Review Summary: On the edge of paradise...
There's something to be said for a group who's grown as much as Symphony X. They started out as a more straightforward power metal band (in the vein of fellow metalheads Kamelot) but have evolved into something much more. Combining power metal, progressive metal, neo-classical elements, and even some speed metal here and there, Symphony X have put forth numerous classics worthy of any progressive fan's household. However, the most glowing example of mastery in their discography is 1997's Divine Wings of Tragedy.
Divine Wings of Tragedy is what I'd like to consider the "unsung masterpiece" of Symphony X's career, as V: The New Mythology Suite would eventually garner more attention in the long run. What we have here though is a 9-track, 65-minute affair that never ceases to amaze. The album combines all the genres I mentioned above of the band's sound, but elevates each individual element to the point that every little nuance matters.
The band members are clearly skilled at their instruments as well. Michael Romeo (guitarist) is usually considered the king of the band in terms of instrumental proficiency, and yet the other members hold their own just as well. Michael Pinnella does a great job on the keys with well-executed solos and fitting backdrops to support the band's sound; Thomas Miller absolutely destroys the bass, doing wave after wave of creative bass riffs and solos that continually amaze the listener. Russell Allen may not be the best vocalist, but he fits the band very well; additionally, his vocal harmonies sound sublime at times. Last but certainly not least, Jason Rullo is a very skillful drummer who quickly adapts to each change in the music and maintains a diverse palette, even throwing in some jazz-fusion licks here and there.
What's very nice about this album is that the band don't have to sacrifice songwriting for virtuosity (at least most of the time). Unlike contemporaries Dream Theater, Symphony X stick to shorter structures and song-lengths throughout, creating a more cohesive sound. Take "Out of the Ashes" for instance; the song is more of a neo-classically-inspired speed metal song, and is only 3:40 long. However, in that time, so much whirls by the listener that it warrants many more listens. Opener "Of Sins and Shadows" is also intent on this, only being 4:58 but having so much music sandwiched into those 5 minutes. Both songs never sacrifice quality either; each instrument complements the other well, and the vocals are layered really well over the top.
Another thing about this album is the variety. You have the aforementioned power/speed metal songs, but then there are songs like "The Accolade" that opt for a more personal-sounding, acoustic touch. The track is very reminiscent of Kansas' 70's material, like Point of Know Return or Audio-Visions (although obviously with more or a metallic input). However, the biggest example of variation on the album is the penultimate title epic. Clocking in at 20:43, the song begins with a Gregorian chant which lasts for about a minute and a half. With such a perfect and epic beginning, you'd hope the song could evolve and become even more amazing right? Well, it does. "The Divine Wings of Tragedy" might be one of the best epics I've heard in progressive music, rivaling songs such as "Tarkus" (ELP), "Supper's Ready" (Genesis), etc.
Essentially, this is the pinnacle of Symphony X's career. Every song is a metal classic in its own right, and the album doesn't burden its songwriting with unnecessary virtuosity. If you want an amazing progressive metal release that will stimulate your senses and imagination, this should f*cking be square one.