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Symphony X - Iconoclast CD (album) cover

ICONOCLAST

Symphony X

 

Progressive Metal

3.80 | 361 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

JS19
4 stars There are few albums worth waiting 4 years for ... This is one of them.

It really has been quite a while since Symphony X released their last full length effort: 'Paradise Lost', a grand, ambitious concept album about the battle between Heaven and Hell thousands of years ago. With this new album, we dive to the complete other end of the spectrum - the future. A very apt subject indeed considering what the band have achieved here.

In previous interviews, Russell Allen told fans that the new album would 'look to the past'. He wasn't joking - the chorus' are catchier, the guitar sound has been modified and Allen sounds more like Dio than ever, which gives the feeling on first listen that this could have been released way back in the 80s. However, the prevailing feel I was left with after repeated listens was progress.

Every single part of the band's approach has been improved for this album. Michael Romeo had been relying on a similar form of soloing and riff writing for years, but this time he experiments a lot more, and with a great deal of success. One must only look at the solo six minutes into the first track as an example, and this is quickly followed by and excellent keyboard solo by Michael Pinnella. As such a brilliant keyboardist, I have always thought it a shame that in previous releases, the keyboards have been pushed further and further into the background, but here they leap out from the mix and really add an extra layer of detail and finesse.

Allen sounds as good as ever, the only difference being a noticeable increase in voice effects and retention of the 'gruff' vocals he started using in Paradise Lost. This is in no way a bad thing, they sounds great and very appropriate for the album's concept, but it would be nice to hear a bit more of his trademark clean vocals.

Nuclear Blast decided to release two versions of the album - the single disc and the special edition. The special edition being the songs the band actually wanted on the album, in the preferable order, while the single disc being more accessible to newcomers. In reality, any fan would be ignorant not to go for the special edition, which contains twenty minutes more content, including the fantastic 'Reign In Madness'. (Note: this review is for the special edition)

Iconoclast: (10:53) Their first 10 minute+ song since The Odyssey, this is the introduction to the album. Starting with ominous electrical ambience, it soon explodes into a jazzy, but powerful descending riff. Trademark choirs accompany the guitar. At almost 3 minutes we get Allen's vocals built around an militaristic refrain: 'We are strong. We will stand and fight'. At 6 minutes Romeo explodes into a wonderfully crafted solo, then we get that jazzy riff again. A couple of new riffs are introduced an played around with a bit. They're having fun at this point. A break and then the vocals come back in. 'Infernal machines arrive. Flesh and steel combine. Great stuff. Then the song dies down to distorted guitar noises. (9.5/10)

End Of Innocence (5:27) The first single released along with Dehumanized. The label wanted a more mainstream song, and they got it. That's not to say it's bad though, it just doesn't quite reach the heights of the rest of the album. A keyboard focussed intro leads into the catchy verse x 2 then we get the chorus, and you can really hear the vocal effects here. Not sure what I think of them, I would probably rather have heard Allen's voice pure here, as I did live. Then we get to a break section. 'The world is dying, the precious sand of time are running out', with that brilliantly heavy guitar. Then an above average solo and more standard verse chorus stuff, and the song ends. (7.5/10)

Dehumanized (6:48) Released as a B-side with the previous track, this one's a bit heavier, and a bit better as well. We start off with just guitar, and a masterfully created riff, that just about works rhythmically, which is a good thing. Vocals come in with a 'groovy' guitar underneath. the lyrics aren't great though, but hey you can't have everything. We get a simple chorus and another idea is added, then segues into a more positive section around 3 and a half minutes. This ends up turning into a guitar solo, and a pretty unconventional one at that, it starts off slow and builds quickly, and then repeats this idea. Then Romeo messes with some longer notes and leads into a modified main riff and chorus. A nice change. (8.0/10)

Bastards Of The Machine (4:56) An odd title for this one, and a clear favourite in my opinion for the next single. Short and sweet (if you think 5 minutes is short). A boisterous into leads to an infectious verse, and a really 'old school' style chorus. The riffs are great here. At 2 and a half minutes we get a new riff and some odd chanting, then a nice keyboard solo, leading into a guitar solo. This sounds like something Judas Priest were writing in their heyday, just with more keyboardist. Another great keyboard solo and a tiny break for LePond to remind us he actually exists. Another chorus and this one's over. (7.5/10)

Heretic (6.25) This is new - fast and heavy, but done well. Not sure what this reminds me of, but it's good. The intro is quick and we end up at a riff. Lot's of notes here. When the vocals come in, this is unquestionably Symphony X again. 'Still we choose not to believe .... On your knees'. After a hard hitting chorus, that riff is back again. At 3 minutes we've got something new, sounds like a modified verse, then an almost scream from Allen and a new riff. Very nice. Then a classic instrumental section, then a guitar solo that brings to mind the track 'Paradise Lost', ending with double guitar effect. That's all folks. (8.0/10)

