Symphony X - Iconoclast 4.5/5

Reviewed: 8-1-11


Disc 1
1. Iconoclast
2. The end of innocence
3. Dehumanized
4. Bastards of the machine
5. Heretic
6. Children of a faceless god
7. When all is lost

Disc 2
1. Electric messiah
2. Prometheus (I am alive)
3. Light up the night
4. The lords of chaos
5. Reign in madness

For their 8th CD, Symphony X brings together savagery and progressive shred in one of the best CDs of 2011.

Symphony X has (in some sense) come quite a ways in the heaviness department in the last 10 years. I still remain some vigorous debate about 'V: The new mythology suite' in 2000, their 5th CD, as to whether the talented purveyors of epic, intricate progressive neo-classical power were metal any more, or whether it was progressive rock in the vein of Kansas.

The band moved into a more mighty direction with the epic 'Odyssey', whose opening track was full on a blistering metal assault of jaw-dropping metal axework, and their most recent CD, 'Paradise lost', brought the brutality up a notch up higher with a CD that brought a darker, heavier majesty to their already magnificent songwriting and instrumental skills. With more palm muted, lower end-riffage becoming de rigeur throughout that CD (and continuing on this one) and long-time vocalist Russell Allen bringing a leather lunged intensity to his vocals, they ended up with a masterpiece.

'Iconoclast' does not stray from its predecessor, in either style or quality, and delivers another glorious entry in the band’s always strong discography. The lyrics on this CD, while still carving out a tale of epic struggle like many of their past songs, are more in the sci-fi mold than the religious/fantasy aspects of its predecessor, with songs that convey themes from stories like The Matrix and The Terminator, mechanical alienation and flesh versus machine. If there’s any difference from the prior CD, the music more subtly conveys that theme, as opposed to the operatic touches on 'Paradise lost'.

At its core, even with the afore mentioned development, the band has always delivered intricate, neo-classical power metal, with tremendous complexity (and a whole history of massively epic title tracks), but with the feeling, passion, and catchiness that will delight fans of bands like Dio, Tony Martin-era Sabbath, Yngwie and the more song oriented shredders of the shrapnel label. Michael Romeo is an incredible guitarist and is able to write and play songs that can impress you at the highest levels of musicianship and innovative musical theory, but also just provide a tremendously emotional listening experience for any discerning listener, no matter their musical background or education. This CD continues in that vein, without doubt, but with the extra-heavy metal background in most of the riffs throughout most of the CD.

Like in 'Paradise lost', Russell manages to bring a raw, blistering power in his voice to the songs without sacrificing their melody or feeling, and it is only a couple of listens into the CD that those choruses and verses will be solidly hooked into your brain. The prolific Mike LePond (also of Seven Witches among other bands) does a great job complementing Romeo’s 6-string work with bass playing that is anything but ordinary (in fact, I imagine the more workman-like song structure of Seven Witches is a nice contrast for him). Michael Pinnella provides a necessary component for this type of band, with his histrionic keyboard skills, but while the keys add tremendous texture and power to the songs themselves, and there are certainly times he gets to trade off ostentatious solos with Romeo, the great part is the guitar sound is so central to the songs and the mix that it doesn’t dilute the metal experience. Finally, Jason Rullo provide the ultimate rhythmic foundation for this musical visage with his rock-solid, yet dazzlingly complex drums.

Michael Romeo in interviews has made it clear that the 2-disc version, i.e., a double-CD, is really the definitive version of this work, it is NOT just a “deluxe” version that has some extraneous bonus tracks or live additions. Hence, this review and the tracklisting above is based upon that as the “real” SKU, but it is available as well in a single CD which has a couple of the tracks removed to fit on the single disc.

Bring it all together in a production that’s clear and sharp, and sounds just like this type of CD should sound, and I would hazard to say that this is an essential purchase for almost every metal fan in 2011, as you won’t hear a handful of CDs as good as this.




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