Review: Symphony X – Underworld

I feel that it’s only right for me to mention that I am not the biggest fan of Symphony X. Their songs tend to be very hit and miss with me. Even so, I will admit to feeling a sense of pride given that they are fellow Americans keeping the heavy metal spirit alive. In truth, that was my primary motivation for doing this review. I can only hope that I will be pleasantly surprised along the way.

The album starts off with the obligatory symphonic intro, ‘Overture,’ a decent song that doesn’t exactly set you up for what you will encounter along the way. The true first track, ‘Nevermore,’ properly kicks off the album with a blazing metal riff that will, and I just can’t put it differently, shred your face off! During the chorus, Russell Allen sets aside the characteristic grit to his voice for something softer, smoother and, ultimately much more pleasing to my ears. I love the contrast between face-melting metal guitars and a clean, tender voice!

The title track ‘Underworld’ is a fine example of how the band brilliantly mixes the aggression of thrash and the magic of power metal. The chorus has a transcendental quality to it that flows perfectly with the metal attitude surrounding it. This song also has my favorite keyboard work of the album. The moment I heard the intro I was hooked! Next up is ‘Without You,’ a song whose only true flaw is its title, slows the album down and provides a much needed balance to the big picture. It seems to fall somewhere between a mid tempo hard rock song that begs to be converted into an actual ballad, and a hard rock song that desperately wants to be something heavier and slightly more typical of Symphony X. It is definitely the oddball of the album, but the songwriting is amazing. ‘Kiss of Fire’ speeds the album back up and begins with a symphonic, extreme metal intro, complete with blast beats that reappear during the chorus. While epic in scope, it is slightly hackneyed to me. I could’ve done without the blast beats. That, however, is a minor complaint as the song is fantastic; the real meat and potatoes being the thrash-inspired riffs during the verses. As always, Michael Romeo provides mind-boggling lead work.

The latter half of the album is filled with a few songs that fell a bit flat for me. ‘Charon’ and ‘In My Darkest Hour’ are in no way bad songs, but they just don’t do for me what the other songs did. I’m sure that with repeated listens they will grow on me. ‘To Hell and Back’ is a 9+ minute opus that has a multi-dimensional mood and atmosphere. Filled with multiple, dissimilar parts that are woven together seamlessly, the song illustrates how seasoned they are as songwriters. ‘Swan Song’ breaks up the monotony with Michael Pinella’s beautiful piano work and is brimming with emotion, reminding me a lot of ‘Paradise Lost.’ Swan Song actually builds on the aforementioned framework to create something that, while similar, eclipses its forebear in terms of diversity and overall melodic landscape.

Finally, ‘Legend’ closes the album in a godly way. Part progressive metal, part power metal, this song is an amalgam of two subgenres that, in my opinion, rarely ever go together this well. Symphony X is one of those bands that know how to do this style with panache. Overall, I think they do an impeccable job of blending European metal style with American attitude and sensibilities. That being said, there is more than enough variety to keep a casual listener interested cover to cover. In other words, ‘Underworld’ is an excellent album and by far my favorite Symphony X to date! 9/10

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