Symphony X // Iconoclast
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU | US]
Websites: symphonyx.com | myspace.com/symphonyx | facebook.com/symphonyx
Release Dates: EU: 17.06.2011 | US: 06.21.2011 | JP: 06.22.2011
If you hadn’t figured this out yet, all of us over here at Angry Metal Guy, myself maybe most of all, are horrible Symphony X fanboys (and girls). It’s hard not to be fans of what are easily the best progressive power metal band of the modern era. So the coming of Iconoclast has been a so-called Big Fucking Deal, since it was first announced all those months ago. The record, which is another stab at a concept album, basically sounds like it borrows heavily from The Matrix and any other “The robots are coming!” kind of stories, you know the type. So, it was with genuine curiosity and fanboy-tinged apprehension that I first put on Iconoclast when I got it all those weeks ago.
To my great surprise, Iconoclast opens with “the epic” track, which clocks in at 10:52 and is an appropriate start to this. While there are some technology sounds that come through early on, the music here is very much traditional Symphony X fare, with techy riffing, choral work in Latin, and even a harmonized guitar swell fadeout that instantaneously took me back to “Evolution (The Grand Design)” from V: The New Mythology Suite. This leads into “The End of Innocence,” which you’ve all probably heard by now as its the single, and the track is good. But again, pretty standard Symphony X fare, nothing surprising at all. The very beginning of “Dehumanized” also starts out with more “technology sounding” keyboard work and some very cool guitar work before jumping into the riffing stuff. Here, this kind of ballsy Paradise Lost sound really comes through as Russell Allen sings straight from his nutsack and the riff kind of punches you in a gut with a nice borderline tech-death sound, classic Symphony X.
OK, to cut myself short before I accidentally fall into the “track-by-track” kind of review that bores me to tears, you may have noticed a pattern. While the musicianship is top notch (holy goddamned these people make me feel sad for even ever dreaming that I could be in a band), Iconoclast isn’t really breaking new ground. Instead, it feels a bit like they went out jogging on a familiar trail, if you get my meaning. Now, this is a very pleasant trail full of riffs that you want to headbang to, solos that make you wet yourself with envy, orchestrations that make Rhapsody of Fire look like a bunch of amateurs and the best goddamned heavy metal vocalist in the entire world showing off why he’s the best; but it’s very comfortable material. And while I love it, and I listen to it willingly and really enjoy it, there is no way that it lives up to the glory of what I see as the band’s best records V: The New Mythology Suite, which awed and inspired with its seamless orchestral approach, and Paradise Lost, which broke out into the more aggressive path that the band is continuing on Iconoclast.
Of course, all of that said, there isn’t a bad song on this record. “Heretic” impressed with a great chorus and some classic Romeo riffing that is beyond enjoyable to groove along to. “Electric Messiah” opens up with an awesome progressive piece with some fancy fingerwork before leading into the opening verse and has a classy pre-chorus that really s hows off Allen’s versatility as a vocalist. And “When All is Lost” is the band’s 9 minute concluding power ballad sounding track and it works to close up the record with some swelling orchestras and piano, before segueing a bit like “Accolade II” into proggy material and finally into something that almost sounds like it could’ve come off a stadium rock record. In all honesty, this might be my favorite track on the record, though it’s definitely hard to say.
But I still have some complaints that I haven’t really had previously: first, while this record is well produced, it’s overmastered and peaking. Second, I really feel like this may be the band’s weakest lyrical outing. While the music is fantastic, there are some choices on here that native speakers should know sound cheesy, particularly “Bastards of the Machine” is uninspired, but the other lyrics on here aren’t winners either. It’s possible that the concept sounded like a winner, but then when they got to writing they realized they were coming up short for material, or who knows, but I’ve never had that feeling about the band before.
Finally, I know there is a special edition of this album that includes two extra tracks and a different tracklisting. What is this about? As a band working on a concept album, you’d think that the flow would be key to writing the best possible album. What makes V such a towering icon of progressive metal, in my oh-so-humble opinion, is that every note is in the right place. I don’t know if there were monetary issues or what, but this is weird and I wonder if the record didn’t suffer because they chose not to include those extra tracks. All of that said, what we’re left with is still a very good album, I know it’s hard to get that through given what appears to be a laundry list of complaints, but it really has some awesome material on it and is really a solid album, but it’s not on par with the band’s earlier material. Fans will like it, but I suspect there will be grumblings among the uninspired and disappointed. I have pre-ordered my special edition and wait eagerly to find out whether my diagnosis is correct.