Discussion in 'Music Discussion' started by Night Prowler, Aug 22, 2013.
SX is awesome. Romeo is one of my favourite rhythm players.
I think this is a Monkees cover? It's the one song that I found memorable from the debut album but only because of how annoying it is.
It's definitely their worst album. I own the CD, which I got for the sake of completeness, but didn't bother copying it onto my computer as it turned out to be shit. Symphony X got progressively better over their next few albums, each one building on the good things of its predecessors.
I found the CD at a really good price and passed on it. Normally I jump on Symphony X anything because it’s hard to find around here.
I actually had a bit of a Symphony X/Michael Romeo renaissance over the summer. I was going to write a post about it but never got around to it. Might have some comments about that as this thread goes on.
European tour for you lucky folks! Hopefully this indicates another new album/US tour soon, too!
I've known about some of it for a week now and bought a ticket for the London show today. I hope they do a more balanced setlist than in 2016 and that this tour foreshadows an album.
Fuck off. Nothing closer than Vienna. European Tour my ass.
Take a bus.
The Damnation Game (1995)
1. The Damnation Game - Oh, the relief, that's Russell Allen. Thank goodness. A neat little intro, with the organ-like synth lain under it, this song is another of the early Symphony X songs that sounds like it's ripped right from a Nobuo Uematsu soundtrack. That's not a bad thing, per say, goodness knows I am a huge fan of Uematsu's work, but it does tie quite heavily into the derivative nature of the first two albums. There's a few over-aggressive time changes in this one, but it's grown on me every time I've heard it. Still, I can't go above a 7/10.
2. Dressed to Kill - Neat little rock-like intro, into some oddly off-kilter verses for Russell. Chorus is really good, though, and I suspect this is one that would sound a lot better redone today, or played live. I find myself nodding along to the track as it goes. It wraps up as it starts, and found it never slowed down, but never found that top gear, either. 7/10.
3. The Edge of Forever - The name immediately makes me think of the best episode of the first Star Trek series - The City on the Edge of Forever - and I think it might be intentional. The song seems to mirror Jim Kirk's devastation at realizing the woman he's fallen in love with must die. It's probably not exactly about that episode, but it does make me think about it. I really enjoy this track, I think it's the first time Symphony X deploys what will eventually become their classic sound. Russell is on point, the guitars are starting to evolve from being Ywngie ripoffs, though not quite there yet (especially in the solos). Still, the first song from Symphony X that makes it to the great level. 9/10.*
4. Savage Curtain - Kinda similar to Dressed to Kill in a lot of ways. Nice riff work, but the chorus makes it a little more special, getting some more of those SX harmonies. There's signs of greatness here, but it's not fully arrived yet. 7/10.
5. Whispers - We regress closer to Symphony X on this track. A little better produced, but very much in the vein of the previous album in that it sounds torn off of a Malmsteen album. Russell sounds good here, which pushes it up from a 5 to a 6/10.
6. The Haunting - I like how this one starts, but it feels like it's always building towards a new crescendo, without getting there fully. The bridge/chorus is decent, but again, it feels like it's always ramping, never achieving. It gets a little wanky in the instrumental section; I greatly prefer the verses to the instrumental. I was gonna give it a 7, but a mildly annoying instrumental section is enough to lower it to a 6/10.
7. Secrets - Does the opening of this sound like something from an early Ghost album? It does. That choir-like organ again, I think. It gets into a fun rock riff pretty quickly, though. We hit a couple jarring time changes early on, which I feel is a little unnecessary. I'm not against time changes at all - I'm a freaking Iron Maiden fan - but these early SX albums you can hear the time change, there's always a beat of near-silence when it happens. Keyboard solo! 7/10.
8. A Winter's Dream: Prelude, Pt. I - In the future, this would just be part of the damn song. It's clearly designed to set a mood, but the fact that it's a different track from the main body of A Winter's Dream indicates that SX was a little embarrassed by it. I like it enough, but it feels a little unnecessary, especially since it's just Russell singing us to sleep, which is weird enough a concept, but hey. 6/10.
9. A Winter's Dream: The Ascension, Pt. II - It doesn't feel like sitting through the previous song was worth this. It's not a bad track, Russell sounds good, and it does have more of what will become the Symphony X sound on it. The chorus hits the right notes, I think, but does it get all the way there? Like I've said on a few other tracks, this song has another gear available but never gets there. It's as if the band knew they reached too far on Symphony X and decided not to reach so far here. 7/10.
Final score: 69%
* this song was added to my "Greatest Hits" playlist that stays on my phone at all time. A globally recognized mark of excellence.
