Released: Jul 24, 2015
Genre: Progressive Metal, Symphonic Power Metal, Neoclassical Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
Number Of Tracks: 11
One of 2015's highlight metal releases, Symphony X bring us more dabblings in the wild arts of progressive metal with an approach that spans generations of progressive music.
UnderworldFeatured review by: UG Team, on july 31, 2015 4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Sound: "Underworld" is the 9th album by prog-power metal champs Symphony X, one of the more prolific and veteran acts of the current metal era. The follow up to the frankly excellent "Iconoclast," expectations are always high with the amount of talent that goes into each of their albums, not to mention the massive gaps in time between each recent release.
Although often simply described as "prog metal" or "neoclassical" and rightly so, there's a lot more to their sound than simply genre tags. Virtuoso players in all fields, excellent and well-honed vocals courtesy of Russell Allen and a sort of innately engaging song-writing method that many bands struggle to ever make on their own.
Add to that, a healthy respect to classical composition, the whole field of prog rock and prog metal and a few sprinklings of previously unheard influence and what this album offers sounds like a delectable eleven course meal.
And frankly, the boys have pulled it off again. It's easy enough to discern some patterns with each release: there's always a dual track/really long track opener filled with a glorious guest choir and an intensely cinematic build-up, there's always a ballad of some kind and there's always a song outwardly referring to a hypothetical love interest of some sort. This isn't a negative thing: what works for Symphony X is their cohesiveness in laying out and writing an album. It works as it always has since "Paradise Lost," and they've changed their game again by bringing in some little nuggets of progression here and there without compromising anything integral.
So what exactly are these bits and pieces I'm blathering on about? The chords are slightly darker, the progressions are equally as new sounding and dramatic, almost out of character for the genre. Michael Romeo has included some riff ideas and playing styles that are unheard on earlier releases and feel pretty new on a Symph-X recording. The synths and backing keys of Michael Pinnella feel more modern and inventive than before. They've solidified a direction to go towards.
The nadir of the first example comes immediately from the track "Kiss of Fire." We're greeted with this dramatic, crushing swing of a minor chord riff, accompanied by stabs of choir and rolling underneath is the burst of blast beats and kick drum patterns that you'd never expect to find in this sort of genre. Not to mention the ridiculously heavy polymetric riff that forms the bridge and a really interesting vocal delivery from Russell Allen. Definitely the "most metal" song they've written thus far.
"Charon" is similarly interesting as it messes around with both rhythmic ideas and slightly stranger-than-normal chord modulations that belie its rather simple opening.
One of the definite highlights of this album is ending track "Legend," one that's a little bit different because it is an absolute technical powerhouse of musicianship. That may be an odd sentence considering every Symphony X is a powerhouse of musicianship, but this is the powerhouse that every other powerhouse wishes it was. I won't spoil it too much, but everything from the sublimely smooth bass guitar to the vocal performance to the astonishingly infectious melodic ideas means that it forms one of the best endings to a metal album you're likely to hear for a good while.
Are there some bad parts? One could argue that there's a bit of padding here and there (most glaring one would be "To Hell and Back," a good song but moves along in a very plodding manner and is somewhat mired in its own melted cheese). But, the album still makes up for it in the sheer quality of the content it brings.
Production wise, fantastic mix, great instrument tones, very comfortable fusion of all the extra-personnel elements (choir and so on). In other words, still as impeccable as all their post-"The Odyssey" albums have been, thanks again to Michael Romeo's skill as producer. It's truly a fantastically presented record, topped with all the little tweaks to things like synth sounds and crispness of the mix that just add to the nicety of it all. // 9
Lyrics: Russell Allen is a frickin' beast. Just goes without saying. As soon as you've heard him singing, you just feel that "yes, this song is going to sound great." And despite being quite into his 40's, his voice has not wavered in power or delivery. Interesting developments: Losing some harsh edge on some of his vox that could be heard on say, "Paradise Lost," a lot of the album features more of his pure and emotive singing voice. He'll delve into pitches that we've yet to hear from him before. And oddly enough, there's a few instances in the title track where Allen summons his inner harsh vocalist, especially at the end of the where he goes full beast mode, bringing out a harsh snarl to the words of "IN HELL."
