Author Topic: Symphony X: Iconoclast (2011)  (Read 14563 times)

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Offline Scorpion

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Symphony X: Iconoclast (2011)
« on: August 19, 2014, 03:56:36 PM »
I've been delaying this for a while, unintentionally, but I have finally gotten my shit together, so let's commence. Behold, the Symphony X discography discussion thread (brought to you by Scorpion).



Arguably the two of the three most important members of what would later become Symphony X met in early 1994, in a music store the Michael Romeo somewhat frequently visited. One employee there, who was teaching piano and keyboard in the store was his future colleague Michael Pinella. Both were influenced by metal and progressive music in their playing on their respective instruments – Pinella on the keys, Romeo on the guitars, so it was no wonder that, later that year, Romeo asked Pinella to play keyboard on his solo album The Dark Chapter (well, only one track, but still), and the interplay between the two makes it the best track on the otherwise rather mediocre album (in my opinion). Obviously, the two thought that they could work together in the future, and after recruiting Thomas Miller on bass, Jason Rullo on the drums and Rod Tyler on the vocals, Symphony X was born and released their debut in the same year. Which leads us too…

Symphony X (1994)



01. Into the Dementia (1:01)
02. The Raging Season (5:01)
03. Premonition (5:37)
04. Masquerade (4:28)
05. Absinthe and Rue (7:16)
06. Shades of Grey (5:41)
07. Taunting the Notorious (3:20)
08. Rapture or Pain (5:05)
09. Thorns of Sorrow (3:54)
10. A Lesson Before Dying (12:07)

Being the only album to not feature what would later become an integral part of the bands sound in the vocals of Russell Allen, this album is often regarded as the black sheep in the Symphony X discography, and frequently listed at the bottom in rankings. I can't say that I disagree, but I do feel it gets somewhat overlooked and unjustly dismissed as not a proper Symphony X album. Okay, Rod Tyler isn't a great vocalist, and vastly inferior to his replacement, but he's not awful either, and most of the songs on this album are either pretty good already, or at least show hints and promises of the greatness that was to come.

My relationship with this album is a weird one. If I remember correctly, the first Symphony X song that I ever heard was "Taunting the Notorious". Don't ask me how that happened, but I'm quite sure it did. I liked the song, but I never explored further for a few years – until I later stumbled across... I think it was "Smoke and Mirrors"? Anyway, I did start listening to Symphony X from that point on, and I loved them, with them even replacing Dream Theater as my favourite band for a short while. However, since pretty much everyone said that the debut wasn't up to scratch, I never bothered with it until, like, two and a half years ago or so – which was when I noticed that that one song seemed quite familiar. I needed a while to make the connection, but when I did, this album received the weird status of being both my first exposure to the band and the last album of theirs that I heard in full. Like I said, complicated.

Looking back, that connection I have with the album might cause me to view both the production values and Rod Tyler's voice on this album a little more favourably than I normally would, but I'm quite sure that I'd probably enjoy this album regardless, because, it is, as I have already said, really quite good.

With that lengthy introduction out of the way, let's get to the meat of this album, shall we? And with the meat, I mean the music on this album. It opens with "Into the Dementia", which is a pretty standard-fare opening track for a progressive metal band. Romeo shreds like nobody's business, and you have some bombastic stuff, but on the whole, it's a pretty forgettable track, something that's probably due to the fact that it doesn't really have any melodic theme or anything - just Michael Romeo saying hello to the world, really. It leads abruptly into...

"Raging Season", which opens with a pretty cool riff, which is very reminiscient of the main riff on "Evolution" (though that probably should be the other way around, but eh). I like the riff, and I like the verses and their melodies (though I'm no fan of the fills that Romeo throws in every four bars), and the pre-chorus is pretty good as well, but I really dislike the chorus. While I don't exactly mind Rod Tyler, his two vocal lines sound almost comical to my ears there. Luckily, that is quickly offset with a brilliant middle section, with some great piano, and nice guitar melody and some cool bass work. The guitar solo isn't that good, but I like the bass shredding under it - Thomas Miller is such an underrated bassist. After a very abrupt transition (that's clearly one aspect they hadn't perfected quite yet), we're back in the pre-chorus/chorus, the latter annoying me again. Honestly, if the chorus weren't what it is, I'd like this one a lot more, but as it is, it's pretty bad, even though I like some parts of it.

