Symphony X // Iconoclast
Rating: 3.5/5.0
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU | US]
Websites: | |
Release Dates: EU: 17.06.2011 | US: 06.21.2011 | JP: 06.22.2011

Symphony X - IconoclastIf 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.

Russell Allen always wins this contest...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.

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  • Steel Druhm

    I concur. Its good but feels less inspired than other Symphony X material. Fanboys will be pissed at the 3.5 but thats what I would give it too.

  • Soze

    I absolutely love it. I’m not the hugest SX fan in the world but have really enjoyed the last couple of albums and this is more of the same…which is what I wanted.

  • Mike

    “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. ”

    Well, according to Wikipedia, the label wanted a single-disc version, and the special edition has the proper track listing the band wanted. Soooo I dunno, blame it on Nuclear Blast? :P

  • Koma

    From Iconoclast wikipedia page:

    “Guitarist Michael Romeo has stated that the special edition contains the track order that the band originally intended to release, but their label (Nuclear Blast) wanted a single-disc version as well. According to Romeo, the track “Reign In Madness” is the proper closing to the album.”

  • Vlad Invictus

    Since I’m a huuuge fan of “V: The New Mythology Suite”, I must say that “Paradise Lost” was very disappointing album for me. Yes, the material on it was way darker and heavier than anything they’ve done before, but not in a good way (again, it’s my opinion). “Iconoclast” sounds a bit better, in terms they made a few steps backwards. It reminds me of “Twilight In Olympus” period mixed with elements on “Paradise Lost”. The main problem (IMO) here is its length, and I am a big fan of prog metal and long epic tracks, but I feel something’s overdone here. The structure of the songs is on the other hand very linear, and there are some catchy melodies, but the vocal parts are quite unmemorable (like on previous album). Allen is a great singer, but his vocal talent seems to be neglected in past few years and it feels as he’s trying too hard to sing like a badass (which started on “Paradise Lost” and his semi-harsh singing, but not in a good sense). All the neoclassical elements are, more or less, stripped down, and (again) the “pantera” riffs are exploited to the max. If I haven’t listened to their first six albums I would call this a good heavy album with progressive influences. Unfortunately, I’m one of those “old fans” who think that the band reached its peak on “V” and then made a detour into a wrong direction (just like Blind Guardian or Pagan’s Mind did). And yes, every bands needs to evolve, but it doesn’t mean it will lead to good results. Oh well, it’s not like it’s the end of the world…

  • Paulo

    I agree with most of the review. It’s a very good record, but fails to add something to the band’s sound. Plus, i find the choruses of the album a lot weaker than in Paradise Lost and The Odyssey.
    Also, i’ve already heard the bonustracks and let me tell you that Reign In Madness kicks ass! The other two are weaker, but nevertheless great songs.
    I agree with your rating too.

  • Whoah… I’ve been reeding this blog for a while now and that is the first time I feel the review is not adequate. Not that I disagree with the score, since the number doesn’t really matter to me (it’s the text I read), but like someone else said, the double CD is the “real” one with the proper track listing… and it’s 3 extra tracks, which are also great.

    Moreover, what the hell is that pseudo-intellectual crap about “over produced and peaking”. In the midst of all that war of sound disaster where clipping is like a contest, this album has a perfect mix and master. No glitch whatsoever and everything is clear and for the first time of its career, Romeo has a real guitar sound!

    As a guy who grew up listening to Metallica, Megadeth and Annihilator at the end of the 80’s, I’m really thrilled to hear a band playing some proper heavy and thrashy metal with a real effort into the musicianship without showing of like DT and friends… anyway. My 2 cents…

  • Fábio Gerônimo

    This review came straight to the point. I had a sense that this record wasn’t “catchy” as usual to me, even after several tries. And I remember that, at the very first listening, I felt in love with Paradise Lost. So this album is an inferior work? YES. But a minor album of such a mastodon band will always be better than everything around.

  • Valerie

    Huh, I wonder why they only sent the single-disc version to reviewers? “Reign in Madness” is one of the best songs on the album, but it’s only on the two-disc edition. :/

  • MorphineChild

    once again, this review got the point. really awesome guitar work, the band works… well, like a machine (incredibly lame pun here!), but the record lacks the ineffable something that makes it step from “good” to “masterpiece”. in my opinion, while the crunchy, hi-tech riffing is thoroughly enjoyable (Heretic reminds me vividly Nevermore, and that’s good!) the softer and melodic section are erratic. still, it’s a very good record (I’d say a 4.0, the special edition flows sooo smoothly!) but it lacks spots where you can sit and breathe.

    ps. When All Is Lost is a monster track!

