New Jersey is one of those places that exists solely on the success of others. The whole goddamn state wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for NYC. As such, many New Yorkers feel a certain apathy towards New Jerseyans. They clog all our stores on Sundays, and can’t drive for crap.
However, New Jersey isn’t ALL bad. Symphony X comes from there, so that counts for something, doesn’t it?
Symphony X is a very successful metal band who got their start around 1994, with the release of their self titled album. However, this was a poor representation of what was to come. Russell Allen, their new vocalist, joined the band in 1995, and since then the group has shown no signs of slowing down. They have released 4 studio albums, their latest being The Odyssey, their most successful, and recently were featured on the second stage at Gigantour (where they proceeded to mount an absolutely slaying set).
Symphony X - The Damnation Game
- 1995 on Inside Out Records
Russell Allen - Vocals
Michael Romeo - Guitars
Michael Pinella - Keyboards
Thomas Miller - Bass
Jason Rullo - Drums
The Damnation Game was the first cd with Russell Allen as vocals. According to Michael Romeo, “While in the studio recording vocal tracks with Rod Tyler, things were not going well. We knew it, and he knew it...he wasn’t the right guy for the job. Coincidentally, Rod had introduced to Russell Allen a few months earlier. We gave Russ a call, he came down to the studio and finished the lead vocal tracks in about five days.”
Also according to Romeo, “We knew the production was lacking and the songwriting could be improved. This was when we decided to go back into the studio, continue writing, and really define our musical style. We knew we could create so much more musically and also in our production.”
I have not heard anything from Symphony X’s self titled release (their first), nor do I desire to, from what I’ve heard. However, The Damnation Game is far from poor.
This cd almost shows the group at their most uninhibited. They weren’t afraid to experiment with their writing, which lends itself to some very interesting moments in a few cuts on the album. Even so early in their career, the group showed their versatility as songwriters, composing some absolutely mindblowing riffs and patterns.
It also helps that each member is nigh godly at what they do, especially Romeo. Me being a guitarist, I feel compelled to talk about him the most, as he really is the main creative force behind the whole band. Romeo’s guitar work is impeccable. It’s as good, if not better than many guitar virtuosos work, in terms of speed and technicality, yet it never becomes boring or wankerish. He will blow your mind with the riffs he can bust out, yet never does it just for the sake of showing off. It always fits with the music.
Allen is another one of those people who never ceases to amaze. He is one of the best clean vocalists (I think) in metal today, without being high or irritating like other prog vocalists (we’re all looking at you, Labrie). He has an almost operatic voice, which can go from soulful to scathing at the drop of a hat. His harsh vocal work is flawless as well, lending him to be a very entertaining singer.
The rest of the band are no slouches either, each breaking out some terrific solos at one point or another (yes, even the bass gets time in the spotlight). It stands to be that Symphony X may be the most complete band in metal today. Each member has parts that you can hear (and cry about when you can’t play them), yet the music is listenable. It’s technical, but not overly. It’s fast, but not to the point of boredom. It’s heavy, but not for the sake of being heavy. Everything that the band puts into their music is there for a reason, and not just something they can piggyback on to cover up their glaring flaws.
Symphony X plays an interesting style of music. Yes, it’s progressive metal, but not as much as other bands. The group blends progressive, power, and a little bit of neoclassical together to form a unique form of music that nearly everyone will enjoy (in the metal scene, mind you...the majority of those not exposed to metal can’t appreciate it).
This album has everything you could want from an album: balls out heavy moments, soothing ballad moments, insane virtuoistic solos, terrific vocals, non cheesy keyboards, and everything in between. Come to think of it, most Symphony X albums have had that. The group is just really, truly spectacular at what they do.
Some recommended tracks:
The Damnation Game
- Shows every style the band is capable of playing: neoclassical intro, power metal verse, and progish chorus. The first track on the album, it gives you a taste of what is to come.
The Edge Of Forever
- The best track on here, and one of the best Symphony X has ever done. This song will depress anyone who plays any instrument the band utilizes. No joke; the riffs in this one are absolutely insane, especially the bass. The longest track on here as well, it goes from the heaviest to the lightest moments on the album.
- Pretty standard Symphony X track, with some crushing solos.
- An excellent song on all fronts, especially the intro. Rullo shows his versatality as a drummer, and switches it up a bit from the normal double pedal 4/4 beat that metal drummers have relied on so much before. Good keys as well, and Russell is at his best, as always. Neoclassical riffs abound as well.
- The “start” (if you discount their self-titled effort) of a highly virtuoistic, unique, great band. Terrific instrumentation, terrific vocals, terrific writing...anything you could want from this, they do. And they do it better than almost anyone else. The best part? It just gets better from here on.
Final Rating - 9.5/10