Obviously an improvement but still quite rough. Symphony X's first release tried too hard; this release scaled the band back in many places, leaving it with only one great song when the building blocks for one or two more high level tracks certainly exist. You can hear the classic SX sound really starting here, though. Of the first two albums, I've only found one song I really loved, and I would imagine people bail on the band hard if they start with these two albums. This is clearly a band for which the best is yet to come. Although some of these tracks would benefit from being remade today, I think the impact is less on this album. Like I said, this album didn't try to reach as far as the previous one. This album could be rewritten by today's band, though, and likely it would have several true classics on it.
I'm taking up the flame, too! Running a bit behind @LooseCannon, but I'll try to keep up.
Symphony X (1994)
1. Into the Dementia: This is not a song, and it really does nothing to introduce the band. Sure, it has some atmosphere, some keyboard, and a ton of Michael Romeo, but it's not particularly memorable or impressive beyond being a flurry of notes. The band will do much better intros in the future. 2/10
2. The Raging Seasons: Riffing onto the scene like a true SX song, this one really gives you an idea of what the band will sound like. The production is incredibly dated, but not terrible, even if the lead guitar tone is very muddy. It is readily apparent that Rod Tyler is just not up to snuff. He's not the worst debut singer in metal band history, but he lacks the gravitas and power that Romeo needs. The bridge is terrible, vocally and instrumentally, despite some intense guitar and keyboard parts. Every time Rod starts singing the song gets worse. There are a lot of ideas here that will be perfected far later. Dedicated SX fans: am I crazy or is the initial vocal melody/lyric in the first verse used in a later song in the discography? 4/10
3. Premonition: Now this starts like a classic SX epic. Pinnella's piano intro is nice and it builds well too, especially to that signature polyrhythm bass and drum groove over a light keyboard motif. The transition into the meat of the song is not great. Rod drags it down again. Romeo's delay pedal, sounds-like-rain-falling clean patterns appear for the first time! The transition into the chorus is ham-fisted as hell. Why are the backing vocals SO LOUD? The vocal melodies, lyrics, and musical transitions are pretty poor here, but this is a better song than the first two. I actually enjoy the vocal bridge into the melodic solo section. 5/10
4. Masquerade: I'm very familiar with this song because of the superior Russell Allen version, but even this one rocks decently. It's full-on neoclassical madness from start to finish, but it works to a certain, cheesy degree. Rod sounds really terrible, but the drive of the music overshadows him pushing far too hard on those ending phrase notes. I don't know why I enjoy this song, but I do. Thomas Miller's bass playing is astounding from tone to speed to phrasing. Minus a point for Rod's performance. 6/10
5. Absinthe and Rue: Another neoclassical harpsichord intro! Did you know this band likes classical music? Musically this is probably the strongest track on the album. It's incredibly proggy, but very powerful. The band is really tight here and the transitions, though occasionally odd, all work. There's some really nice playing from Jason Rullo in those verses. Despite being a little clunky, I think this song would really work with Russell Allen. With Rod Tyler, however, it's subpar. The instrumental bridge is really weird, but it apes a riff from Mother Russia, so I dig it. Plus, bass harmonics! Miller's a beast on the bass, makes me wish he never left the band. I think this song has the most potential for being re-recorded at some point with Russell (although that time has long passed). The ending is stupid, though. 7/10
6. Shades of Grey: I remember, back when there was a Symphony X message board, this song was essentially the meme de jour every day. The chorus is so atrocious, so poorly conceived and performed that it physically hurts. It's sad, because the verses are not bad and Rod does not sound bad. Sure, he sounds like a character in a South Park musical, but that's better than the rest of his album performance. There's a lot of cool musical stuff in this song and the mood is nice, until that godawful chorus returns. Fading out on that part just solidifies Shades of Grey as one of the worst songs in the Symphony X catalogue. 2/10
7. Taunting the Notorious: More Yngwie! This song is boring. There's nothing terrible about it, it just does nothing and sounds like someone throwing bricks around a mud pit. Too much musical movement, not enough diction. Rod sounds lame, but actually tolerable. He shows some real power on this track. This should be notable for having a really cool solo section that includes radical bass, keyboard unisons, and some neat guitar work. 5/10
8. Rapture or Pain: I like the intro of this song, it's interesting and driving. There's a darkness to this tune that Romeo will revisit on later songs. Unfortunately, this might be Rod's worst performance. The melodies aren't good to begin with, but his cabaret theatre singing and over enunciation kill the mood. 4/10
9. Thorns of Sorrow: Another nice, dramatic intro that does not live up to the hype. As with the rest of the album, Romeo will write all of these songs again, but better and with Russell Allen. This chorus is super lame. 3/10
