Symphony X | Underworld
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Year: 2015
Country: New Jersey, USA
Genre: Progressive Metal
Michael Romeo – Guitar
Russell Allen – Vocals
Michael Pinnella – Keyboards
Michael LePond – Bass Guitar
Jason Rullo – Drums
Over twenty plus years and 11 albums to their credit, Symphony X have surely been a banner band in the world of progressive metal. Along with some of their typical peers such as Dream Theater, Vanden Plas, Pain Of Salvation, Fates Warning, etc , Symphony X have had a influential hand in the community of progressive metal that has held up of the course of time.
While some bands have gone through roster changes, revamped sounds, and going off to the land of solo & side project land, Symphony X have managed to stay together as one of the stronger more cohesive units. Members have done that as well, however once they come back together as a band it has been as if they never took a break and remained consistent in their sound, attitude and structure.
Their new offering Underworld confirms and justifies all my claims mentioned above. Underworld certainly has elements of their last three albums Iconoclast, Paradise Lost and Odyssey. The band also continues to mature and grow with every album they release. Although their are no 10-25 minute epics like Divine Wings Of Tragedy, Odyssey & Iconoclast, the album is still epic in nature. The band has kept Underworld more in the vibe of The Damnation Game, V: The Mythology Suite and Paradise Lost. With all that now said let’s examine Symphony X’s – Underworld.
Overture opens up with killer male choir like chat much in the vein as home Prelude opened up 2000’s V: The Mythology Suite. Mike Pinnella’s keyboard sets a very dark mood before the rest of the band goes into a unified orchestral progression of rhythm between the bass of Mike LePond and drum work of Jason Rullo that continues like a march to melodic battle towards the next track Nevermore.
Nevermore takes off with a blistering progressive/power metal signature. Russell Allen soon enters in with some of the very serious aggressive vocals which he has seemed to execute since Paradise Lost. Vocals that are very smooth and melodic on one hand and on the other hand a more rough crunchy almost growl. The instrumental portion is a bit progressive thrash metal in nature. The are some wicked signatures and hooks that subtly come up to grab the listener especially with the shred solo’s by Michael Romeo.
Underworld is obviously the title track on the album. Underworld has some of the most brutal vocals I have ever heard from Russell Allen. It is as if he picked up where Iconoclast left of. There is also a wonderful male choral chant serving as backing vocals. Mike LePond’s bass work really starts to show through in its very distinctive style. The very distinctive style that makes him one of the foremost sought after bass players for other musicians and projects outside Symphony X.
Without You has a more traditional old school melodic sound the band had with Edge Of Forever from 199’5 s The Damnation Game, Candlelight Fantasia from 1997’s The Divine Wings Of Tragedy or Wicked from 2002’s The Odyssey. Mike Pinnella’s keyboard work is a major highlight on this one.
Kiss Of Fire is without a doubt the heaviest and most brutal track on Underworld. Jason Rullo damn near enters the realms of black metal with his relentless double bass drum blast beats. The bridge, chorus, verse combination’s flow much in a Pantera southern groove metal vibe. Kiss Of Fire most definitely has some of Michael Romeo’s most diverse lead to rhythm work in the band’s history. The lyrical content even compliments the instrumental perfectly.
Charon displays some great melodic elements. Although it is only 6:06 in time it contains some elements that the bands 24:09 The Odyssey. The vocals are smooth and harmonic with the chord progression’s and rhythm sections. There is a killer time signature on the Outro in this one.
To Hell And Back sounds like a departure of the typical Symphony X ‘majestic sound’. In some ways the intro sounds like a really heavy ‘AOR/Hard Rock’ progression. However not for long. To Hell And Back is very diverse following some killer time signatures on different key sounds and notes. The way they wrote and recorded this makes the guitar solo sound like two solo’s into one signature. At the midway point the vocals are very tastefully brutal. There appears to be a guitar/instrumental solo every 2:50 mark then the band goes back to lead verse in different progressions and keys.
In My Darkest Hour is a 4:22 progressive frenzy going from smooth slow melodic harmonies to majestic bridge, chorus, verse work. The other highlight that is obvious is the fast progressive groove metal instrumentals. This one again contains a shred style guitar solo perfectly timed.
Run With The Devil is a highly up tempo track crafting fast aggressive signatures. This track is a sheer fast, aggressive instrumental song with smooth vocal melodies. The time signatures between instrumental and vocals go from one range to the other side of the spectrum throughout the entire composition. The keyboards and guitars make for a unique smooth sound on this one as well.
Swansong begins with a beautiful piano and drum combination. The piano and drums definitely remind me of Accolade I and Accolade II with portions of V: The Mythology Suite. Swansong most definitely has the warmest harmonies and vocals on Underworld.
Legend starts as a straight away prog metal song with some powerful, yet basic 4/4 signatures. It contains very fast instrumental melodies with the instrumentalists, with Michael Romeo bending the stray wicked chord in certain portions. Even is some portions Russell Allen uses his voice as an instrument to portray a few chants. Legend is also arranged perfectly on the album being the last track.
Symphony X have created another great well written and produced masterpiece with Underworld. Anyone of the tracks on this album will be great to hear live. This gets a 4/5 for arrangement and its evolutionary nature. It will be interesting to listen to any of these tracks live as well.