Sound — 8
Four years is a fairly huge gap for an active band to create an album, but when you're one of the biggest progressive metal acts in the world, you really REALLY don't want to rush things. So you can imagine that the follow up to the fabulous "Paradise Lost" should be fairly amazing. And indeed it is. As an example, first track "Iconoclast" greats us with some sporadic, dark and head-twisting riffery that most definitely sets the sound of the album. Its very typically followed up by some typical Symphony X style epic choral/string arrangements, but these are huge, very very atmospheric symphonics, properly mixed to sound like an orchestra. Although having less punch and urgency than the opener to "Paradise Lost", the main focus is the huge sweeping chorus with no less than 7 or 8 layered vocal tracks for emphasis and also music maestro Russell Allen's insanely high register vocals (he's upped his game on this one). Another defining feature of the song is the 2 minute guitar/keyboard solo that drops it into a 6/4 groove, ready to do some face-melting and jaw-dropping. "Iconoclast" is Symph-X's way of upping the ante, the sound is noticeably darker, especially the guitar riffs and the continued use of dissonance throughout the album, but it always stays true to their sound and they've sacrificed some speed for breathing space, which basically means MORE GROOVES. One thing this album does not lack in is grooves, ranging from prog-rock style 4/4-3/4 mindbenders to fist pounding outros, my personal favourite being the intro to "Dehumanized". And lets not forget melody, there's been no skimping on the sauce, so to speak. There's masses of sexy interplay between the keys and guitar, the vocals highlight the harmonies perfectly and the "wall" of symphonics can never be ignored, not that you'd want to anyway.
Lyrics — 8
Russell Allen is one of the most respected metal vocalists of the past 20 years, and its very easy to see why. Despite the extensive career they've had, he still has the flame of passion in his voice, like he really puts feeling into his lyrical meanings. As mentioned, on "Iconoclast" he spreads his range more and more (ewww) between high and low, sometimes singing in a cleaner and smoother approach in some softer sections of the album in a more Gothic approach but still keeping his gruff but clear voice in top form. Lyrically, "Iconoclast" is a little bit more of a cynical album, themes including oppression, enslavement, and hopelessness stemming from our evolution of machines are the main focus. Although the lyrics are perhaps a teeny bit clich, Russell works them into the tracks perfectly, just enough so that you can tell this is new album territory for them.
Overall Impression — 8
Symphony X have delivered the goods with much enthusiasm, although I'm personally concerned that their next release might take even longer to complete! Not their best album, but far from the worst, its good ol' Symphony X that we know and love. Just don't get confused about the digital deluxe version and the regular album version, there's this huge kerfuffle about some songs being on one and not the other and its fairly annoying, best bet is to get the deluxe edition. Songs to look out for: "Iconoclast", "Dehumanizer", "Bastards Of The Machine", "Children Of The Faceless God", "Electric Messiah", "Prometheus (I Am Alive)" (a song which reminds me a lot of OSI with Mike Portnoy), "When All Is Lost".