"Premonition" opens with some great piano playing by Michael Pinella, and it's a lot calmer than "Raging Season". Again, we have some sweet bass work and some nice guitar lines, before it goes into a heavier riff around the 1:30 mark. What one immediately notices is that the transitions on this track are a lot better, making it a far more pleasant listen. Plus, Rod Tyler doesn't annoy me in this song, that's always a plus. Especially in the chorus, the melodies are very close to something that later-day Symphony X would write, though it would have a greater impact with Russel Allen, of course. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I really like the lead-up into the instrumental section in this one, and while this isn't one of Romeo's greats either, his solo is far better than that garbled mess in the previous track. Going back into the chorus and then into the outro (with a slightly awkward transition, but oh well), this one is immediately better than the opening song.

"Masquerade" is probably one the best-known track off this album, mainly because it's the only one that they have re-recorded with Russel Allen. And that makes it rather hard for me to appreciate this version. This is actually one of Tyler's best perfomances in Symphony X, but it still doesn't hold a candle to Russel. Musically, this is definitely one of the most mature tracks on the debut, with some great riffing, strong classical influences that don't feel overdone, and a really good solo section (dat bass!). It's no wonder that this is the song that they chose to represent the debut on their best-off, and the Russel Allen treatment only improves it. Still, everyone should listen to this version of the song at least once. I actually prefer the outro on this version to "Masquerade '98".

"Absinthe and Rue" starts out as a more mid-tempo track, with what might just be my second favourite riff on the album and then leading into my favourite riff. This is one song where I really like Rod Tyler's vocal contribution, instead of being ambivalent towards what he does at best, like on many other tracks. The chorus is very latter-day Symphony X again (read: awesome), and Romeo delivers a sweet little solo after the first chorus, like he does on many later tracks. I really like bridge on this song, and that calmer part is really good, with an amazing guitar solo, which shows off Romeo's skill at crafting non-shreddy guitar solos. I've never been a big fan of Pinella's solo patches in most cases, and this song is not exception, but other than that, I don't really have anything to complain about on this song. Definitely one of my favourites on this album, if not my absolute favourite (except for another awkward outro).

"Shades of Grey" is my least favourite real song on this album, even though the piano beginning is pretty great, but everything else about this song is just really bland. Plus, Rod Tyler's voice REALLY doesn't work for ballads, and that chorus is one of the worst choruses that Symphony X have ever inflicted upon on my ears. Ugh. The short post-chorus bridge is very good (very "The Edge of Forever"-ish), as is the solo later on in the song, but it's not enough to save this song from the fact that every vocal passage on this song makes me want to punch the computer violently, right on my iTunes icon. Oh well. At least their ballads got a helluva lot better on later albums.

Next up, "Taunting the Notorious", my favourite song on this album. It's the fastest song on this album, and Tyler's vocals work better on the more aggressive stuff, I find. Plus, all the other members are completely on fire here, especially Michael Romeo and Thomas Miller (dat intro!). Honestly, this song wouldn't be out of place on a later-day Symphony X album - maybe Iconoclast? I can see it really gaining from Russel harsher tone. But I digress. That instrumental section, with the guitar - bass solo trade-off is one of my favourite Symphony X moments ever, and really makes me miss Thomas Miller. I also love how short this song is - at only 3:20 in length, the ridiculously high energy can be kept up throughout, and it works splendidly - except for, again, an unfitting outro.

After that, we have the bland, but not "Shades of Grey"-bad "Rapture or Pain". Honestly, I find it hard to remember anything from this song outside of when I'm listening to it, but it's not bad. Just... unmemorable. Romeo has some cool playing, but the transitions and tempo-changes feel really awkward, Rod Tyler is kinda bad on this track and it's just generally bland. The one exception would probably be the chorus, which is actually quite decent, though somewhat repetitive, but wasted on such a mediocre song. The one thing that I really like about this song is Pinella's harpsichord stuff, but it's not enough to save this from being a snooze-fest.

