Symphony X: Underworld (Nuclear Blast)
American progressive metal legends Symphony X are finally back, they are a band that release albums with such infrequency that every release is a bit of an event. Their last album Iconoclast was a double disc record that was very heavy, both musically and conceptually meaning that many were put off by the albums thrashier tone and frontman Russell Allen's reliance on his gruffer lower register than his soaring highs. On Underworld the band have defityl looked back to move forward, the cover alone harks back to their debut album with the two masquerade masks featuring prominently along with images linked to the nine circles of Hell mentioned in Dante's Inferno; which is the overriding theme of this album. Notice I said theme not concept as this album is not a concept album but it does deal with the literary concepts that Symphony X have always done so well on previous albums (Divine Wings Of Tragedy, The Odyssey, Paradise Lost).
Now with all this taking into consideration, it's time to focus on the music, this is where Symphony X have always made their name, with the band made up of virtuosos the music is always the bands major force. Happily as the intro Overture starts things off we get the choral chants, swelling orchestrations and cinematic themes before mainman Michael Romeo's guitars take things forward before is crescendos at the end and Jason Rullo's drums kick in with ferocity for the opening of Nevermore, as Romeo's guitars spar with Michael Lepond's bass to bring the riffage which allows Romeo to throw in licks and flairs, showing off his prowess by adding some tapping and firing up and down the fretboard throughout the songs five minute duration. This is something very noticeable on this album the songs are concise, not outstaying their welcome with long drawn out passages but filled to the brim with time changes, melody shifts and intensely technical prowess. This is a very guitar heavy album Romeo takes centre stage showing off his talent for both riffs and also for his impressive solos that will have guitar fans exploding with glee. However keyboardist Michael (yes another one) Pinnella supply's plenty of melodies and synth runs on the album but he fleshes out the sound adding a more ethereal, vivid, symphonic and electronic aspects, especially on the title track which also shows off Russell Allen's phenomenal vocals where he moves between his towering highs and some guttural lows meaning he is bound to please everyone, his vocals are highlighted more on the melancholic, emotive Without You which has some great classical guitar playing from Romeo and wouldn't sound out of place on their album Paradise Lost (one of my personal favourites).
Without You gives way to on of the albums faster tracks Kiss Of Fire which is just that all blaze and bluster tearing along at pace allowing Lepond to add bass fills in the gaps while Rullo quickens the pace and lets the song move and twist. Charon is a striding metal track with a big riff and the lyrical content based upon Dante's Inferno with Charon relating to the ferryman to Hades (history lesson folks), this lyrical theme continues on the To Hell And Back which is the albums longest track at just over 9 minutes, it is also one of the albums best with some huge choruses, changing time signatures, a face melting guitar solo from Romeo and a marvellous keyboard solo from Pinella (Don't worry folks Lepond gets a bass solo on the albums final track), in fact To Hell And Back sounds like classic Symphony X the guitar keyboard interplay is spot on and once again Russell Allen shows why he is one of the best singers in the business. In My Darkest Hour is introspective with massive chorus that Russell belts, the melodic vocals and a sing along choruses continue on Run With The Devil which is one of the albums fastest but also most progressive tracks with yet another keyboard/guitar duel, in fact as the album moves towards its conclusion Pinella's contribution increases tenfold especially his mournful piano on the epic, heart wrenching ballad Swan Song before everything comes to a close with the surprisingly sprightly Legend which ends the album with style with it's neo-classical glory and chanting outro. This is the best album Symphony X have produced in a very long time, brimming with fantastic musicianship, intricate song writing and powerful performances, no matter where you came on to the Symphony X train this is an album you should buy as it takes all of their calling cards and creates real magic. 10/10