  • DarkAeon

    First off i thought it was an amazing album and a big inprovement over Paradise Lost. (a perfect score for me)

    Now about the Single and Double Disc issue is that the Double disc is what the band wanted released and a much better flowing album (the 3 songs they left off are 3 of the best on the whole damn thing) but the label made them release a single disc version and made it the labels way so yeah…

  • Steve

    I think the non-progressive crowd and new SX fans will lap this up and call it album of the year, long time Symphony X fans and fans of progressive music in general will feel let down by the lack of a mix of soft and light material, which is where these guys are at their best in my opinion and it’s what made V and their best work so good.

    That said, it’s still a good album, just not great and it feels like a band on auto-pilot trying to appeal to a mainstream metal audience.

  • Artur

    I don’t know… my favorite will always be V, but I really like this new one, much more creative than Paradise Lost IMO.

    • Anonymous

      The problem they have is that “V” was so brilliant that I don’t
      think they’ll ever be able to top it or even equal it.  It was like
      a moment in time when Romeo was just feelin’ it and it all came together perfectly. DWOT is also great but V is perfection. Having said that I think the Odyssey is still their
      heaviest and probably my second favorite. The new one
      kicks ass though, I need to hear a few more times to really
      form an opinion.

  • The thing I found is that Symphony X just aren’t that progressive anymore. It makes me sad. Romeo’s riffs/solos are just so repetitive, and the guitar is given so much more room than every other instrument, sadly.

  • Within_Darkness

    I don’t mind them following the power road prior to the prog pattern, but yeah, at times it feels like a repetition of ‘Paradise Lost’ with its own “I, Robot” thingy going on. I can hardly complain that I got more of the same when it comes to the highest form of musicianship I know of today and I agree that it might’ve been more comfortable for them to rely on familiar stuff due to many difficult circumstances they met along the way (album in the making in YEARS after the deadline, 3-4 delays, label crap?), but I hope they’ll show the bright creativity we all know they’re capable of on the next record.

    Other than that, even simple aspects bring tears to my eyes, so for me they still have it. From solos to single key-strokes, all the way to Russell’s I.N.H.U.M.A.N. voice (hell, he even nailed a simple cliché chorus line on “Children of a Faceless God”…)

    But as for what I count as being negative here, now that I have the album with the bonus tracks, the full-length time duration is a bit too much to bear all at once… had the same problem with Townsend’s “Deconstruction” recently but while Devin always does such things with the sole purpose to fry your brains, Symphony X overdid it.

    Thanks for the overview, nicely wrapped up as always. Reminds me to spin “24 Hours” (or the entire Star One album), on a side note.

  • kvg

    Good review I completely agree. No bad tracks, but no great ones either. Awesome musicianship, but it’s like building a house from Lego – highly skill-full engineering, but not that creative.

  • guybrush

    Uninspired, bland, and noisy. There’s only so much screaming I can take, and unfortunately for me, Mr. Allen seems determined to remind us nowadays how angry he can get at every occasion he has. The cheesy and puerile lyrics don’t help much either.

    Perhaps the worst thing is that the best song on the album, When all is lost, flows so flawlessly it almost seems to be there just to point out how they still can write progressive, varied, and tasteful music if they really want to.

    • Petr Janda

      Sadly I agree. I own all Symphony X albums but I wont  own this one.

  • Cas

    I really dig this album. To me it is seriously one of their best (based on the las few days of intesive listening). And I think this album is maybe even more suited for the casual symphony x listeners than the fanboy’s. (Because a lot of those would actually like a more V like approach.)

    My favourite album of them is without a doubt still Divine wings of tragedy, but this one has the potential to come close. And I did not even like Paradise Lost. I think that album was blandly written and it just missed something to make me excited. Sure, this album has roughly the same approach but has way more qualty in my opinion. I really think it makes Paradise Lost seem like a collection of pre releases B-sides of Iconoclast. These songs are more catchy, have way better solos and have better keyboard and drumming elements. My only complaints are that the album is a tad too long and that most of the songs take on a similiar direction (2 disc version).

    They should have utilized the 2 disc format better by deleting just one heavy song and replace it with two proggy neo classical pieces. If they dit that, this would be a real fan pleaser. And about the lyrics: most of it sounds pretty epic to me. Nothing special but nothing bad either. Only Lords of Chaos had some really, really bad lines in it (the only song I really don’t like at all).

