Review Summary: Their worst album, true, but it is underrated.
Symphony X’s first, eponymous album has a rather bad reputation, due to the not-so-brilliant vocals qualities of first singer Rod Tyler. Fortunately, he was replaced by Russel Allen, in similar fashion with the replacement of Dream Theater’s first vocalist Charlie Dominici for James LaBrie, for the same reason. But do bad vocal qualities immediately lead to a poor album? It wasn’t entirely case with Dream Theater’s When Dream and Day Unite, which is underrated for the very same reason as this album. The 2 debut albums by the respective bands are very comparable, because first of all, the bands have a similar sound, and second of all, the 2 debut albums both lacked good vocals. On Dream Theater’s first release, the obvious instrumental proficiency saved the day. And in fact, that’s exactly what saves this album too.
Well, on to the instrumental work on this album then, which is, as I already mentioned, what saves it. Most of the riffs are excellent, as are the instrumental interludes. Already on their debut, the band shines instrumentally. However, this is not the case with every song. A few examples are ‘Taunting the Notorious’, ‘Rapture or Pain’ and ‘Thorns of Sorrow’. What is the problem with these songs is that the instrumental work is good, but not outstanding. This, combined with the vocals, makes them rather average.
On the other hand, vocalist Rod Tyler does deliver sometimes, most notably on ‘The Raging Seasons’. When he does this, he lifts the particular songs to a higher level. Unfortunately, his vocals are not very good on the album’s epic: ‘A Lesson Before Dying’, which doesn’t stand out compared to their other epics.
Furthermore, the albums suffers from poor production, but that is not what a band should be judged on. After all, this is their debut, and poor production is often a problem with first albums.
So, how is the total picture? Well, the album starts off quite good, actually. The first track is just a short introduction, which then leads into one of the album’s highlights, ‘The Raging Seasons’. The next four songs are all excellent, but then, from track 7 till 9, the album makes a bit of a downfall. The last track, their first epic, is a better listen after these three tracks, and wraps up things nicely, but the first half of the album is definitely the better one.
Symphony X managed to put down a very decent debut album. It is underrated, mostly due to the poor vocals, but also due to the production. It takes a good listen, but when you examine it more carefully, you will realize that the band was already great to start with. They improved greatly after this, with great thanks to new vocalist Russel Allen, which makes this their worst album up to date. That does not mean, however, that it’s a bad one.
+ The instrumental work
+ Quite a good effort for a debut
- The vocals
- The production
The Raging Seasons
Absinthe and Rue