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Symphony X - Symphony X CD (album) cover


Symphony X


Progressive Metal

2.87 | 237 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars I think this may be the highest rating I've ever given to a band's first album. Even with all of the amateur problems I'm going to discuss, I don't think I've ever heard a first try that was so indicative of a band's future, and that's why I'm forgiving of its mistakes. I'm going to look at this from the perspective of someone who would have been considering awarding a record contract based on this submission.

Yes, MICHAEL ROMEO's guitar solos are really muffled-sounding, and yes, there aremany other sound quality problems, but I urge people to look past them. You'll find, if you do, that all of the talent and potential in this band is there and ready to go. Even though his synth is old and rather tinny, MICHAEL PINNELLA is doing the best he can with it, and particularly shines on "Premonition", "Absinthe and Rue", and "A Lesson Before Dying". It should be no surprise that these same songs are also the proggiest and the most indicative of the band's future direction. ROMEO shows off his already-impressive skills on "The Raging Season", "Absinthe and Rue", and "A Lesson Before Dying", especially. While not always very audible, bassist THOMAS MILLER impresses on "Absinthe of Rue" (of course!), "Shades of Grey", and (you guessed it!) "A Lesson Before Dying". Unfortunately, JASON RULLO's drums suffer too much from a mixing problem giving them a very irritating treble, but at this point, it's at least obvious he can keep up with the band quite well.

Perhaps the most controversial element of this album is vocalist ROD TYLER, for whom some fans express a vicious dislike. I certainly don't hate him--in fact, I think he's a good singer...just not a good singer for this style. He has a very high, gentle voice that works well on "Shades of Grey" (so sue me, I'm a sap and I like that one!) and "A Lesson Before Dying", but sometimes I get a distinct feeling he's straining for notes too low or too loud for him, especially on "Rapture or Pain" and "Thorns of Sorrow". ROMEO even seems to try to cover for him on "Rapture or Pain". At times, he seems to try to imitate JAMES LaBRIE of DREAM THEATER, and this doesn't always work. The transitions from his more comfortable range and tone to other things tend to reveal his difficulties.

However...TYLER does have his strengths. He can hold a tune well, records some very nice vocal harmonies, like on "The Raging Season" and "Premonition" (I love that chord he hits on the line "...brings me to my knees!"), and on "Taunting the Notorious", which I otherwise find little to interest me on, he proves he has quite the lung capacity. He even does an interesting quasi-Arabesque take on the chorus once on "Absinthe and Rue" that I enjoy. It is not that the guy is a bad singer, by any means. I can tell that he tried very hard, and in a weird way, it's actually kind of endearing. The problem is that he's out of his element on many songs here ("Masquerade" especially comes to mind...he tries to sound threatening and flubs it), and as the band began recording The Damnation Game, all parties, TYLER included, realized it, and the phenomenal RUSSELL ALLEN (a friend of TYLER's, in fact!) would be put in his place. Personally, I hope that he's found a mellower gig that would be better suited to his voice. Heck, I think he could sub in for JONSI of SIGUR ROS, if he worked at it a bit...I candefinitely imagine him pulling off that eerie wailing on the second half of Track 8 on ( )...which is actually kinda metal...maybe he just needed to try a very different approach?

In terms of song composition, I can hear a bit of a DREAM THEATER resemblance, from which they would move away rapidly with later albums. Part of it is TYLER, who I think tries sometimes to mimic JAMES LaBRIE, and the other part has to do with some of ROMEO's riffage. Still, this band is not and never was a DT-clone, and they'd really drive that point home with later albums. The songs are already, even at this early point, very coherent in terms of structure in a way that even supergroup PINK FLOYD certainly can't claim on their first album, and nor can prog-metal contemporary OPETH. Pieces like "A Lesson Before Dying" especially prove what they will do hear all sides of them on Symphony X: the whimsical ("Masquerade"), the heavy ("Taunting the Notorious"), the melodic ("Shades of Grey"), and the dark epic.

So what is the final verdict? Based on this, SYMPHONY X would most certainly win a contract, with expectations that they would use their advance to clean up the sound problems--pronto!

(Note: Some will be angry that I rated this album the same as The Odyssey. Personally, I like listening to this one better. While on technical ground The Odyssey has advanced a lot from here, my reasoning is, if you're just starting out, some goofs are inevitable because of lack of resources and/or experience. But if you've been in the business for awhile, you ought to know what you're doing, and if you mess up even in smaller amounts, you'd better expect a grilling for it.)

FloydWright | 3/5 |


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