Symphony X – Underworld – Nuclear Blast – Release: July 25th 2015.
It has already been four years since this power prog metal outfit delivered their last album and fans have been hungry for more. “Paradise Lost” and “Iconoclast” were the band’s heaviest albums to date so it’s going to be interesting to hear where “Underworld” will fit in.
Symphony X is:
Michael Romeo – Guitars, backing vocals
Michael Pinnella – Keyboards, backing vocals
Jason Rullo – Drums
Russel Allen – Lead Vocals
Michael Lepond – Bass guitar, backing vocals
A slow plodding intro with downcast choral arrangement, rising epicness and then it starts! Movielike tension ends the intro and we’re off to a bang with the first released track “Nevermore”! This is what we’ve been waiting for, for four long years and it’s totally worth the wait!
Whereas I’ve often heard people comment that the previous two albums were quite heavy and dark, “Underworld” takes a few steps back in heaviness. I’d call it a nice middle ground between “The Odyssey” from 2002 and “Paradise Lost” from 2007 (has it been that long already?).
Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of fire! Romeo makes sure of that with his singing riffs and so many scorching solos. His skills are impeccable! Here we hear a guitarist that has both the skill to show off as well as the restraint to keep his skill in check in favour of the songs. And it’s hard to keep your own in solos when you’re up against Pinnella. Sometimes his parts flow into the background and you hardly notice he’s there, but his importance to the songs is not to be underestimated!
I just have to add that it’s a delight to hear Jason fully at work again and the man is a rhythmic master joining with Lepond to lay down both mesmerizing as well as body swinging beats. Russell Allen is still at the top of his game as he shows off some terrific venomous vocals like in the title track “Underworld” as well as the softer side of his voice with the traditional power ballad “Without You”, which intro actually reminds me of one of the first parts from the epic “The Odyssey”. Symphony X is one of the very few bands where I really love the ballads and this one’s no exception!
I mentioned earlier on that this album was a bit softer than the previous ones and as if to mock that statement Symphony X has delivered one of their most aggressive songs with “Kiss of Fire”! From the dramatic intro we get a small breather before getting slammed back into the flames. Russell really gets to let his furious side out with angry vocals and some great screams in the chorus.
After that we get a more grooving track with “Charon” which has a nice and heavy rock ‘n roll vibe to it early on, whilst morphing into a more Egyptian “V”-like sound, as well as harkening back to older Symphony X material, making it a superb track to showcase some of the elements they’ve used in their long career.
On an album with mostly short songs that are already packed you can be sure than an almost ten minute song is bound to be special. Well, “To Hell and Back” certainly delivers! From the opening keys you know that you’re going to be in for a long and special trip. And this is one of those that prove just how great the band is, simply by keeping the instrumentation rather low key in favour of the song itself and it’s all the better for it. Yet don’t think for a moment that the song will ever get boring, because you will get a rude awaking with a superb guitar solo that heralds a more ‘exciting’ and faster part of the song where we’re back in the full up-tempo Symphony X swing!
The speed junkies will get a few nice bite size dosages with the prog ‘n rolling pounder “In My Darkest Hour”, which shows that even shorter songs can be jam-packed with excitement. And to keep up the speed the band keeps you running with the ultra-catchy “Running With the Devil”. That chorus really brings me back to the 80s with some great memorable lyrics to sing along to. And I’m in love with how the instrumental bit takes you to a totally different song, only to return back without a hitch.
While we’re not at the end yet “Swan song” is a total treat for people like me who love the specific grand piano sound of Pinnella and this song easily fits in with such classics as the “Accolade” songs.
And lastly we get to the very aptly named “Legend”, because that is what this band is: a total legend! In a great switcharoo the opening has you check your player to see if it’s still the same album. It’s a great change of pace right at the end, but at the same time it’s great that the band still retains their trademark style and ends this album with a total firework of music!
At this moment it’s pretty much impossible to state which Symphony X album is the best. Just know that “Underworld” is definitely way up there. Brace yourself and let the band take you along on a superb musical journey!
- Without You
- Kiss of Fire
- To Hell and Back
- In My Darkest Hour
- Run With the Devil
- Swan Song
Score: 4.9 out of 5
Text by: Robert Popovic