Children Of A Faceless God (6:21) I love this track. Could easily become a fan favourite. Very catchy, but complex at the same time. Chugging intro then a simply perfect riff. You won't want it to end. When the vocals come in, the guitar creates a very moody feel. Then it rocks a bit harder, and a nice little pre-chorus. Then the chorus comes in, and it's not one you'll forget in a hurry. 'Can't you see, you and me, we're children of a faceless God'. Then that brilliant riff again. Another chorus and we get a new, much darker atmosphere at 3 and a half minutes. An almost Eastern sounding solo cuts Allen's vocals off, a short one this. Then the same moody guitar effect is used differently, and to a new melody. I can feel the anguish here. Now another guitar solo, it's brilliant, so you won't be complaining. Very frenetic and technical. Chorus and outro. (9.5/10)

When All Is Lost (9:10) Easily the best song on this album. The quickest 9 minutes I've ever experienced, it was just so good. We start off with a beautiful piano and vocal duel. Then a piano ostinato, and the guitar enters. not used to this sound, but I like it. Very different as the guitar plays fills in the second verse, which builds to a very power metal section. Allen displays his impressive set of lungs. 'What went wrong, where have all the heroes gone?' Then the guitar continues to get more complex underneath the vocals, and we hear Allen's clean vocals. He really is one of the best around. Back to piano and vocals at 4 minutes. The drums build and a screaming descending guitar lead to an instrumental section. Is that Hammond Organ I hear? The riff is constantly changing, then we break to an acoustic guitar and piano interlude. Nice. This is followed by the best solo of the lot. You just have to hear it, I can't describe it. Then some riffing around and another solo, it's a beaut. Back to vocals and then down to acoustic and vocal to finish. Possibly the best song this band has ever written (10/10)

Electric Messiah (6:14) This one reminds me a lot of a hybrid between 'Children of A Faceless God' and 'Heretic'. that's not a bad thing trust me. A slow, heavy intro builds to a oscillating riff. It's good. Then the verse, and the chorus. Very groovy and memorable. It's impossible not to smile. At 3 minutes we get a very heavy section indeed. It's well done, but it doesn't feel quite right in this song. A mandatory solo later and a keyboard solo too (haven't heard one of them for a while). Chorus, and this one's over. Excellent. (9.0/10)

Prometheus (I Am Alive) (6:47) While I do like this song, it does not sound anything like the Symphony X I'm used to. This must be what's called progress? A fully instrumental beginning to this song utilises the Dehumanized riff and messes with it a bit. When the main riff settles, we get a guitar solo instead of vocals. It settles eventually into a crushing verse. It ends up even more 'plodding' at 2 minutes. I'm not too sure about this part. The chorus is another groovy one, but the lyrics let it down a bit. After an even slower verse (was that possible?), and another chorus, the modified Dehumanized riff comes in again, even more modified. Then we get a bit off fun with time signatures and a duel between the keyboard and the guitar. Almost makes up for the verse! One chorus and modified riff later and the son's faded out. Maybe a grower? (8.0/10)

Light Up The Night (5:04) This is a throwback to the early years of 'power metal' Symphony X. it's done quite well too. On first listen I hated this track, but it's merits showed through after a couple of listens. The intro is a bit silly, but leads into a classic power metal chug under a nice melody and optimistic chorus. The chugging is occasionally punctuated by a heavier version of the intro, which adds some variety at least. Interesting guitar patterns in the instrumental, then a good solo. 3 and a half minutes and a couple of weird voice clips, and we've got another keyboard solo. The guitar helps out at 4 and a half minutes. The chorus makes a welcome return, and then it's over. (8.0/10)

Lords of Chaos (6:10) This one is the album's only weak link. It's pretty standard, nothing memorable or exciting at all. I can't even remember much to write about and I'm listening to it now.... The chorus is ok when we get to it, but the verses use yet another 'Dehumanized-esque' riff. It's pretty dull by now, even for the sake of spreading musical ideas across the album to link the tracks musically. At 3 minutes there's a break where riffs are recycled. Yay. Then a heavy section and vocals. When the solo comes in it's actually welcome, and quite well crafted, but it doesn't make up for the rest of the song. (6.0/10)

Reign In Madness (8:38) The 'true' ending to the album, according to the band members. It's an insult that this was left off the single disc edition. An interesting electro introduction and then the riff. 'Strike them down. Strike with power'. Allen shows his talent in the chorus, and you'll want to join his revolution. A heavy riff around 3 and a half minutes calls to mind marching. Allen shrieks over the top, the general of his own army of followers. This one tells a great story. After 4 and a half minutes the heaviness subsides and an acoustic guitar compliments the vocals perfectly. Piano dissonance reminds me of 'Awakenings' from the Odyssey. This, of course. leads to a new, slow riff, but quickly warps into music fit for a battle. Quick riffing and tight drumwork lead to a keyboard solo, and then to a guitar solo, then back to the keyboard. I'm loving this. Then in comes the anthemic chorus. 'Let the madness reign'. A heavy riff abruptly ends the piece, and unfortunately; the album. (9.0/10)

What can I say? It's a classic - you owe it to yourself to go out and buy this, if you've ever had an interest in Progressive Metal of any kind. You won't regret it.

[8.5/10]

(I liked it so much I bothered to write this huge chunk of text about it, at 1 in the morning - It's that good.)

JS19 | 4/5 |

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