Symphony X used to be, for me, a bit of a Dream Theater wannabe band. I saw them support Dream Theater years ago in Glasgow, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by them. Not that there was anything particularly wrong per se, it just seemed like they were Dream Theater lite. On reflection, and on the back of excellent new record ‘Underworld’, I may have been a bit harsh…
‘Underworld’ is a vastly more focused prog metal record than anything Dream Theater has made in years, and it renders Symphony X a much more palatable offering straight away. From the grandeur of ‘Overture’ to the stomping ‘Nevermore’, ‘Underworld’ starts strongly and doesn’t dip over the following hour. ‘Nevermore’ is a great example of what the band do best; anthemic heavy metal with some serious musical chops underneath. It is progressive, but it doesn’t meander. It takes you into this incredible zone of soaring vocal melodies and galloping riffs that tick every box for me. ‘Underworld’ feels natural; nothing is said with more notes than required.
The highlights of this record by far are the stunning lead guitar work of Michael Romeo and the powerful vocals of Russell Allen. The former can switch between thrashing riffs, tapping solos or uber fluid melodic leads without breaking a sweat, and the latter’s voice accentuates the heavier and softer parts of each song. The almost balladry of ‘Without You’ is a good example of both, while the raging ‘Kiss of Fire’ is a true belter. ‘Underworld’ is going to be the album that makes me re-examine older Symphony X records, as it’s a seamless blend of prog, power metal and unabashed thrash in places and I don’t understand why my old self didn’t love this.
It’s difficult to imagine an album coming out this year that challenges ‘Underworld’ for sheer traditional metal power. Yeah they’ve got one of metal’s finest guitarists, and I’m sure the guitar tabs would cause many a music fan to have palpitations, but few bands can create that elusive vibe that essential, electrifying heavy metal has. ‘Underworld’ has it in spades. Be it in the spiralling progressive epic of ‘To Hell and Back’, or the Middle Eastern flourishes of ‘Charon’, Symphony X have crafted one of prog metal’s finest hours. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I love this fucking record, and you should too!