Band: Symphony X
Label: Nuclear Blast
Genre: Progressive/Power Metal
Release Date: July 24th 2015
Symphony X has always been a true hybrid sport when it comes to tossing a mix of math and art and they have always been in a class of their own. The band started out with guitarist Michael Romeo and keyboardist Michael Pinella having similar interests and forged a unity of amazing musicians back in the mid-nineties. Their main signature is having vocals done by Russell Allen who has been widely regarded as an amazing singer in and out of the band. Having said that, the group also has been known to compose songs filled with anthemic chorus parts, intricate rhythmic passages and melodic sweeps. The members have been part of other projects as well and after 4 years since their controversial release “Iconoclast”, they’re back with the mask.
Underworld has 11 tracks filled with what you’d normally expect from the band if you’re familiar with how they run their show. The previous album was subtitled as “Progtera” by a handful of fans due to the resemblance of their recent song structures with how Pantera would walk through their gates. The older releases had that bombastic/majestic appeal for their audience. As such, every band would want (or need) to steer in a different direction once in a while and Underworld seems to be a pleasant taste of what to expect with their harmonious arsenal.
The set greets you with an Overture, a common introductory piece used back in the days of the classical period and it just chimes in with what they might have to say to their listeners: we’re back, and we haven’t forgotten who we all are. It’s amazing how the build-up of choral voices doom together for an inevitable clash with that sound of metal. Old fans might enjoy a bit of nostalgia since the first track rides in together with the next one just like what the first two stars of the album “V” did. If you’re ready for a pounding, Nevermore catches you with a bone crusher. There’s always an obligatory guitar part with Romeo that will not stay in one place and thrills you with its movements and that’s what makes them engaging with active listeners and fellow rhythmic musicians alike.
With that mentioned, the other tracks certainly delivers with the usual Symphony X flavor. The title track Underworld has one furious concoction bridging to a flag-raising chorus. Without You brings a fresh and collective experience with the band. One can argue that when they released this as a single before the album launch, things might have started to become “mellow” with their compositions and that supports at least two definitions but it actually comes out as one of the strongest tracks in the album.
Kiss of Fire and Charon follows up as a duo of wicked themes. Basically they might be classified as the “average” songs in the album but they actually serve as limbs that you can’t just cut for the sake of dissection. Interesting to note of is that they now have their own share of situational blast beats in the former. The latter comes with another main section worthy of raising a chalice for all nine circles. To Hell And Back reminds us of how a certain “Twilight in Olympus” song was created. A keyboard motif gets laid in and a subpart of the story unfolds in a rendition sealed by a grand version of the same motif that opened the song.
In My Darkest Hour greets the listeners with a ramming speed but ultimately welcomes itself with some charismatic lyrics. It starts wonders when it’s almost tempting to share the voice spot with Allen with this one. Run With The Devil is “that” song that you might use for an all-around madness drive. The grooves and gallops speak for themselves and the consistency is just right, reminding you of another similar beat with “Bastards of the Machine” from Iconoclast. Swan Song might just be considered as the ballad of the basket but it fills up the atmosphere with an anti-climactic way of addressing the conclusion. Finally, the final track Legend has all that beef and meat that tells us that the band wants to have its own share of glory within the halls of the entire metal kingdom.
Underworld as an album seems to give us a message rather than just act as an ordinary concept album (depends on how you view it). As optimistic as this review might seem, compared to their previous offerings it seems that they know their identity and how they do it but a little bit of charm got lost in the process. An initial playthrough might not be enough to gather some ears but if given some time it pays off really good. Sure, we lost a lot of pinch harmonics and some volume for the keyboards but it’s not just the technique and theory that most fans are after. While this album can be recommended for new listeners you won’t often find someone who would hesitate to share older material instead. The songs here don’t sound constrained in an objective manner but one can’t help but think if they were trying to test the waters with a little bit of old and new.
As what’s stated from above, Underworld might be gearing towards the band’s new creative process of handling music for us and while this might be either good or bad, let’s hope that Symphony X continues to open up our horizons from all angles.
4. Without You
5. Kiss Of Fire
7. To Hell And Back
8. In My Darkest Hour
9. Run With The Devil
10. Swan Song
Total Playing Time: 1:03:58