Symphony X – Underworld (Nuclear Blast)

Sunday, 12th July 2015
Rating: 8.5/10

Master purveyors of the neo-classical progressive metal realm, Symphony X over the past two decades plus has given consumers reason for the home town crowd to look stateside for quality releases. Benchmarks start with The Divine Wings of Tragedy on through to the more progressive V, or heavier Paradise Lost – never afraid to offer the fans new twists in terms of performance, production values, and overall songwriting confidence. Although the first part of their career was quite prolific (5 albums in 7 years), they’ve chosen a ‘less is more’ release schedule as of late, with the ninth studio platter Underworld their first in four years.

After “Overture” opens in more of a pomp and symphonic circumstance manner, the thunderous double bass of Jason Rullo and neo-classical guitar waves of master Michael Romeo take control as “Nevermore” brings us back a little bit to the aforementioned Divine days when the band stretched out to establish their own niche. Russell Allen bellows ‘Your silence tells me all I need to know’ as well as ‘bloodless spirits wept in fear’, and his gritty, dark resonance makes the words come alive. Throwing down occasional thrash dynamics during the trailing bridge/chorus in terms of tempo and aggressive melodies for the title cut, Michael Pinnella’s keyboard arpeggios give the right hook angle to counter balance the heaviness on display.

Highlights are plentiful. “Without You” has a ballad framework, Russell using more of his lower range in a respectful Lou Gramm manner during the verses but then rising to high octane heights in the chorus. “To Hell and Back” at 9:23 is the longest arrangement on Underworld, a mini-epic bringing to mind classic Dream Theater meets Rainbow, bassist Mike LePond integral in a lot of the groove factor while still bringing his intricacies to the table as the five-piece rally around proper give and take instrumental interplay. And the guitar breaks from Michael Romeo include a lot of bluesy nuance and tastefulness beyond his normal neo-classical shred chops – proof that you don’t have to cram a million notes in a 4 bar measure to be awesome. Check out “Swan Song” and the exotic “Kiss of Fire” for some of this album’s future wanted tablature material.

Another of Symphony X’s finest hours, Underworld encapsulates all facets of their style: heavy, melodic, and progressive, never relenting in the metal template. An odyssey that does not end in an aural tragedy – plus plenty to plug into future live airings to boot.

Symphony X official website