"Thorns of Sorrow" is probably the song on this album that grew on me most. Initially, I put it about on the same level as "Rapture or Pain", but listening to it now, I'm actually genuinely perplexed as to why. The intro with that organ is great, the main riff is amazing, and Rod Tyler sounds as good as he could ever sound on this track, especially in the verses. The chorus isn't quite up to scratch, but I still like it, just not as much as the rest of the song. The solo section is a real highlight here, with it being the first of the many guitar - key trade-offs, and a really good one as that, mainly because Pinella's solo patch is actually quite decent. Also, FINALLY a song with a decent outro. That wasn't too hard, was it?

Finally, we have reached the album's epic: "A Lesson Before Dying". It's probably my least favourite of their epics, but it's not really all that bad, and I might even prefer it to "Iconoclast". The first part is probably the only time that Rod Tyler sounded good in a calm context, delivering what I'd consider to be his best contribution to Symphony X. Sadly, once we leave the calm, acoustic-guitar-driven part, the song rather quickly becomes a lot more pedestrian - the first distorted riff is actually quite good, but after the second chorus (which is awesome), when the song enters the second calm part, it takes a noteable turn for the worse and never quite recovers. It doesn't help that the song could probably be shortened by about two to three minutes, though there are no explicit parts that I'd cut - it just feels a little lengthy. While parts of this song are really good, it feels a little like they thought "We play progressive metal, we need a 10+ minute song!". Which you don't, as evidenced on the follow-up album. Anyway, this song is middle-of-the-pack for me, which is a shame, because the first five minutes are really good, and there are some moments of brilliance in the second half.

What else can be said about this album? Not much, I suppose. It wasn't really a success in the US, but it was - much like Romeo's previous solo album - quite big in Japan, but then Symphony X have never been really successful domestically, so that's not a big surprise. Oh yes! The production is pretty pants, but that's the case with most debut albums, so I won't rag onto them to much for that. I don't really like the drum sound, but the guitars and the bass don't sound TOO bad, and it's not completely awful, so I guess that's fine. Also, I really like the cover art for its simplicity - it's actually one of my favourite Symphony X covers.

On the whole, I can definitely see why so many people consider this to be the odd one out in Symphony X's discography, and I won't argue with that. Rod Tyler is pretty bad in places, but has some surprisingly good parts as well (like the intro to "A Lesson Before Dying"). But I do think that it shouldn't be written off without listening to it at least once, and it has some killer tracks like "Absinthe and Rue", "Taunting the Notorious" and "Thorns of Sorrow" which give glimpses of the brilliance that was soon to follow suit.

1. Taunting the Notorious
2. Absinthe and Rue
3. Thorns of Sorrow
4. A Lesson Before Dying
5. Premonition
6. Masquerade
7. Rapture or Pain
8. Raging Season
9. Shades of Grey
10. Into the Dementia
« Last Edit: November 27, 2014, 11:41:00 AM by Scorpion »
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Offline jjrock88

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2014, 04:01:49 PM »
I'm a major Symphony X fan, so maybe I should revisit this one. When I listened to it, the vocals just threw me for a loop when you are used to Russell.

Offline Scorpion

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2014, 04:03:14 PM »
Yeah, it's hard coming from Russell, because he's such a great vocalist and Tyler... isn't, but it's still worth checking out.

Also, just noticed how long my write-up got. If it's too much, just say so and I'll shorten it down for later albums.
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Offline Zook

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2014, 04:22:53 PM »
I think I may have listened to this album all the way through once. I own it for collection purposes, but the last time I did listen to it was probably when I bought it in 2006. Just for this thread (since there's finally one of these threads I can participate in) I'll do my best to make it through the album again.

Offline Shadow Ninja 2.0

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2014, 04:27:33 PM »
Following. I'll try to listen through this one tonight.
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Offline Lowdz

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2014, 04:32:38 PM »
Ok, I'm not the biggest SX fan, though on paper I should be. I don't know all the discog but have 3-4 (?) albums at least. My first SX album was V TNMS which I enjoyed. I find SX lack the "songs" - lots of great stuff iin there but not coherent songs. They're not alone in that in the genre, its my biggest gripe with prog metal. I guess I need "hooks".

I love Russell Allen's voice when he sings but doesn't always get the best material to work with in SX.
Maybe this journey will change my opinion.

