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Symphony X - The Divine Wings of Tragedy CD (album) cover


Symphony X


Progressive Metal

4.13 | 593 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Like all SYMPHONY X works, I should say that this can be an acquired taste for some. This is a totally over-the-top fusion of metal and classical styles that might even inspire a laugh or a wince at first as you hear the synth-orchestra...but as you get used to that, a masterpiece is unveiled. A word of warning...make sure you can take fast-paced, hammering metal, or you will not be able to appreciate this. Perhaps the most technically proficient album thus far on the musical side of SYMPHONY X (V: The New Mythology Suite holds that title on the lyrical/conceptual side), The Divine Wings of Tragedy proves that not a single weak link exists in the SYMPHONY X chain.

All of the band members are talented, and all of them seem to understand what belongs in their songs and what doesn't. If anything, some of the compositions are a little short, but I do respect the band for being able to keep control over their songwriting in a way that DREAM THEATER seems to be forgetting lately. Even the album's title track and epic, "The Divine Wings of Tradgedy", at 20:41 in length, practically flies by, leaving the listener in awe, wondering what just happened. Many of the songs feature rapid-fire interchanging soloing between MICHAEL ROMEO's guitar and MICHAEL PINELLA's keyboards, but ROMEO and PINELLA never extend these riffs and passages to the point of aimlessness...if anything, you'll find yourself backing up your CD player to hear a favorite section that blew by in a matter of seconds on the first listening.

SYMPHONY X is not all about speed, though, even though they do that frighteningly well. They also manage some gorgeous, touching slower passages in songs like "The Accolade", the opening of "The Divine Wings of Tragedy", and "Candlelight Fantasia". I credit that versatility most of all to vocalist RUSSELL ALLEN, who is an absolute star on this album. Without ALLEN, their music would be entirely unconvincing. Somehow, ALLEN is able to move from an almost Metallica-esque technique in songs like "Out of the Ashes" to a crystal-clear delivery in "The Accolade" that is almost reminiscent of Journey's Steve Perry. Divine Wings particularly highlights his classical choral side in his one-man choir in the title track. I would venture to say that RUSSELL ALLEN is one of the most talented vocalists currently recording, and Divine Wings is the proof.

The album opens with a bang, with "Of Sins and Shadows", which is good, but the next song, "Sea of Lies", is even better. The bass intro blew me away the first time I heard it, and the whole song impresses, all the way through. Drummer JASON RULLO in particular does fine work on "Sea of Lies". "Out of the Ashes" has an interesting lyrical snapshot of someone trying to mature past a rough childhood.

"The Accolade" is perhaps one of the best SYMPHONY X songs ever, hands down. The subject is one of the Knights Templar headed into a crusade and eventually dying in battle. The rhythm of the "charging steed" appears quite clearly in the music itself, but beyond that, ALLEN's vocals are just mind-blowing here. After the slow, wordless singing along with an organ in the background (reminiscent of PINK FLOYD's "A Saucerful of Secrets"), the section afterwards may seem silly at first if you don't like the synthesizers PINELLA uses...but closer listening reveals some pretty impressive layering of riffs as the song builds up towards its conclusion.

"Pharaoh" seems like a preview of V's "Egypt", but is excellent in its own right, especially with its softer midsection. "Eyes of Medusa" is the only song on this album that I think has a weak point of any sort--the symphonic interlude (The Isle of Deadly Shores), but I think the fault is on the synthesizer rather than PINELLA, and what they were trying to do is quite interesting. (For those of you more concerned with realism in the sound, I recommend to you their most recent album, The Odyssey.) Otherwise, with its distorted vocals, this song is quite a compelling listen. "The Witching Hour" is mostly an unadorned rocker--but good for what it is.

"The Divine Wings of Tragedy", however, is far from typical. When I first read in the liner notes that the introduction to "Divine Wings" would be choral, I had reservations because of the slightly flat-sounding "Lacrymosa" on V. These fears were groundless--in fact, this was nothing short of nearly 2 minutes of mind-blowing a capella gorgeousness. Here, RUSSELL ALLEN singlehandedly gives life to a choir ranging all the way from bass to a surprisingly pretty falsetto soprano. And after that...then the track explodes and takes off. Some have suggested that the lyrics are inspired by sources such as Milton's Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained and Dante's Inferno. There is not a dull moment here--and surprisingly for the metal genre in general, though not at all surprising for SYMPHONY X, this song ends on an uplifting note even after its voyage through darkness.

On the other hand, the final track, "Candlelight Fantasia" (the other "ballad" on Divine Wings) is a more despondent track where guitarist MICHAEL ROMEO proves himself capable of slowing down to play a more emotional, sentimental kind of solo. I've always felt, more than any other song on the album, that this is the song whose mood is most embodied in the cover art. In places, the vocal delivery truly does suggest a female narrator. Before anybody gets up in arms about that, ALLEN does have one of the most "manly" voices out there when he wants to--but he has such control over his technique that he can completely alter the timbre of his voice at will. Intended or not (though I think it is), I think it works well and provides a beautiful, bittersweet outro for the album as it fades away into the night.

To sum up, The Divine Wings of Tragedy is one of the two SYMPHONY X masterpieces--one could call it the Meddle to V's Dark Side of the Moon, to borrow some PINK FLOYD references. I also think this album makes a good introduction to SYMPHONY X for those who do not want to leap headfirst into the conceptual masterpiece of V: The New Mythology Suite on their first try. If you don't like the metal genre or are absolutely unable to hear past the places where the synthesizers pale in comparison to a real orchestra, you might disagree with my rating, but if you're willing to put in a bit of effort, Divine Wings will reward you. This is one of the two best by a remarkably consistent band in terms of the quality of its that's saying something!

FloydWright | 5/5 |


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