Review Summary: It's a Symphony X album. And that alone should be enough for a prog metal fan to buy this without hesitation. Luckily for them, its contents are up to par with any of their other releases, so it's never a waste of bucks.Seems like forever that my eyes have been denied
Home - I'm dreaming of the home
I've been twenty years away from all I ever knew
to return would make my dream come true
The beginning of an epic journey that will last twenty years. Odysseus, the famous Greek hero, travelled from his homeland Ithaca to the walls of ancient Troy, in a bid to rescue the princess Helena. Ten years pass without any change in a hopeless situation. Finally, the Greeks succeed, as Odysseus saves the day with his Trojan Horse. Then he returns home on another ten year journey, deprived of home, family, children, and many other things. Finally, after many travails, he returns to his homeland and reclaims his throne after a twenty year absence.
Famous story, right? Everyone will have heard of Homer's epic retelling of one of the most well-known Greek mythological legends. It's grand. It's big. And it's the same thing Symphony X try to achieve on their, well, epic 24 minute track called The Odyssey, which was recorded for an album called, you guessed it, The Odyssey. The title track recounts Odysseus' famous exploits on his return journey home, and it does this with a big, huge in fact, monstrous sound. A neoclassical instrumental overture opens the suite, and from there Romeo and co. dive into a selection of different styles, as they traverse through decidedly metal riffs, classical piano leads, insane guitar fretwork pyrotechnics, punishing drumrolls and fills, as well as mellower, chiller sections to offset all the chaos going on. Basically, Symphony X do on this track what they do best: play their epic brand of fantasy metal, with huge doses of classical influence, technical interludes and a chugging, heavy metal edge.
It's almost a pity the rest of the album isn't like this. Symphony X was more neoclassical on previous albums, V being a full-blown concept album with many orchestral segues and interludes and The Divine Wings of Tragedy/Twilight in Olympus both contained segments of classical songs in between all the super loud progressive metal turmoil. But Symphony X took a turning for the louder (a trend that would continue on their latest album, 2007's Paradise Lost.) This album was, at its time of recording, Symphony X's heaviest outing yet. Inferno's main riff consists of a brilliant guitar arpeggio and some powerful chugging, as vocalist Russell Allen takes on a menacing growl reminiscent of Hetfield or Anselmo. The album ranges through this mood far more often, remembering always to give listeners a dose of pure metal with their fantasy: Wicked lives up to its name with its menacing guitar tone, King of Terrors' guitar work is, well, frightening, and Incantations of the Apprentice features some furious double bass work courtesy of drummer extraordinaire Jason Rullo.
The band has of course not completely abandoned melody, and The Accolade II (a continuation of the song on Divine Wings, indeed) is a melodic, classically-infused piece, with Allen's grand wail stowing up the chorus to a grand height. Awakenings is the most "progressive" piece, with a very stunning classical piano vs. metal riff section in the bridge, sounding not unlike something Dream Theater would write. And as mentioned, the Odyssey doesn't traverse through one mood, but almost the complete possible spectrum that Symphony X covers with their music.
But in the end, it doesn't matter. Romeo's riffing style is unique and powerful, and his trademark chug is twenty times as menacing and a lot more catchy than any boring nu-metal/metalcore band out there playing their power-chord based detuned chugalongs. There are slightly less solos on here that fit in the "ungodly" category, but his classically-based solo style is still featured, and his arpeggios are simply mindblowing. Rullo is a punishing drummer, playing swift beats and fills that rival the legendary Portnoy and Peart. Michael Pinella could have been a classical composer, such is his keyboard skill, but luckily for the band he plays for Symphony X instead. Allen's macho vocal style ranges from a crisp baritone wail, to menacing growls, to fluently sung mid-range notes. On The Turning (and actually the whole album), the man shows off why he is prog metal's most revered lead singer: he doesn't stray into screeching regions, he is able to apply force to his vocals without sounding cheesy or resorting to cookie-monster type vocals, and his range is wide and strong. The only member that doesn't get so much of the spotlight is Michael LePond, and he's the bassist; criminal, but that's how it is.
And yet for all this technical prowess, most songs sound restained: Romeo keeps his guitaring in check very well: his work is tasteful, but not overdone. Songs like Wicked or Incantations of the Apprentice could have been much longer, but they conveniently don't exceed the 6 minute mark. The only song that is too long is Awakenings, which could do with some cutting, and The Turning (despite Allen's ridiculously stunning vocal work), is for lack of a better word, boring. And yes, the album clocks in at around 70 minutes, making it one of those albums you need to sit down to to understand and listen to.
But it's a Symphony X album, and it fits snugly with their other releases. It's slightly heavier and less classical, making this and the new album the ideal entry point for the metal-based listeners. It's still got the epic, technical leanings that proggers love so much (though this is the album with Romeo's biggest restraint.) It's got the cheesy 80s fantasy lyrics. It's got everything a Symphony X fan wants, in short, and if you like this thing, you would be well-advised to search out this (or any other Symphony X releases from Divine Wings of Tragedy onwards.) If you don't know Symphony X, you could do worse than picking this up. And if you don't like Symphony X, I wonder why you clicked to read this review?