14 September 2015

Symphony X - Underworld

If you chose one path in metal or several, and go for the progressive genre, you could do a lot worse than listen to Symphony X. Stable mates Dream Theater I would say are my favourite in that field, but they're not as hardcore though their themes run on a similar vein. I first heard Symphony X 's Biblical themed Paradise Lost about 6 years ago, and when I first started blogging on ATTIWLTMOWOS, and it was one of the first albums I gave full marks for, just a superlative metal offering, I just couldn't fault it at all.

Next one was Iconoclast which I wasn't quite as enamoured with, three or four killer tracks on it, but the remainder maybe heavily laboured. However, in hindsight, I believe that I really didn't listen to it enough, twice wasn't enough to give it justice, even though this felt like another concept album, with the future and the thought of machines taking over the world etched in many a public mind. Anyway, here's a link to the two SX albums I've previously appraised (read the links here).

Speaking of concept albums, guitarist Michael Romeo says that Underworld is NOT a concept, but on first listen, hmm, I think I would take issue here. The first impressions of album number 9 has plenty of conceptual enrichment, and plenty of promise. That said, every prog album always seems to begin with some sort of overture, and the two minute opener, called, erm, Overture, is no exception. As grandiose as you can imagine, but for me, not quite on a par with Oculus En Inferni (from Paradise Lost) or the introduction to Iconoclast. Still two minutes make not an album.

Nevermore is where the Underworld craic takes off properly, and still retains the pacey punch where Iconoclast left off 4 years ago, melodically it's proof that The 'X still have their mojo, even though Russell Allen may be yet to extend his vocal range. Still, easy to see why I've enjoyed listening to Symphony X, so onto the following song, the title track Underworld. Nice little dark narrative, and still as frenetic from the start as Paradise Lost. Now a change of direction from Without You, the semi acoustic laden track that threatens to be balladsy, but still plenty of musical input from all quarters in the band.

Back to darkened tones with Kiss Of Fire, with Michael Lepond's bass sounding seriously undertuned (pretty cool arrangement), Mr Allen still on top choral form, and on the whole just as frenetic. Next track is Charon, named after the Greek Mythological Ferryman who took souls to the Underworld, lyrically it sounds very misleading yet inviting, good narrative on the whole. Likewise the nine minute opus To Hell And Back, but it's a very rare ease of speed metal from the New Jersey outfit, thankfully the obligatory hooks and twists to the plot are there to complement the whole epic. However, I think it needs at least 4 listens to absorb it all.

Now onto track number 8, In My Darkest Hour. Less focused at four minutes, but it's just as speedy a approach as in common with most other tracks, some New Wave Of British Metal, and less orchestral and choral backdrops on this occasion. Michael Romeo's fretwork rules the roost throughout, and continues onto Run With The Devil, hmm, on this occasion, maybe lightweight, lyrics, in particular the chorus no too much to write home about, a slight let down, save for Romeo's instrumental leads. Still, it's not too big a dampener on what's so far been an enjoyable and very listenable prog piece.

Last two tracks, first up we have Swan Song. Another piano led ballad type, the chorus certainly suggests so, but certainly distinctive and probably appearing about the right time. Slightly heavier than one of their top tunes Paradise Lost, so it's not a complete carbon copy, I'm almost ashamedly liking the chorus. Finally, we have Legend which opens up with mid tempo riffs, and at times a discordantly uplifting killer in a G and Bb minor. This is meant to be a dark album? Well, if it goes against the album grain, so be it as Legend is an appropriate end to a fine album, too pacey to be power metal, and certainly ticks all the important P-Metal boxes.

No radical switch in direction from Symphony X with Underworld, and after a couple of listens to it, I feel relieved at it too as after 4 years since their last recorded album, the anticipation and apprehension had been slowly building. The format of a mixture of progressive/orchestral strands tying in with some metal ballads has not been altered or lamentably diluted. Comparing with Paradise Lost, not quite able to reach the dizzy heights of progressive excellence, but Underworld is not as ungainly as its predecessor Iconoclast. Also, a great shame it hasn't fared too well in the charts as they don't do this fine album any real justice. There is a new Prog Chart recently launched, and it has enjoyed moderate success. Some fans bemoan that it's arrived 40 years too late, but at least prog metal has a good torch bearer from the New Jersey fellas at least.

9 out of ten. Almost perfect....almost.
Best Track : Underworld.

Buy Underworld here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link here
Official Symphony X Facebook Page here
Official Symphony X Website here

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