10. A Lesson Before Dying: The first attempt at a true epic and it's not incredibly successful. Nice intro guitar, but the vocals are crammed and poorly constructed (plus Rod can't sing them). His choice to incorporate a Middle-Eastern style vocal run into a song based on a profoundly American novel is beyond me. There's another shift to major key in the first third of this song that I'm incredibly thankful Romeo will abandon in his future songwriting. I do really love the spidery guitar work around 2:45. Rod's vocals during the acoustic-driven midpoint are truly atrocious. I get very bored with this song, honestly. Nothing grabs my attention until the bass and drum groove breaks in at 6:45. Miller really was quite something. His timing and counter-play with Rullo is incredible. This rhythm section is the unsung hero of the album. We do have our first appearance of the atonal BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM section in this song that Romeo should trademark because he uses it so often in the future. Anyway, ALBD is not memorable and has bad transitions and is long just for the sake of being long. It's kind of a giant mess. There's great playing all around and some very cool riffs and leads, but it lacks cohesion. 5/10
Album rating: 4.3/10
Hold on, let me get you a link to the primary source:
The Damnation Game (1995)
1. The Damnation Game -
From the first notes it is clear that Symphony X have leveled up. The sound is better, the riffing is tighter, the layers make more sense, even that bass fill is perfectly timed! Sure, this song is purely neoclassical shred, but it's incredibly driving. There's some nice little guitar melodies thrown in between the flurry of solo notes that really add to the sonic dimension. Russell Allen's introduction is a godsend. His voice is the ultimate power-up. With a lesser singer *cough* Rod Tyler *cough* some of these vocal melodies would not work, but Russell pulls it off without a hitch. Some of the choir vocals are glaring, but they are mixed far better than on the debut. Romeo and Pinnella's solo battle is a nice shredfest that culminates in a pure neoclassical unison. This is a 7/10 song, but those last thirty seconds (and Russell's performance in particular) level it up. 8/10
2. Dressed to Kill -
Am I crazy or is this song mixed quieter than the rest of the tunes here? The intro should be punchier. Anyway, it's a fine intro with some more double bass, but thankfully we get a slight change of pace before the chorus. I love the shifting drum and bass lines underneath the steady guitar chugging and how it builds up before bringing it into a cool groove for the verse. Romeo and Russell bring a gravitas to this song that was missing from both the previous track and the previous album. There's a weight to this song, an inkling of things to come. The chorus is big and even a bit catchy! I love the breakdown that leads into the solo section, it is unexpected and yet works perfectly. The transitions are classic Symphony X and prove that transitions won't always be the downfall of a SX song. This is a damn good tune that ends nicely. 9/10
3. The Edge of Forever -
We have arrived. The first of many classic Symphony X songs. From the beautiful, understated intro to the giant chorus to the epic scope, "The Edge of Forever" is a masterpiece. I love the drum and bass interplay as it builds up around the guitar parts. Pinnella's angelic keyboard work and piano lines enhance the first musical section to god-like territory. Thomas Miller's bass work should sound excessive, but it all flows into the whole. Listen to this song 5 times in a row and pick a different instrument to focus on each time and you'll have a brilliant experience. The dynamics, the melodies, the performances, the incredibly long wait to get to the chorus that is so intensely worth it...I adore this song. The guitar wanking transition into the chorus is silly, but becomes pure genius when doubled by the bass. I think the placement of this song speaks to the quality: this should have ended the album, but it is so strong that it needs to make a statement as track three. Creating an epic this solid on their second album is just impressive as hell. It would be like hearing "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" on Killers. 10/10
4. Savage Curtain -
Of course, there is nowhere to go but down from the previous song and boy do we go down. Sure, there's good playing, once again Romeo and Miller showing off like a couple of masters, but the overall piece is a mess. The vocal melodies are atrocious and obviously not written by a singer. Russell can't add very much to this. It's the closest this record gets to sounding like the debut (including Rod Tyler's performance). The musicianship carries this, but it's the weakest composition here. The ending is literally just a clusterfuck of notes. 5/10
5. Whispers -
We dip into a bit of power ballad territory on "Whispers." It's not the band's finest hour, but thankfully it's better than "Shades of Grey." The musicians relax a bit here, allowing Russell to take the spotlight and he really does sing the hell out of it. There's a couple incredible vocal layers (specifically "And I'll die another death!"). It's nice to hear the band embracing subtlety with Romeo having a nice, mostly melodic solo. It's about as restrained as Symphony X can be and it's all very pretty. I don't love this song, but I do love the tone. 7/10
6. The Haunting -
The intro is definitely haunting and possibly the best part of the song. It's nice to hear the piano in the forefront and Romeo providing texture. Of course this doesn't last long before Romeo literally takes center stage, but the keyboards continue to add wonderful stuff throughout this track. Once again, Russell has to struggle a little bit to show off over some rather clunky vocal melodies, but it's not bad. The individual parts are all solid, they just don't work together very well. A weak chorus also doesn't help. 6/10
7. Secrets -
