. For instance, just like Paradise Lost, Underworld starts with an instrumental track, simply titled Overture, which features a symphony of strings and a vocal chorus and is accompanied by Symphony X quite nicely. And just like Paradise Lost, and Iconoclast after it, Underworld has a good blend of progressive metal songs and standard power metal songs to make for a diverse enough album.

Symphony X are, however, leading even more away from their progressive roots with Underworld. The first song released from the album Nevermore is a sign of those times, being nothing more than a fast intense metal track with some very tight moments that only a capable progressive band can play. It depends on when I listen to this song but there are times where I don’t hear much difference in it to other past Symphony X songs, with the chorus being the main part that stands out about the rest of the track.

In fact there are a few tracks on Underworld that I feel Symphony X has done before, while adding a part or two that stands out well. Particularly in the first half of the album. The title track to Underworld starts off with an instrumental section not too dissimilar to the one that starts off Set The World On Fire (The Lie of Lies) from Paradise Lost (ultimately one of my favourite metal songs of all time) and it isn’t until the chorus of the title track (only heard twice in the song) that it becomes something special. Kiss of Fire and Run With the Devil are tracks that had to grow on me in regards to my acceptance that they aren’t too dissimilar to past songs by the band.

It seems Symphony X always that one really long song on each of their albums. When you have such virtuosity in your band from just about every member, and such a capable composer in Michael Romeo, how can they not have at least one? While there are songs in the six and seven minute range on Underworld, it’s the nine-and-a-half minute To Hell and Back that I’m referring to here. In one more comparison (for now) to Paradise Lost, I didn’t love that albums over nine minute track Revelation (Divus Pennae ex Tragoedia) (though the over eight miute Walls of Babylon is one if my favourites) but Iconoclast‘s over ten minute opening title track does manage to keep my attention the whole way through. I shouldn’t mention the long tracks the band had in their progressive days, like Through the Looking Glass, because those were completely different days. To Hell and Back tops both, having hooks where the previous two tracks didn’t. Russell Allen, who I’ve regarded for a few years now as one of, if not the best vocalist in modern metal, has some of his finest moments in these nine minutes.

Among other of Underworld‘s finer moments are the songs Charon and In My Darkest Hour. These were both songs that I enjoyed at first listen. They both have fine compositions, the former of the two being a rare track to have three credited composers, all three of the Michael’s in Symphony X in fact: Michael Romeo (who composes every song the band has ever recorded) as well as Michael Pinnella, who has helped compose many songs throughout the bands career, but not so much in the past couple, and then their bassist Michael Lepond, who has his first writing credit since 2002’s The Odyssey album.

I’m saving a special paragraph for the track Without You. I’ve always been a sucker for the softer songs. I’m not sure of you can call Without You a soft song. Perhaps in the standards of a Symphony X song you could, but it’s certainly the most heartfelt and passionate song heard on Underworld and is the one main song on the album that stands out over most of what Symphony X has done in the past with its strong melodies and the hard as nails music that accompanies the heavy hearted vocals of Russell Allen.

Based on its title, you’d think Swan Song would be the last track on Underworld, but it’s the penultimate. It’s that fact that first made me realize that this album, like the past few, is to be taken as a whole, kind of like a concept album but not quite. Swan Song is another song that had to grow on me, but what is the albums final track, Legend, makes for the best possible closing track on the album. It shows the most progressive elements out of any song on Underworld and shows Symphony X are still as tight as ever, as if we could have possibly had any doubt.

Paradise Lost had some okay songs and some great songs, and most of those great songs happen to be some of my favourite metal songs of all time. Iconoclast did have one bad song on it, in 14 tracks spanning over an hour and twenty-two minutes (if you got the deluxe version, which you should have) there isn’t one bad song. Symphony X has done some wondrous things since 2007. I’m giving little love to the progressive days, which is unjustified as because there were some genius songs and albums in those days (my personal favourite being Twilight in Olympus) but you just can’t compare Underworld to those albums. When comparing it to the recent two, I’m not sure how it measures up. The more I listen to it the more comparable I find it. However, when comparing it to other metal albums released recently, it most certainly does. It stays one step ahead of all the other decibel hogging metal bands who try (and don’t necessarily all fail) to reign supreme.

ALBUM HIGHLIGHT

Legend” –­ There are plenty of well composed tracks on Underworld, but I find Legend to simply be the best sounding and the main one that will show new listeners what they are in for and existing fans that Symphony X knows what they want.

There’s no video to provide for you this time. Nuclear Blast Records are doing a hell of a job at making sure songs don’t get leaked.

FINAL RATING

8 (Out of 10)

Track List:

1. “Overture” 2:13
2. “Nevermore” 5:29
3. “Underworld” 5:48
4. “Without You” 5:51
5. “Kiss of Fire” 5:09
6. “Charon” 6:06
7. “To Hell and Back” 9:23
8. “In My Darkest Hour” 4:22
9. “Run with the Devil” 5:38
10. “Swan Song” 7:29
11. “Legend” 6:29

 

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