24 Jul 2015
Symphony X - Underworld [Full length] (2015, Nuclear Blast Records)
Introducing Symphony X should almost be unnecessary. Symphony X have been a mainstay in both the progressive and the power metal scene for many years now, each album reaping heaps of great reviews and praise from critics and listeners alike. Their reach is far and wide, spanning neo-classical, progressive and groovy compositions. Fronted as always by the immensely talented Russell Allen, Underworld is an album that needs only a few listens to convince.
Disregarding the quality or lack of the same of Russel Allen's many collaborations and appearances, including Jørn Lande, Ayreon and Adrenaline Mob, Symphony X will always feel like the vocalist's true home. His variation between gruff Anselmo-ish vocals and higher melodic vocals are in focus on almost each and every track, leaving no doubt that he is as essential a part of Symphony X's music as guitarist and main songwriter Michael Romeo. Where 'Iconoclast', the band's previous album, dealt primarily with mankind's promethean relationship with modern technology, Underworld has returned to the more mythological subjects as the albums from earlier in the band's career.
Though not among the initial singles, the track 'Charon' feels like one of the strongest tracks on their ninth album. There are several strong tracks that I for one will be listening to for years to come, including 'Nevermore' and 'Kiss of Fire'. Symphony X are masters of the power ballad, and of course there is one on Underworld as well. 'Without You' is as strong a ballad as ever, but Underworld lacks the lengthy prog display of power that most have come to associate closely with the group. Almost every album up until now has had one of these tracks, but 'To Hell and Back' is the best we've got this time around. A mighty track, but not quite akin to the masterpieces like the Divine Wings of Tragedy and the Odyssey title tracks.
In many ways Underworld feels like a mix of the band's three previous albums, combining the neo-classical progressiveness of The Odyssey, the lofty compositions of Paradise Lost, and the heaviness and powerful groove of Iconoclast. You always hear talk of "the difficult second or third album" when talking about a band's career. Never the impossible ninth album. Most bands have lost their flair long before reaching that point, and in that way it's refreshing to hear Symphony X release such a powerful and well carried-out album more than twenty years into their endeavour. Their output has been incredibly consistent quality-wise, and while Underworld may not be in their top 3, it comes incredibly close. Closer than many bands could ever hope to achieve this late in their career. This is unmistakingly Symphony X as we know them. 8/10 guitars.
4. Without You
5. Kiss of Fire
7. To Hell and Back
8. In My Darkest Hour
9. Run with the Devil
10. Swan Song
Symphony X official site
Nuclear Blast official site