Never heard this album before and I'm finding it difficult mainly because of the vocals. Strip them away and I'd enjoy it much more. The signs of what they would become are here on the debut.

Offline Zook

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2014, 04:43:21 PM »
If you think Symphony X doesn't have hooks, you are clearly listening to the wrong band.

Offline ChuckSteak

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2014, 04:43:49 PM »
One could compare the first Symphony X album with the first DT album. Both have production problems and the lack of a better singer (not that they don't sing well, but their voices don't fit the sound of the band very well). Although I am not a fan, I enjoy Symphony X and Russell Allen is one of my favorite singers.

Back to the album: I never listen to it for the same reason I don't listen to WDaDU. I don't even remember the songs, I just remember that when I listened to it I didn't like it at all.

Offline Podaar

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2014, 04:45:59 PM »
I'll be following along (and shit). My knowledge and exposure to this band is woefully inadequate so I'm looking forward to listening while following along with this thread. Tonight's out of the question, but I'll have time to listen tomorrow.

Offline PROGdrummer

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2014, 05:27:02 PM »
Following. I cant really contribute discussion until DWOT though. The first two albums do nothing for me.
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Offline ChuckSteak

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2014, 06:33:23 PM »
Following. I cant really contribute discussion until DWOT though. The first two albums do nothing for me.
+1.

Although "Edge Of Forever" is one of the band's best songs.

Offline Zook

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2014, 06:45:18 PM »
Well this isn't terrible (only on Premonition), but it just isn't my cup of tea. I only like a few songs on Damnation Game, so for me Symphony X didn't connect until Divine Wings, and there are even songs on that one that are a little iffy sometimes. Except The Witching Hour. That one is just awful.

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2014, 07:22:33 PM »
The Damnation Game is an awesome record. I might like it more than Divine Wings even. But I'll save my love for later. :D
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Offline Zook

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2014, 08:14:33 PM »
Well, I made it through, and there was actually some cool stuff going on at times, and a full re-record could make it a really great album, but as is, it doesn't hold up to the best of 'em. Tyler is grating at times, and there aren't that many hooks, unlike the rest of the discography, excluding TDG which suffers the same problem.

I prefer When Dream and Day Unite.

Offline Shadow Ninja 2.0

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2014, 08:28:46 PM »
...I actually kind of like Shades Of Grey. :lol
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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2014, 08:30:28 PM »
...I actually kind of like Shades Of Grey. :lol

I already forgot how it goes, but I know I didn't care for the chorus.

Offline jjrock88

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2014, 08:30:47 PM »
I tried to listen again.

It would be cool if they re recorded this album with Russell; Tylers vocals just are too distracting for me.

Offline Shadow Ninja 2.0

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2014, 08:58:43 PM »
Just finished it. Overall, pretty decent. I suppose it helps that I went into it expecting for it to suck. If I'd expected it to be good, I probably would have been disappointed.
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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2014, 09:13:05 PM »
I like this album a lot. The only downside for me whatsoever is Rod Tyler but, fortunately, I consider the majority of prog/power/wailing-in-general singers to be absolute shit (despite their obvious level of talent) so that minus is instantly forgiven since it ain't Wachtower bad. I love how ferocious and unleashed Romeo is on it. No restraint whatsoever and it sets the album right the fuck on fire. Also, there seems to be a heavier emphasis on melody which, while mostly retained on TDG, gradually slipped away over time. I could care less about production. People who didn't start seriously listening to music until after 2000 seem to be less aware of the fact that making a debut back then that didn't sound like shit was nearly impossible unless you had connections or money. For a prog band releasing an album a year or two after grunge's peak, they were probably just lucky to find one producer who didn't tell them to go fuck themselves.
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Offline wolfking

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #19 on: August 19, 2014, 09:48:53 PM »
This album is decent but the vocals are just terrible IMO, ruins the album.  This is something the band should re-record with the current lineup, I think that would be awesome.

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #20 on: August 19, 2014, 10:03:30 PM »
I doubt Russell would have the restraint to not go all latter-day-SX gravelly on it.
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Offline bl5150

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #21 on: August 19, 2014, 10:07:51 PM »
Following - but I don't get really interested until DWOT which made my Top 50.
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Offline wolfking

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #22 on: August 19, 2014, 11:19:03 PM »
I doubt Russell would have the restraint to not go all latter-day-SX gravelly on it.

