If you call your band Symphony X, you set up certain expectations. The word “symphony” implies something with style; something with substance. If the music fails to deliver, the band could end up looking like pretentious prats. On the strength of this album, Underworld, Symphony X have escaped pratness!
The opening track, “Overture” sets the tone of the album: the drums rumble; the operatic chorus chants; the orchestra kicks in heavy on strings and brass; then a section that reminds me of a TV theme I can’t place; and finally the guitar starts to grow in prominence as it all comes to a crashing climax. A perfect setup for the next track (one of my favourites), “Nevermore”.
I am not usually a fan of growly vocals, but it works on this track, partly because they suit the tone of the song but mostly because they are more than balanced by sung vocals. Russell Allen has a clarity and power in his voice that allows him to soar above the magnificent racket his band mates are producing. And the racket is indeed magnificent. I love Jason Rullo’s drumming and Michael Romeo produces some outstanding guitar work including some stunning solos. The keyboards from Michael Pinnella are impressive, although to my taste the synth sound is sometimes too thin. I would prefer them to sound a bit meatier (more Hammond-ish and less Hamster-ish). The bass playing from Michael Lepond could be a bit higher in the mix at times as he more than keeps up with the drumming, belting out bass lines with impressive complexity and depth.
I have enjoyed the album more with every listen and it is hard to single out individual tracks but special mention has to go to “Without You“. It’s about as close as you’ll get to a ballad on an album as dark as this!
As I have already raved about the first two tracks on the album, it is worth remembering that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and “Legend”, the last track, does not let the side down. I particularly like the unexpected end to the song where there is a sneaky play with the words of the chorus.
This is an ambitious album that feels like an album; not just a collection of songs. I don’t think it is a concept album (I cannot detect a through story for example) but musically and lyrically, the tracks are thematically linked. The music is darkly complex and the lyrics are inspired by a wide range of sources including the Bible, classical mythology and Dante’s Inferno. As I said, “ambitious”!
If you like your music dark and complex, symphonic even, check out Underworld. You won’t be disappointed.
Underworld was released on 24th July.