Symphony X - Iconoclast

Nuclear Blast
Produced by Michael Romeo

It would have very easy for American progressive metallers Symphony X to fall into the classic trap of trying to repeat a successful trick a second time in an attempt to re-create that success.

In the last few years the band have seen their international popularity increase dramatically, and it would be understandable if they had pinned that rise on previous album Paradise Lost, itself a marked stylistic change for the band. But in many territories their success was actually due to prominent support slots to large crowds (Megadeth's Gigantour in North American, opening for Dream Theater in Europe) which brought them the success, and Paradise Lost, excellent CD thought it is, simply happened to be the current album at the time. Fortunately for a band who have always previously tried to advance themselves with each release, they have not simply tried to re-do Paradise Lost.

Instead they've almost taken a step backwards, incorporating a few new ideas alongside some from the heavier Paradise Lost, and many others from their historically more progressive offerings. Vocalist Russell Allen tried to placate fans of the aggressive Paradise Lost sound by saying that Iconoclast would contain tracks that were in that style. This wasn't an entirely accurate statement as there is nothing here as heavy as those songs, but he does deliver some equally aggressive vocals, even if the riffs aren't as devastating.

But it's not all a good story. The title track opens the album and sounds musically more like an early Dream Theater song than it does a Symphony X track, but Allen's verse vocals are growled like they were on Paradise Lost. Then out of nowhere a melodic power metal chorus about standing and fighting, having no place on a Symphony X record, marrs things, and at eleven minutes long but without so much as a hint of the progressive interest a song of such length should have, it out stays its welcome as well, save for Michael Romeo's typically frenetic solo around six minutes.

Age of Innocence basically does exactly the same job as Iconoclast, but in half the time and with a chorus which doesn't even approach the campness of the title track's. Dehumanized and Heretic bring back the sinister mood of the last album, but again aren't quite as heavy, and fans of Allen's more melodic voice will also begin to wonder after those two and incredibly silly Bastards of The Machine, where it's gone. Even for the less urgent parts of Children of A Faceless God (the best groove riff of the album contained herein) he sounds raspy. There are pre-choruses, the chorus of the latter, where he clearly still has it, but is choosing not to use it too often.

But it's all worth the wait for When All Is Lost, the nine-minute progressive epic the title track should have been, when Allen actually delivers a performance with some dynamics, some beautiful melodic parts on about 5:30, some big riffs, and a properly grand ending.

As has happened to other artists before them (notably Jerry Cantrell when he released his solo album Degredation Trip on Roadrunner Records), Symphony X wrote Iconoclast as a double-album, but Nuclear Blast were wary of their first album on the label being so long, and therefore the full album is only available as the limited edition version. This standard edition contains three fewer tracks and shaves some 20 minutes from the running time.

So, for the standard edition album there's basically 54 minutes of Russell Allen singing aggressively over music which lacks the heaviness to back him up, and a closing nine minutes of real majesty that SX fans will have been missing for some time. There's probably enough Romeo histrionics throughout the album to keep some people happy, but most of this album lacks any kind of depth. Not the return to old some people wanted, and not the follow-up to Paradise Lost that others wanted. It's kind of somewhere in between, and maybe that's what a third group of people will want from it, and will probably therefore rate it as a five-star album. Objectively, it's not though.

“ it's all worth the wait for When All Is Lost

Tracklist: (standard edition track numbers in brackets)
CD1 - Iconoclast (1) / The End of Innocence (2) / Dehumanized (3) / Bastards of The Machine (4) / Heretic (5) / Children of A Faceless God (6) / When All Is Lost (9)
CD2 - Electric Messiah (7) / Prometheus (I Am Alive) (8) / Light Up The Night / The Lords of Chaos / Reign In Madness

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2011, Albums, Progressive, ,

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