Thursday, July 21, 2011

Symphony X - Iconoclast

Symphony X
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

Looking over their long and distinguished seventeen years together, it’s near impossible to point at any one particular moment where progressive power metal act Symphony X have faltered, taken the wrong step or fallen below the expectations fans have of their music.
And a good reason for that is that the New Jersey (U.S.) based outfit take their time when making albums, ensuring that quality outweighs quantity, and that nothing is ever rushed and released until it’s absolutely ready.
Not surprisingly, four long years have passed since the band released the highly acclaimed ‘Paradise Lost’ album, and fans have been waiting patiently for the group’s next magnum opus with huge anticipation.
But after an endless wait, the five piece act (Who are vocalist Russell Allen, guitarist/principal songwriter Michael Romeo, bassist Mike LePond, keyboardist Michael Pinnella and drummer Jason Rullo) have finally lifted the veil on their eighth full-length effort ‘Iconoclast’. And sure enough, it’s another amazing piece of work.
Thematically based on the increase in technology hastening the demise of mankind, the title track ‘Iconoclast’ opens up the album in a heavy fashion that sounds like a natural step forward from where the band last left things with ‘Paradise Lost’, with the gang vocals utilized in choruses bringing to mind Quennsr├┐che around the ‘Rage For Order’ (1986) era (Which, not surprisingly, was an album that also addressed a somewhat similar theme). Although quite heavy in terms of riffs and modern groove passages, the song still bears plenty of Symphony X’s trademark sounds with its subtle orchestration and choral passages, while Pinnella provides the neo-classical component with his flashes of keyboards in and around the epic eleven minute track. Allen’s aggressive vocal approach sounds a little more confident than it did on the band’s last album, while Romeo’s guitar playing is a real stand out.
The first single ‘The End Of Innocence’ relies less on bludgeoning the listener with metal and steps up the more progressive elements within the band’s overall sound, and features a gloriously catchy/towering performance from Allen, while ‘Dehumanized’, ‘Bastards Of The Machine’ and ‘Heretic’ dwell more on the other end of the band’s sound spectrum with aggression filtering out through the vocals (Without losing any of the essential hooks that are prevalent in all of Symphony X’s songs) and the hard and heavy riffing.
Sounding somewhere between the two styles mentioned about sits ‘Children Of A Faceless God’ and ‘Electric Messiah’, both of which sounds reminiscent of the material that featured on the band’s classic ‘The Odyssey’ release from 2002, albeit with a slightly heavier guitar dominance, while Romeo showcases his technical abilities on the pseudo-thrash based ‘Prometheus (I Am Alive)’.
Finishing up the album is ‘When All Is Lost’, which starts out in ballad form, but eventually twists and turns through a variety of tempos and moods to close the album in a truly powerful manner. This track is again another that brings to mind the direction the band took with ‘The Odyssey’, particularly in terms of Allen’s clean vocals and the melodic nature of the choruses themselves.
Symphony X has yet to disappoint me, and ‘Iconoclast’ is no exception. Sure, the neo-classical and progressive influences of the band’s earlier years have taken a backseat over simplified song structures and heavier guitar presence, but the song writing is still as strong as ever, and the musicianship (Including the vocals) never fall below par.
In the end, if you have enjoyed the direction the band have taken over the course of their last three releases, you’ll find that ‘Iconoclast’ is a must have release.

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© Justin Donnelly