IMO, whatever he does, it's gotta be better than the original vocals.

Offline Bolsters

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #23 on: August 19, 2014, 11:27:10 PM »
I'm not much of a Symphony X fan (love Paradise Lost, don't mind bits and pieces of Odyssey), so I'm going to follow this. I'm familiar with PL, Odyssey, Iconoclast and V and heard bits and pieces of the other albums (not sure which if any I've listened to all the way through), so there's some stuff in here I need to give a proper chance. Although I have my doubts that going through the discography properly is going to change my mind on the band as a whole, there's only one way to find out.

This album, I couldn't even listen to all the way through, and I don't think I ever have. :lol Absinthe and Rue is alright, but it's really the only thing that stands out on this album to me..

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #24 on: August 20, 2014, 04:41:26 AM »
Following. I cant really contribute discussion until DWOT though. The first two albums do nothing for me.

Wow! The Damnation game does nothing for you? I find it good.
On a related note, I listened to SX 1st album only once and nothing stood out for me except the fact that I didn't like the production and the singer.

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #25 on: August 20, 2014, 05:55:48 AM »
Following. I've heard TDWOT, The Odyssey and Paradise Lost, but somehow never bothered to check out the rest of SX albums. Might as well start doing that now. I'll give a listen to their first one today.

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #26 on: August 20, 2014, 06:15:52 AM »
Following! I'm not a big fan of SymX but TDWOT is great. My favourite song though is The Edge Of Forever.

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #27 on: August 20, 2014, 06:50:16 AM »
The only song Rod doesn't suck on is Taunting the Notorious... he actually has moments of sounding almost Allen-esque.  Agree with the comments that essentially state musically it's very good, vocally.... well, I'd almost rather listen to Chris Collins.  It is kind of tantamount to WDADU in the DT hierarchy of things, but Charlie is a way better singer than Tyler.  I can't remember the last time I listened to this, and probably won't go back to it.  The awesomeness of Allen just makes this album that much more unappealing. 
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Offline Podaar

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #28 on: August 20, 2014, 11:25:41 AM »
I enjoyed that much more than I anticipated based on the opinions expressed above. Perhaps that's because it seems highly derivative of other music that I like. There were several moments where I thought, "Hmmm, sounds just like Savatage." and not in a bad way, mind you.

In fact, the singer sounds quite a bit like Zachary Stevens to my ear. That being said, the 'Tage discs with Stevens singing are my least favorite...give me Oliva every time! Still, I'm not sure Rod Tyler is as bad as all that. There were moments in "A Lesson Before Dying" that I thought he channeled Dio quite nicely.

The guitar tones and playing are kind of a mixed bag, or so it seems to me. The crunch for riffing is pretty heavy and quite nice, and the riffing itself was pretty imaginative. I like being surprised when riffs go somewhere I'm not anticipating and Romeo seems to have a real knack. His lead tone sounded so Ygnwie-ish I thought it startling and not well paired with the crunch tones but I got used to it and I'm looking forward to how Romeo's tone develops going forward. His full-on shredder licks don't do much for me but I really, really, like when he dials it back a bit--the note selections seem more appealing when he does. He's obviously a very talented player.

I was all kinds of impressed with the bass on this album. Great playing, good tone and I'm always a big fan of when the compositions allow the bass to take the lead or drive the melody forward. There were a few moments like this that I thought were really well done.

I was quite turned off by the drums. I thought them to be annoying in tone and distracting in execution.

The keyboards were nice and well played in spots but nothing too memorable. I may be spoiled by the stellar keys from other bands though.

All in all, I like where this is going. The symphonic/broadwayesque metal idea has always appealed to me but I think it's a difficult thing to pull off. There seems to be a fine line between epic-awe and unintentional comedy. This album walks the line very closely in a strong left-to-right breeze.

I'll listen a few more times before deciding on a purchase or not. At this point I'd probably only buy the individual songs in the top three of Scorpion's list.

