I’ve been waiting for this album for years now, and I’d like to welcome back Symphony X to the top of the prog metal ladder. We missed you. The members of Symphony X have been very busy since their last album, making solo albums, working with different bands, and melting faces. Plenty of faces were melted during the making of this album, as well. In fact, listening to this album again, I needed a cold drink to maintain the balance of…ah whatever, you get it. This album is called Underworld, and it packs a wallop. In its basest form, you can call this metal. It’s not your daddy’s metal, it’s more like your granddaddy’s metal, and here’s why. Symphony X, like several other major prog metal bands, perform music based on classical music and use symphonies to add to the ambiance that is their music. It’s extravagant, it’s over the top, and it’s brilliant. Sometimes, it can get cheesy, because a chorus of angels backing up the lead singer can sound strange, but Symphony X has all of the power and none of the cheese. Ok, fine, there’s a little cheese, but it’s spicy…it’s habanero jack.
This is their first single off the album, called Nevermore, and it hits hard and fast and doesn’t let up until it’s all over. When some of you think metal, you think screaming and cookie monsters and rage and mosh pits with kids flipping around, but this is not that metal. I’ve been to several Symphony X shows, and the only mosh pits formed were made by a bunch of kids and the rest of the fans looked on wondering what the hell those kids were doing. This is complicated stuff with heavy thematic elements and deep melodies that tell a story. This album isn’t a full-on concept album like some of their earlier works, including The Odyssey and The Divine Wings of Tragedy, but there’s a common core that holds this album together. Michael Romeo, the lead guitarist and songwriter, is a brilliant lyricist, and he and Michael Lepond, the bassist, put together some deep tracks basically about (literally) going to hell and back to find something or someone. At this point, I guess I should mention that there are three Michaels in the band: Romeo the guitarist, Lepond the bassist, and Pinnella the keyboardist. The lineup of the band has remained the same since 2000, which means that they have developed incredible chemistry after being together as a unit for 15 years. It’s amazing that I’ve been a fan for that long.
Speaking of long times, it has been four long years since their last album, Iconoclast. Over that time, for example, Sir Russell Allen (yeah, Sir) has made three albums with two different bands in Adrenaline Mob and Allen/Lande, and been a guest on seven other albums playing alongside other major prog metal names like Iced Earth and Timo Tolkki. Are you kidding me? That’s so busy, and that doesn’t count having written and recorded this album in 14 and 15, plus all the tours he’s done with Adrenaline Mob and Symphony X during that time. That’s just the vocalist, by the way. The whole band is that talented and active, and that’s what makes me so glad that Symphony X “reunited” so to speak to release this new album. I look forward to catching it on tour when I get the chance.
This next track is Without You, which is quite different from Nevermore. It’s a ballad. Yes, it’s a ballad. No, there’s nothing wrong with ballads. Ballads are wonderful, knock it off. You have to have something to break up the energy of the album, because there’s no denying that it’s fast and furious through most of it. It’s heavier than some of their earlier work, and is a headbanger’s delight. The interesting thing about the creation of this album is that Michael Romeo himself admitted that concept albums aren’t as big of a thing as they used to be, but as he is so attached to them, he wanted to make an album that still consisted of individual songs but had something link them together. At parts, it’s aggressive and in-your-face, but then it pulls back and gets emotional. I look to the longest track on the album for perfect evidence of that, with To Hell and Back. Yeah, looks like I wasn’t crazy when I said that this album was about going to hell and back for someone or something. Anyways, the heaviness and aggression hold on long enough throughout the track and let up every so often, and the track flows very well and you don’t even realize that almost ten minutes has passed since you turned the track on.
Symphony X, as I mentioned, went heavier with this album, but they have a few tracks that go back to their core as a band. First of all, the album started off with an overture, appropriately titled Overture. Any album that has an actual overture is a good album by my standards. The overture flows straight into Nevermore, which is posted above. Further down in the album, a few tracks stand out as having some very significant influencing sounds about them. For example, Run With the Devil sounds like the beautiful merger of Dream Theater and Symphony X. Legend, their final track, does as well to an extent, but if I were to send you one track that represents everything that Symphony X, it would unquestionably be Legend. It contains everything that Symphony X is and ever has been, but not necessarily everything that will be. They took some chances in this album, with actual ballads in this album instead of a power ballad like they had used before, but they nailed it in every sense of the term.
This album is incredibly solid from start to finish. I can’t sing enough praises about Underworld. Despite how much I love this album, my mind goes back to something a teacher told me many years ago. This teacher never gave anyone a 100%, because there’s always room for improvement even if the execution is flawless. I don’t know why it stuck with it, but maybe it was because I was always chasing that perfect score in his classes, and a 98% wasn’t good enough for me. That being said, I give Underworld 14.5 Ratings Units out of 15. I don’t know if I can give a 15 to any band or musician in good faith, because where do I go when someone else comes out with something that is better? Steven Wilson came out with Grace for Drowning, a 5 star album by all regards, but when he came out with his next and superior album, how can you make the ranking matter? A 5 star plus? I’m not entire sure, but this album is practically flawless. Well done, Symphony X.