Another spooky organ intro lead by drums and bass. There's definitely a lack of variety going on here. The main riff of this song certainly has more of a hook than the previous song, but Russell doesn't sound entirely invested in his delivery (the weird vocal FX don't help). Some more clunky transitions carry us around the different sections of this tune, but I do truly like the tail of the chorus. It's mildly choral, pretty catchy, and dovetails nicely back into the guitar riffing. The lyrics are a cheese factory. I do love Russell's Dio impression that leads into the bridge. Romeo's first solo is very nice and classical, plus there's a keyboard duel! 7/10
8. A Winter's Dream: Prelude, Pt. I / 9. A Winter's Dream: The Ascension, Pt. II -
I don't care what the tracklist says, this is one song. I love Pt. I and I think it intros quite nicely to the heaviness in Pt. II. Russell singing this peacefully (and in falsetto) is incredibly rare for the band. He sounds wonderful and the whole piece creates a lovely, dare I say "wintery", mood. I would say the first part might be a little too long considering the relative shortness of the second, but I still quite enjoy it. Russell's vocals throughout this song really showcase his whole range. None of the twists and turns are huge, but they work nicely. There is definitely a sense of things to come on this song, it feels like it's reaching for something that it can't quite get but that Romeo will attempt to reach later on tracks like "Through the Looking Glass". I really like this song. It would have made a better track 3 or 4, though, with "The Edge of Forever" closing the album. 9/10
Final score: 7.6/10
Yeah I just don't think I liked The Damnation Game as much as you seem to. That's fine, of course. For me, it's still not a great album, but it's at least palatable. It starts to get really good now though.
Damnation Game is great. The first three tracks alone could go up against any other three song run as far as I’m concerned. Winter’s Dream is pretty straightforward but still very melodic and enjoyable. Nice guitar solo too, even if it’s only like 8 bars or whatever. Some of the other songs are forgotten gems in the Symphony X catalog. Secrets is my pick of the bunch, with an awesome keyboard/guitar duel. The only song I don’t really care for is The Haunting.
Awesome shredding, awesome vocals, awesome songs, awesome Baroque-era harpsichord.
That's not surprising, I am a massive Symphony X fans and I grew up with these albums. They have sentimental and inspirational value to me beyond what I get from most artists. Russell Allen is my favorite vocalist and I consider him to have the perfect voice for metal. Literally anything he sings on will probably get an extra point from me. I would not be surprised if my ratings are higher than you on SX's material across the board, even on the material you love.
The next five albums are truly better, though. Possibly my favorite run of quality in all of metal.
The Baroque influence is so strong here and I love it. It's a little dated and they move away from this pretty quickly, but it's a nice little gem in the Symphony X crown.
The first three songs are so strong in my book because each one gets better. Most albums hit so hard with the first two songs and then mellow out a bit. This certainly does that (i.e. each song gets less intense), but the quality continues to go up on each track. It makes the track four drop-off hit that much harder.
I also really like Secrets. It's a true guilty pleasure/overlooked tune in my book. The lyrics really are bad, though.
Symphony X Story Time
In either 2007 or 2008, SX played my home town at a venue 5 mins from my house. @Detective Beauregard and I were there along with another member of the old Symphony X message board. I'm pretty sure that they played Masquerade, Through the Looking Glass, and Revelation into The Divine Wings of Tragedy that night. Yet, this fuckin' guy from the boards wouldn't shut up about how they need to play more old material (even though this was the Paradise Lost tour). He would never stop, he said, until they played The Edge of Forever. That night, we hung around the tour bus and ended up talking to Lepond for awhile (he was awesome), Rullo (he got mad at the guy for telling him how to build the setlist), and we literally chatted with Russell for an hour.
Now, Russell was the coolest dude ever. We talked about Kansas and Lynyrd Skynyrd, how boring golf is, and a whole bunch of other random crap I can't remember. It was the coolest band interaction I've ever had. And yet, this fuckin' guy was still saying, "You should play The Edge of Forever!" Rullo's response previously was just, "We tried it, it didn't work live." Russell, however, had a very personal take. He said that when they recorded The Damnation Game he had barely been in the band a month or something. He really had nothing to do with the melodies or the lyrics and essentially read all the words off a page during the recording (making his performance all that much more impressive IMO). Thus, he has never had much of a connection with those songs and it's harder for him to perform them due to the emotional disconnect. He also made light of the fact that Lepond wasn't on that album either (which is kind of silly considering Lepond wasn't on any record until V). I fully understand his reasoning and I could also imagine songs like Edge of Forever or Winter's Dream not receiving great live receptions, especially since they moved into a heavier territory.
That said, I'd still love to hear The Edge of Forever live.
I've actually been listening to (almost) only SX over the last two weeks, so I am quite familiar with the stuff coming up, and my reviews are not "one listen reviews". I'm really looking forward to reviewing the next few albums, a couple of which are absolute all time greats.
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