Offline jingle.boy

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #29 on: August 20, 2014, 12:09:20 PM »
Wait 'til you hear Allen on the mic.  Then you'll know what we're talking about.  Maybe not the next album, but for sure on The Divine Wings of Tragedy.
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Offline Evermind

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #30 on: August 20, 2014, 12:17:27 PM »
Gave a listen to their self-titled, and I actually enjoyed it a bit. Quite a solid material for the debut. I don't think I'll be revisiting this album much, but I do think it's quite good.

I enjoyed the epic, Thorns of Sorrow and I also thought Shades of Grey was a nice track. Taunting the Notorious, however, felt mediocre to me.

Offline Scorpion

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #31 on: August 22, 2014, 03:20:28 PM »
Going to do the next write-up tomorrow. If anyone wants to say anything about the debut, now would be a perfect time.
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Offline Ultimetalhead

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #32 on: August 22, 2014, 03:50:46 PM »
Didn't know this had started. Yay. Anyway, the debut album is perfectly decent, but Rod Tyler just comes off as a poor-man's (aka really fucking shitty) Freddy Mercury. I mean sure, he has moments of not-suck, but on the whole he's borderline intolerable. This album could seriously benefit from a When Dream and Day Reunite treatment. The hollow production doesn't help anything either. New folks, don't let this album turn you off. Symphony X took a while to become awesome.
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Offline Mosh

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Re: Symphony X: Symphony X (1994)
« Reply #33 on: August 23, 2014, 03:59:27 PM »
Like When Dream and Day Reunite, I don't think redoing it would fix this album. It'd be a slight improvement, but the songwriting is still poor on this album imo. Like WDADU, the band is still finding their sound and don't really have the traits that make them so great on the following albums. A redo would be cool and it'd certainly sound better, but it wouldn't redeem the weaknesses in the songs themselves. If the actual songs were better, I'd listen to this album as it is a lot more often. Even despite the bad production and singing.
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Re: Symphony X: The Damnation Game (1995)
« Reply #34 on: August 25, 2014, 06:08:03 AM »
Finding information on what went down is difficult, but after the release of the debut album, Rod Tyler left Symphony X, and pretty much nobody has heard of him since. No other releases, no website – nothing. Ironically, he was the one to introduce the band to his replacement, and the final key member of Symphony X – Russell Allen. Again, there’s little to no information as to when that actually happened, if it was while Tyler was still on the band or not, but what is known is that Tyler knew Allen and introduced him to Michael Romeo. When the gig opened, Russell quickly abandoned his previous job – a jouster at a Medieval Times Dinner Theater. Fronted with his powerful voice, Symphony X would be going places, and it all started with…

The Damnation Game (1995)




01. The Damnation Game (4:32)
02. Dressed to Kill (4:44)
03. The Edge of Forever (8:58)
04. Savage Curtain (3:30)
05. Whispers (4:48)
06. The Haunting (5:21)
07. Secrets (5:42)
08. A Winter’s Dream – Prelude (Part I) (3:03)
09. A Winter’s Dream – The Ascension (Part II) (5:40)

For a while, this was my favourite Symphony X album. It has since fallen in the rankings, but it’s still stupendously great, and light years ahead in quality of its predecessor. Allen hits the ground running, and unlike the first album, there is not one bad vocal moment to be found on this album. But let’s begin at the beginning.

Right from the get-go, this album doesn’t shy away from displaying its neo-classical roots – the opening guitar/harpsichord unison to "The Damnation Game" is pretty much the epitome of neo-classical metal. The track on the whole is pretty great, but fairly straight-forward. No matter, because it features a killer guitar solo and some awesome vocals by Russell – especially in the outro.

"Dressed to Kill" continues in a similar vein, though this one is slightly less neo-classical – though it does feature a guitar/harpsichord unison in the middle instrumental section. On the whole, however, this song is far more riff-driven than the title-track, and it works splendidly. Some great vocals in the chorus again – after only two songs, Russell Allen is already a better Symphony X vocalist than Rod Tyler had ever been over one album.

