Symphony X - Iconoclast
Spanning two decades and a heavy amount of quality material, New Jersey's Symphony X have taken the long, hard route towards making a name for themselves. Amongst progressive/power metal circles, they have long been an established dynamic, one of the frontrunners of supremely written and performed "thinking man's" metal. My experiences with the band have almost always been outstanding, worth remembering when it comes time to find the perfect album to satisfy most of my metal cravings. Iconoclast is their latest offering, the first under the banner of Nuclear Blast and the first in what seems like a good long time. The elements that have impressed me prior continue to do so today, and rarely has the band been up to par with this fantastic record.
The driving forces of Symphony X are, foremost, the guitar virtuosity of unheralded and underrated Michael Romeo and the powerful, expressive vocals of frontman Russell Allen. These two elements continuously make anything the band does reason to pay attention. Opener "Iconoclast" begins with a beautiful orchestral arrangement, truly epic and living up to the bombast and thematic sound pictures the band has conjured in the past. The song itself is a riff-fueled monster, akin to much of what Dream Theater has done but so drastically different in the fact that it never manages to out-do itself. This is a comparison I've made to anyone willing to listen in the past, and I say again; if you like Dream Theater, you'll love Symphony X. They do just about everything the former does, but do it with far more precision, taste and the element of surprise. The track takes up 10 minutes but feels like 5. Keyboard wiz Michael Pinnella goes to work on "The End of Innocence", and his counterpoints to Romeo's guitar work help to fill the sound picture that may otherwise feel empty with only one guitarist. The backend combination of Michael Lepond on bass and Jason Rullo on drums are not to be overlooked either, creating the short of punctuated, concise and powerful foundations that these tracks need to survive and flourish. This is the sort of record where everything feels fresh and like a stand-alone hit, where true standouts are not worth mentioning in the shadow of a masterfully created album.
Symphony X have long been one of my favorite metal outfits, a tasteful prog band that doesn't overdo the "prog" tendencies and very rarely runs off at the mouth with instrumental wankery or extended passages. Russell Allen is occasionally a dead ringer for the late Ronnie James Dio, but has the variety to project aggression as well as a smooth melody for the more ballad-esque moments the band loves to toy with. And, again, this never happens too frequently, injecting just the right amount of balancing to make the album feel more complete. Iconoclast is an album to rival their best and, in my humble opinion, enough to rival the best of the genre today.
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