Symphony X - Paradise lost 4.5/5
1. Oculus ex inferni
2. Set the world on fire
4. The serpent's kiss
5. Paradise lost
6. Eve of seduction
7. The walls of Babylon
9. The sacrifice
"Then Crown'd again thir gold'n Harps they took,
Harps ever tun'd, that glittering by their side
Like Quivers hung, and with Praeamble sweet
Of charming symphonie they introduce
Thir sacred song, and waken raptures high"
- John Milton
Symphony X carves out a throne for themselves as the current masters of American progressive metal, with an exuberant masterpiece of dark passion, just like the work upon which its story is based...
Symphony X had previously carved out shades of American progressive metal much more strongly influenced by the neo-classicism of Yngwie and his progeny, rather than the more pronounced progressive tone of Dream Theater and late Fates Warning, with lush pleasing melodies and choruses always being part of the plan. While this CD continues this tradition, it mixes it with a heavier, darker sound, never straying from the purest metal sound, but incorporating, especially in instrumental flights, Dream Theater at its purest progressive metal, with pleasing comparisons thereto. However, in contrast, the band wisely sticks to a gloriously sharp, pure, metallic production, and doesn't veer into some of the more exploratory effects or tuning that is seen on Dream Theater's last few CDs. You can even hear the very best of Dimmu Borgir and Emperor's most polished works slightly wedded to the overall melodic foundations of Symphony X. To that end, it's as if Iced Earth's 'Burnt Offerings' cast its ominous shadow over Symphony X's preceding catalog. It is rather shocking in retrospect, that I recall great arguments among my metal compatriots as to 'V: The new mythology suite', including criticisms from those who felt the CD's "lightness" was such that it may have been progressive, but it simply was not heavy metal.
Russell Allen's vocals, as have been noted by other reviewers and commentators, certainly are not as typical as they were on the preceding CDs. This time around, a good portion of his singing adds a harsh, brutal influence to his typical vocals, which are a strong example of the Dio/Tony Martin/lush power metal singer. But don't worry, it certainly isn't death or black vocals, nor is it industrialized noise or a Panteraish new metal. Rather, it is a slight, and I do mean slight, addition of Nick Holmes circa 'Shades of God', or simply a snarling growl, to the more expected power vocals. Given the profligacy of the purely melodic vocals these days, this change is not unwelcome, and it gives the CD a fresh and emotional sound that doesn't interfere with the melodies when they are on display. To me, it simply works, and works well, and there is plenty of great melodic singing to keep any of it from being one-noted. Those who want to hear Allen's previous, and purely melodic style, will still find plenty of this on this CD, but it will not be all they hear, unlike almost all the prior Symphony X CDs on which he appeared.
The guitar work is probably the finest display I've heard on a CD in quite some time. Michael Romeo's work is just consistently mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, and heart-stopping. You can't ask for more tasteful shreds, incendiary licks, pulverizing riffs, all mixing together a wealth of great metal fretboard styles, excepting only the uninteresting. While this is the instrumental high point, within nothing more that you could ask, the rest of the aural thunder, which includes its more delicate moments in addition to its most aggressive.
The concept of the CD's lyrics are of course based upon John Milton's 'Paradise lost'. The work itself is the quintessential metal lyrical subject, even more so than Macbeth, not only for its superficial basis as being about, well, Lucifer, but for the tone of intelligence, romantic defiance, fallen price, beautiful wastelands and eternal paradox. As a side note, the digipak has about the most innovative arrangement I've ever seen, as cardboard flames fold up as you open the case. The cover's pretty sweet as well, and lastly, you can currently view a pretty cool video for "The serpent's kiss" on the official website.
The only downside to the CD is a conditional one, and that is that some would prefer vocals from Russell Allen that are all along the lines of his purely clean, unsnarled vocals, rather than the mixture you get on this CD between that, and the more aggressive style. Therefore, they may be put off by this, although whether to temper their enthusiasm only, or to decide it's not worth their time may depend on the strength of the feeling. Beyond that this is a simply superb offering, dark, powerful, beautiful and elegant.
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