Lyrically, "Underworld" differs somewhat from previous offerings. Their previous albums have revolved around a narrative concept, one which was easily summarized in the reespective album title. "Underworld" has no unifying concept, but a theme that ties the songs together while allowing them to retain separate narrative identities. This actually reflects well on the songs themselves, as each theme colours the music, hence the extreme metal edge of "Kiss of Fire," the smooth dynamics of "Without You" and "Swansong" and the journeying feel of "To Hell and Back." Sure, there's some cheese, but this is prog metal: All is cheese. // 9
Overall Impression: A great follow up to "Iconoclast," moving a little slowly but definitely surely forward with new ideas added to their formula, Symphony X treat us with a brilliant addition to the neoclassical idea. While the overall length might mean it outstays its welcome for some, there's still a lot to love here, equally reflected from the amount of love poured into it by the band themselves.
Songs to look out for: "Underworld," "Kiss of Fire," "Run With the Devil," "Swangsong," "Legend." // 9
Guitar_Maverick, on october 26, 2015 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: Symphony X are back with a fantastic effort, Underworld that builds on their previous 8 studio albums. Michael Leopond says this album is "less heavy than 'Iconoclast'" and more of "a combination of 'The Odyssey' and 'Paradise Lost'" which will surely excite most fans. The album returns to a more progressive metal style of writing that has brought Symphony X so much acclaim in the past, and continues to deliver. While not being strictly conceptual, "Underworld" definitely has an overall theme drawing on influences from "Dante's Inferno" and "Orpheus in the Underworld."
The orchestration and production on the album really help bring the underworld theme to life. The opening track "Overture" really sets the scene for a darker place, the combination of strings and horns to support the low range of the male choir is truly epic and creates the sense that the album you're about to listen to is something special. Highlighting the dips and troughs that will be experienced within. These features are not limited to the albums opener however, with the choir making a prominent return in arguably the best track on the album: "Kiss of Fire." It is used to capture the darkest emotion and create the imagery of descending into hell as the character realises he must go there to save the woman he loves. The orchestration remains subtle throughout the other tracks set in hell to provide a constant reminder of the overarching story. // 9
Lyrics: The melodic element of the album is particularly evident in the tracks "Without You" and "In My Darkest Hour." "Without You" was released prior to the albums launch and is definitely one of the catchiest songs on the album, with the acoustic verse allowing for the story to build before the chorus breaks in with that incredible melismatic vocal melody, truly displaying Allen's fantastic range and aptitude for creating memorable tunes. This tracks fits into the album really well, allowing respite from the darker and heavier tracks around it, without losing any of the energy in the album.
The majority of the tracks on this album are still very heavy, and the theme running throughout encourages the dark overall sound to the tracks. "Nevermore," "Underworld" and "Charon" definitely enter this category, yet along with that is an overriding melodic arc in the tracks. Despite the heaviness of the riffs the tension created, the vocals in the choruses of these tracks provided a much needed release that prevents the tracks from becoming too intense. Even in "Nevermore," when the band start playing with time signatures, making the track really edgy, because it is just after the soaring vocal melodies in the chorus, it is not overwhelming. // 10
Overall Impression: In summary, the only potential weakness on the album is a lack of further variety, yet within the confines of the theme chosen, there is little scope for that. The theme and general story arc are easy to pick up on with each track contributing to it and adding extra dimensions and emphasis. As the focus was on the songs being individually crafted as well, enjoyment can be found listening to the album as a whole or picking out the standout tracks, although you definitely have to be in the mood for it.
Standout tracks: "Kiss of Fire," "In My Darkest Hour," "Nevermore." // 9