Friday, September 25, 2015

Review of Symphony X's Underworld

Symphony X has taken their sweet time putting together the albums that have come out since The Odyssey's release in 2002. A slew of side projects and higher profile tours has kept the band members busy along with guitarist Michael Romeo's notorious perfectionism. The frankly similar sounding records have led some to wonder if the band was also starting to run out of ideas. The well still hasn't run dry on Symphony X's ninth studio effort but there are a few causes for concern.

For the most part, Underworld's style is about the same as it was on Paradise Lost and Iconoclast. The tone is as dark as ever and the instrumentation is still largely driven by Romeo's aggressive, downtuned riffs with the odd symphonic flourishes here and there. However, there is a sense of restraint that hasn't been seen on the album before it as the vocals aren't as rough and the songwriting is more melodic. The aim may have been to make a more accessible effort but the approach ironically keeps even the heaviest of songs from hitting as hard as they could.
What keeps this album's head above water is the still great songwriting. While nothing here lives up to the bar set by the awe inspiring "Overture" and a bunch of the pre-choruses sound alike, every song on here manages to be memorable. "Nevermore" and "Without You" proved to be smart single choices due to their solid hooks, "Kiss Of Fire" and "In My Darkest Hour" come close to matching the heaviness of past efforts, "Swan Song" makes for a sweet ballad, and the nine minute "To Hell And Back" and the closing "Legend" channel classic Dream Theater with their upbeat tempos and energetic keyboards.

But like the self-titled Dream Theater album, Underworld starts off excellent but has ideas that leave less of an impact than usual. The songwriting and strong performances still make it an enjoyable listen but it is mere prog metal comfort food compared to their finest outings. I wouldn't call this a disappointment but a new direction may soon be called for.

"Kiss Of Fire"
"Run With The Devil"
"Swan Song"

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