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Symphony X's V - The New Mythology Suite Review: Motion Picture Soundtrack With A Metallic Edge
Malmsteen this is not
Do you ever feel the nagging urge to nail down one part of your routine lifestyle and replace it with something extraordinary instead? No, I'm not suggesting any physical alterations to your body or anything similarly drastic. It's just that, at times, going out on a limb (so to speak) when it comes to make your next decision can be invigorating, perhaps disappointing, or sometimes both.
Well, this is exactly the sort of reasoning which led me to purchase Symphony X's Divine Wings Of Tragedy album. Having experienced some twinges of neo-classical metal in Yngwie Malmsteen's Icarus' Dream Suite from his debut Rising Force album, I was slightly excited about its potential as an entertaining new form of musical styling (new to me, that is). A mix of modern heavy metal formatting with classical touches of sweeping arpeggios and complex time signatures, neo-classical metal is often more exhausting than refreshing.
So when I encountered glowing reviews of the New Jersey boys' Divine Wings Of Tragedy, my first thought was that I probably wasn't going to enjoy it. Why the apparent paradox? Because everything from "pyrotechnic displays" to "technical" sounded much too close to the often infuriating self-indulgent fiddlings of Yngwie and the knock-offs that have followed in his pioneering footsteps. Besides, lead guitarist Michael Romeo cites Malmsteen as one of his major influences. Not that I dislike the Swedish axeman -- it's just that the world doesn't need two of him.
In the end, I took the leap of faith and bought Symphony X's third album. And like my rambling introduction suggested, invigoration and disappointment collided inside my head. On DWOT, Symphony X came off sounding too much like Iron Maiden in theme and riffing (Pharaoh anyone?), with occasional glimpses of real staying power such as in the twenty minute title track. On the positive side, I really, really enjoyed the musicianship and catchy melodies that Romeo, Russell Allen [vocals], Michael Pinnella [keyboards], Jason Rullo [drums], and Thomas Miller [bass] were able to meld together.
So much, in fact, that even though DWOT doesn't hold a lofty place in my heart as one of the best albums of all time, their fifth album, appropriately titled V: The New Mythology Suite, does.
Something about gods, destruction, and flaming guitars
The lineup on this conceptual album is the same as for DWOT, except that bassist Thomas Miller has departed and Michael Lepond has taken his place. Other than the fact that Symphony X is now a bit Michael-heavy, the most striking change in the band's musical repertoire is the new emphasis on creating symphonic, bombastic arrangements -- I'm talking John Williams Raiders Of The Lost Ark movie soundtrack material here. While Symphony X had dabbled in such material before, V could easily wiggle its way into a Middle-Eastern themed cinema with accolades of success to boot. Imagine a darker Prince Of Egypt or, dare I say, a weightier Stargate.
From what my frazzled intellect can deduce, V follows the fall of the legendary city of Atlantis and the rise of Egypt. "The New Mythology Suite" subtitle represents the supernatural war between gods and men, delving much into Egyptian lore for inspiration. The "V" stands for "the Power of Five", which supposedly can form together as "the one - the bringer of life". Forgive me if I'm butchering Romeo and Pinnella's vision, literary analysis has never been a strength of mine.
Unlike typical neo-classical metal, V plays out like a true classical suite, complete with recurring themes, scores of movements, and plenty of principal soloing (in this case, Romeo's guitar and Pinnella's keys). The major difference lies in vocalist Allen's Dio-like delivery. Contrasting very much from what one might expect from "soundtrack music", Allen is aggressive, snarling, dynamic, and always melodic. I don't care what the critics say, the Dio comparison is nothing to be ashamed of. Russell Allen sings unmistakably like a man, which suits me just fine.
Let the cacophony of death and destruction commence (or let's give the album a spin)
V begins with its Prelude, complete with staccato synth downbeats, thunderous timpani-like percussion, and a chorus sung in latin ("Dies Irae, Dies Illa - Solvet Saeclumm in favilla" - cool, huh? It translates roughly into "Day of Wrath, Day of Burning - All the world to ashes turning", which even rhymes!) and progresses from heavy opening numbers like Evolution (The Grand Design) to light, acoustic pieces such as Communion And The Oracle to instrumental segues.
Speaking of Evolution, the opening guitar riff and bassline sounds vaguely like the first track off of DWOT: Of Sins And Shadows. Actually, Communion And The Oracle borrows in small part from DWOT's The Acolyte, too. Many of these links to earlier albums can be found throughout V, which serves as a pleasant surprise (or annoyance, I suppose) to fans of Symphony X.
But don't mistake this homage to previous efforts as a lack of creative edge from the band. The Bird-Serpent War / Cataclysm's crunch, atmospheric keys, and call-answer vocal parts are a far cry from the routine headbangers from the past, while Egypt usage of contrasting of Atlantis to Egypt, interchanging optimism with pessimism halfway through the piece, marks real evolution for Symphony X's songwriting abilities (which, by the way, were what kept Divine Wings Of Tragedy from greatness in my eyes).
The symphonic segues are what boosts V above its competition, however. While none of them are great in length, their dramatic flair and emotional throbbings even the odds. In particular, The Death Of Balance / Lacrymosa lift the hairs on the back of my neck every time. Romeo's slow chordal ascent into the stratospheres of his guitar, backed by powerful organ, magically leads into some more heartfelt latin from Allen. This is amazing stuff!
In the end, there stood only V
Not a single weak moment on V to be found anywhere. Romeo and the gang were already masterful musicians before this album, but the addition of an alluring concept and symphonic sound makes this album the pinnacle of Symphony X's career (yes, even better than The Odyssey). Even if you aren't typically a fan of metal-based albums, V: The New Mythology Suite could very well find its way into your collection of favorites.