"The Edge of Forever" switches things up. While not as long as later songs, this is most definitely an epic, if not in length, then most definitely in scope. Opening up with some pleasant guitar and piano playing, we are delivered the first ballad-esque moment on the album, and Russell Allen shines here just as much as he did on the more intense moments of the first two tracks. From there, the whole song develops into a sprawling and unconventionally-structured journey, filled with time changes, acoustic breaks and guitar solos, tied together by a central chorus that it always comes back to – which is splendid. This is what I consider Symphony X’s finest moment – nine minutes of perfection, with each member given a chance to shine, be it Romeo in his amazing solos, Pinella with some tasteful piano, Jason Rullo with some great creative drumming and a nice (albeit short) drum break, or the amazing bass playing of Thomas Miller, everything comes together here.

Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here. "Savage Curtain" boasts an intense riff and a great instrumental section, complete with some furious bass shredding, but on the whole, it’s pretty bland. Yes, Russell is a great vocalist again here, but the material he’s working with is so weak that the best he can manage to do is to make it "not bad".

"Whispers" follows and it's the only true ballad on this album. Aside from the backing vocals in the chorus, this one is a real winner, both Russell's powerful emotional performance and the guitar solo that shows that Michael Romeo is just as able to craft a beautiful solo as he can shred up and down the fretboard. I've seen this one get a bit of disdain, and I guess I can understand some of it, as it's hardly very original, but I've always loved it, and it's what I'd consider Symphony X's first good ballad.

"The Haunting" takes a while to get going, opening with some drum and bass work, but then it explodes into a furious guitar riff, followed by a keyboard solo and a guitar solo, and we're back in familiar territory. It's not a bad song, and Russell does some awesome vocals in the verses, but on the whole, it's a rather bland song, not helped by a rather lackluster chorus. Like "Savage Curtain", this feels to safe and straight-forward to offer any real excitement. Plus, that ending feels really lackluster.

"Secrets" doesn't exactly switch things up either, but it's a better executed song, in my opinion - especially the chorus, which is just the right amount of infectious without being annoying. This, Symphony X, is how you do a straight-forward song without the result being bland and boring.
Plus, the intro is one of my favourite Symphony X moments ever, with the keys building up a great atmosphere that leads perfectly into the opening riff. The instrumental section is good as usual, though what sets it apart from others is the fact that Pinella isn't using a patch that annoys me on this one and it makes the trade-off solos work pretty well. My only complaint is that the outro drags on a bit longer than it would have to, but in the grand scheme of things, this one's a winner.

Closing the album, we have the two-part epic "A Winter's Dream", which is notable for its gorgeous first three minutes, featuring some gorgeous clean playing by both Romeo and Pinella and some awe-inspiring vocals. The second part, once the distorted guitar enters isn't nearly as great, but it still has some great stuff all the same, and Russell Allen shines once again. It's a nice way to close out the album, and that trade-off solo near the end is one of the best in their entire career.

On the whole, this is a great album. Yes, you have some duds ("Savage Curtain" and "The Haunting"), but even they are nowhere close to the bad songs on the debut, and the good songs on this one would set the bar high for future Symphony X releases. Noteworthy is the fact that this is probably the album where Michael Pinella's keyboards annoy me the least - I've always found them a little hard to deal with, mainly because of the patches that he uses, but that's never an issue on this album. Both his harpsichord playing and his keyboard playing are top-notch and a definite step-up from the debut. Also gone rather unmentioned has bassist Thomas Miller, but he's absolutely on fire here, especially on "The Edge of Forever" and "Savage Curtain". Michael Romeo, I'd say, is the member who exhibits the least amount of improvement here, but he was already on fire for the debut, so that's no knock.

One paragraph has to be dedicated to Russell Allen. I think Symphony X is the only band that I know where I have never, in my whole life, heard someone express the opinion that the original singer is better, and while that might have something to do with Rod Tyler's general... badness, it's also a testament to Russell Allen's vocals. They are powerful and emotive on this album, and he hits high notes without sounding whiny in the least. While I can understand that his later work is not everyone's cup of tea, you can't hear this one and say that he's a bad singer.

In summary: The Damnation Game is a great album and a massive improvement for this young progressive metalheads, but there are even greater things to come, and the world wouldn't have to wait long for them.

1. The Edge of Forever
2. A Winter's Dream
3. Dressed to Kill
4. Secrets
5. Whispers
6. The Damnation Game
7. Savage Curtain
8. The Haunting
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