    Nice review by the way.

  • John Johny

    I’ve been on and off SX ever since the early 90’s. Really loved the early work however I kinda lost interest after the release of The Odyssey. Got back into them after Paradise Lost but I thought it was a bad album, nothing from the magic of the early years. However I have to say that Iconclast is a top notch album in my book. It reminds pretty much of the stuff that attracted into the band in the first place, the nice mixture of heavy/trash and epic solos while combining their namesake type (symphonic) instruments. I have to say this is great work and I’m glad they released something that would re-ignite my interest in a very underrated band.

  • I really agree with this review.  Alot of great riffs and music on this album, but I find myself getting bored.  It sounds almost exactly like Paradise Lost, which I think had better songs than Iconclast does.  The Bastards of the Machine is very irritating and I can’t help but feel embarrassed when I listen to this song in the car with other passengers… To me it seems like Symphony X is going after the young teenager Dragonforce crowd and that’s that.  They’re brilliant musicians, but they’ve stopped being “progressive” in the true sense of the word.

    • andrew mushel

      Why do people keep saying that? Stylistically, Iconclast is a very clear “progression” from PL. The neoclassical, power, and groove elements that were prominent on that one have been replaced with tech thrash, trad, NWoBHM. With the exception of Light up the Night which definitely has a power metal vibe going for it. I think people are listening to this album and seeing that it is dark like PL, without noticing that it’s dark in a very different way.

      • Petr Janda

        Your definition of “prog” isnt what the “prog ” genre is about. By your definition Metallica is prog since none of its albums sound like one another.

        • andrew mushel

          What? I think you’re reading a lot into what I said that clearly wasn’t there. I know exactly what prog is and a lot of it is pretty fucking stagnant (Dream Theater and clones for example). At least SX has let their sound evolve instead of just making albums over and over in the same sound because that’s what they’re known for. It’s nice to see bands progress within their own style instead of just playing “progressive” music.

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  • Zadion

    The more I listen to this band, the more I feel they are simply not my cup of tea. I’m listening to Iconoclast right now. I’m only only 4 tracks in (special edition), and I’m not really getting into it… It’s not bad by any means, just not something I feel I can appreciate. The only other Symphony X album I’ve heard though is Paradise Lost (I have The Divine Wings of Tragedy but haven’t listened to it yet), and I felt it was rather disappointing, aside from the title track (which is absolutely gorgeous) and Set the World on Fire. Maybe I would appreciate their earlier albums more?

    • Zadion,

      Before you throw in the towel on these guys, give Divine Wings a serious listen. That or V are easily their best and if you can listen to those and not love em, then its time to move on.

    • V is their best IMO, but Divine Wings is solid as well.

  • andrew mushel

    Honestly, I would say that it could very well be my favorite of their albums so far (though it would be hard to choose). I’m sure there are a lot of fans that are still confused as to why Symphony X didn’t basically just re-record V, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve got plenty of kick-ass neoclassical prog power from these guys and seeing them go a different direction is entirely welcome. I love that they’ve embraced their thrashier side. And I think they did it with some serious class (with a clear evolution starting at about The Odyssey), while still keeping quite a varied and interesting record. Referring to the 2 CD, of course.

  • I hate music critics, subjective opinions and for some reason they try to give it a quantitative conclusion.

    For me, this is if not the best than in top 3 SyX albums, absolutely amazing album. 

    • Well, if you hate us all so much why do you read our shit?

      Anyway, no. I’d say that the top three Symphony X records for me are: V; Paradise Lost; and The Divine Wings of Tragedy. So uh, yeah, that doesn’t rank there.

      • I think it’s weird that you’d rank Paradise Lost as a better album than Iconoclast although I agree with the review otherwise. My top three would be the same, but with Twilight in Olympus third behind V and Divine Wings. The Odyssey close 4th.

    • ian yeara

      The problem with this album is that… the songs aren’t great. I’m not dissing the new direction, in fact I like the new direction; Paradise Lost is my favorite Symphony X album after V. The songs on this album just aren’t as good, the lyrics are a bit bland at times and unnecessary. But Iconoclast and When All is Lost are AMAZING songs.

  • It’s the greatest musical achievement so far of the 21st Century.  Period.

  • ian yeara

    ICONOCLAST ISN’T A CONCEPT ALBUM, As a fellow Symphony X fan you should know this. But other than that I almost completely agree; Iconoclast and When all is lost are two of the best songs they have ever created, but the rest of the album isn’t quite as good.