Sound — 8
5 years after the excellent The Odyssey, Michael Romeo & Co return with a new album. They've set the bar high with their last string of releases, and in some places they do reach those highs again.
One thing to note right off the bat: Russell is even angrier and more aggressive than he was on The Odyssey. He sings more in a lower register, and the guitars are even more up front which gives for a pretty heavy assault. The overall production and sound of the album is solid, there's very little complain about. If I had to pick one thing, it's that Romeo's guitar sound isn't as tight and clear as it has been. It's a bit hairy and sounds somewhat undefined (more contour, less gain) to me. But that's really a minor complaint in the grand whole of things.
It's also somewhat heavier than their previous albums, it packs more punch and is more of a full on metal album. However, this also means we have fewer soft/progressive sections. To me, Symphony X are at their best when they mix soft and heavy, but this album is leaning a lot more towards heavy, which is a shame. In turn we lose having another piece in the vein of The Odyssey or Divine Wings of Tragedy. However, the softer sections in the title track and The Sacrifice and definitely droolworthy, the title track being coupled with a great guitar solo by Romeo.
Lyrics — 7
In terms of lyrics, they are based on topics found in John Milton's Paradise Lost, those being the classic good-and-evil/heaven-and-hell topics. Russell has stated that the lyrics are very general and can relate to virtually anyone in the world. Thus the band opted for having a futuristic angel on the cover, rather than choosing something that would cement the lyrics and themes in a specific age. If I had to choose a Most Valuable Player for this album, it'd definitely be Russell and his vocals, because he sings his ass off.
Overall Impression — 7
Overall, it's a potent and solid release. It's not up to the standard of, say, V: The New Mythology Suite but it's still a good, solid release. Symphony X work best with grand themes and storylines in mind, and this album lacks that (no, taking your lyrical ideas and topics from the book "Paradise Lost" is not a grand theme).
The progressive element is a bit lost, which is a shame, but the riffs, leads and melodies are great. Romeo is as solid as ever, he really delivers in his department and continues to make his case for being one of the best guitarists in metal right now. This album probably will gain them more fans than they will lose, and it's a pretty damn good one, even if it's a slight step down from their previous two albums.