Album Review: Symphony X’s Iconoclast

BY LUKE VOELZ | JULY 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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The lyrical themes of mechanical tyranny in Iconoclast mark a drastic shift from the fantasy epics the New Jersey metal quintet explored on past albums, most recently 2007’s Paradise Lost. Yet these new stories of the struggle between ancient man and modern machine reflect a band in a similar musical state of old and new styles — and while the protagonists of Iconoclast hold fast against the mechanics of the future, Symphony X synthesizes the two into a ferocious blend of keyboard-tinged power metal.

The band first changed style on 2002’s The Odyssey, dialing back the keyboards and neoclassical melodies seen on fan favorites, The Divine Wings of Tragedy and V: The New Mythology Suite in favor of a punchier style laden with groove-metal riffs. Paradise Lost followed suit by deepening lead singer Russell Allen’s soaring vocals into a sneering growl, while returning to some of the shredding solos and orchestrations the band enjoyed on their first five albums.

Iconoclast continues to add classic Symphony X guitar solos and ethereal keyboards to remind the listener the old influences never left. The album opens with the title track and longest song on the album — a bold choice after the 20-minute title tracks near the ends of The Divine Wings of Tragedy and The Odyssey. Guitarist Michael Romeo immediately launches a volley of progressive guitar solos rambling through a minor scale’s every corner, while keyboardist Michael Pinnella adds the bombastic choirs that gave Paradise Lost its biblical “heaven and hell” majesty.

The chorus leaves something to be desired — “We are strong / We shall stand and fight” is a bit metal-cliché for a band whose lyrics often injected a human side to archaic myths — yet the pounding riffs, sneering vocals, and choral declarations more than carry it through the 10-minute duration.

Allen’s vocals remain in top form, mixing the high-range wails of earlier albums with the sneering growls and thundering bellows he displayed on Paradise Lost. No remaining chorus suffers the lethargy of the title track. “The End of Innocence” and “Children of a Faceless God” stand out in particular as he keeps his voice in a higher range while layering it into a commanding harmony.

Songs such as “Heretic” even display the classic synthesized strings I loved on The Divine Wings of Tragedy — these were forgone in Paradise Lost in favor of a more realistic-sounding synth orchestra. They’re blatantly computer-generated, yet I’ve always been a fan of cheesy synth lines in my metal. If anything, they fit the machine-driven lyrics.

Those soaring choruses and synthesized keyboards were my favorite part of old Symphony X, and they blend into the heavier production and commanding guitar lines without fault. Romeo doesn’t let up for all nine tracks of the single-CD version of Iconoclast, showing the technical solos which remained the band’s mainstay throughout its entire career. Listening to Iconoclast shows past changes in style were overstated. The only drastic musical difference over the last five years is the modern production and Allen’s more aggressive singing range. These changes work — you’ll be headbanging for the album’s entire hour.

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