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Symphony X - Live on the Edge of Forever  CD (album) cover


Symphony X


Progressive Metal

3.78 | 66 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars This is one of the most painful reviews I've had to do in a long time. Before I bought this album, I'd heard all of SYMPHONY X's studio albums, and even in the ones I've rated lowest on here, I found something to love about them. And that's why I was so surprised and disappointed when I heard Live at the Edge of Forever. I really, really wanted to like it, but it's a real chore to listen to, and that's unfortunate. It's not for lack of effort on the part of the band--what I could actually hear of their playing was outstanding, and that's why it would be unfair of me to rate them any lower than I am, in spite of all the negative things I'm going to say. I also got the feeling that had I actually been in the venue, it probably would've been a great concert. Sadly, it may well be lack of financial resources and skills to produce a successful live recording that did the most damage.

First, though, let me talk about what there is to like about Live at the Edge of Forever.

As I said before, the musicianship is phenomenal, and when you're dealing with songs as intricate and fast-paced as SYMPHONY X's, pulling that off in a live setting is a real accomplishment. Keyboardist MICHAEL PINNELLA and guitarist MICHAEL ROMEO are an unstoppable soloing tag-team. Of the two, probably PINNELLA is the most versatile player in the band. Not only can he match ROMEO note for note during one of their lightning-fast duets, he also plays some surprisingly touching slower sections that are among the greatest highlights of the album: the opening of "The Bird-Serpent War", parts of "The Death of Balance," the solo in "Through the Looking Glass," and throughout "The Divine Wings of Tragedy." ROMEO is also impressive, though he does need to watch a tendency to show off his skills a little too much; while I do enjoy the way he transitioned from Western to Eastern styles, "On the Breath of Poseidon" was really pushing the envelope as far as how long one person should be soloing with a drone.

Drummer JASON RULLO has his moment in "The Death of Balance," and was generally a steady presence throughout the concert, and vocalist RUSSELL ALLEN was nearly perfect in the way he sang (when he stuck to singing). But the real contribution this album gives the die-hard SYMPHONY X fan is the chance to really hear what bassist MICHAEL LEPOND gives to the band. The man is outstanding--every bit the equal of my 3 M's of prog-metal: THOMAS MILLER (formerly of SYMPHONY X), JOHN MYUNG of DREAM THEATER, and MARTIN MENDEZ of OPETH. Nowhere does this show more than on "Egypt."

The setlist is one I have few complaints with...but unfortunately on the CD, the tracks from my favorite album, V: The New Mythology Suite, come off the worst. Accordingly, I will now discuss the things that went wrong with this CD.

First, and most glaringly, the sound quality throughout the whole thing was atrocious. One instrument or the other would drop out of the mix during a song, or the bass, guitar, and drums would all merge into one thrumming beat that pretty much disguised anything PINNELLA might be adding to the mix--and all of this would be turned way down and have RUSSELL ALLEN screaming over it. The tone of ROMEO's guitar tended to come off as muddy and indistinct. Sometimes the audience was louder than the band--except at the times when ALLEN was actually trying to involve the audience during the song, and then they couldn't be heard at all. One problem may have been the fact that they tried to mesh performances on different dates in different venues into one CD and it was a failed experiment. I have a feeling a fan bootleg would have offered, at the very least, a more consistent mix than this--the quality problems were so distracting that I had to split the two discs onto two different nights in order to do this review. In some ways, the sound of this album is comparable to RADIOHEAD's attempt at a live album, I Might Be Wrong.

The second problem is--this band's way of interacting with the audience might be great if you're actually there in the venue, but it's irritating as heck for somebody listening to a CD. This band actually interrupts the playing of a song, as in completely stopping, so that RUSSELL ALLEN can yell out random things. They manage to destroy the momentum in the most irritating places possible, at climactic moments in "Through the Looking Glass," "The Eyes of Medusa", "Death of Balance/Candlelight Fantasia", and...well, I can't even list it all, because the interruptions were a constant aggravation. They should have had one night where they just told the audience that they were recording a live album, and played straight through. I'm not suggesting going the aloof, audience-snubbing route that PINK FLOYD does, but it's generally best to reserve audience interaction for between songs as does power-metal band Blind Guardian.

Here are some other less important suggestions I would have for them. First, they need a second keyboardist on tours if they're really intent on reproducing the lush orchestrations of things like V. The songs from that album were easily the greatest disappointment for me, and soured my mood towards the whole disc to a point where it never recovered. The new keyboardist could just handle all of the routine or sampled stuff, and leave the real solos and improvising to PINNELLA--who's great, but just needs some help because he can't do it all at once. Second, they need to be careful about slicing and dicing songs that were never meant to have any relation with each other--"The Death of Balance"/"Candlelight Fantasia" as one piece comes off as incredibly tacky, not to mention that they didn't even finish CF after they started it. And third, ROMEO always needs to keep an eye on exactly how long he takes the spotlight or he risks coming off as self-indulgent.

This is probably more of a 2.5 than anything--good for die-hard SYMPHONY X fans and collectors, but with the musicianship I could hear, it deserved more than that. Let's hope SYMPHONY X will put together another live CD someday, or maybe a DVD that gives people more of the in-the-venue experience. There's definitely some promise here, but it just wasn't enough even for this fan of the band.

FloydWright | 3/5 |


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