Well, we're having a freak snowstorm in mid-April, so why not finish the Symphony X catalogue?
1. Overture - A solid, if unspectacular intro track. We've come to expect these orchestral openers from Symphony X and this fits the bill but doesn't break any new ground. 7/10
2. Nevermore - The riffs hit hard and fast and it feels like we're destined for another Iconoclast outing. Russell sings in a lower range with less anger and hits some really cool pre-chorus highs. The chorus is big, uplifting with some great melodic vocals. I'm not sold on Russell's tone - it sounds thinner than before (probably due to age). The whole band is a synchronized unit here, moving as one giant, serpentine behemoth. It's easy to get lost in the amped up, constant motion of the instrumentals. The bridge kind of sounds like "Wicked" at 20 bmp faster. Romeo's solo is good, although I think I've heard it before. The second solo is particularly nice, sliding between blues and neoclassical. I really love the way the song opens up in that last minute, with Romeo jamming out before pummeling with that main riff again. A decent tune. 8/10
3. Underworld - Bass slide! Cheesy synths! Sounds like a fighter walking into the ring. There's more layers to this song right off the bat and it's a nice change. Russell's in pure aggro form but he sounds awesome. The vocals during the first pre-chorus might be his heaviest tone ever, but for some reason I love it. When he says "demons of death" and "last dying breath" it sounds positively devilish. Then out of nowhere we get two giant, sweeping melodic vocal sections with a 6/8 chorus - it's a lovely change from the pure aggression of the previous sections of the song. When Russell says "dark skies" all I can hear is Klaus Meine from Scorpions. Romeo shreds another solo and thank fucking Dio we get a keyboard solo! I was beginning to think this would be another album devoid of true Pinnella, but we get some classic SX keyboard work here (and in the background of the pre-chorus). The ending might be the heaviest vocal Russell Allen will ever produce. If Iconoclast had this much variation it would've been far superior. 10/10
4. Without You - A beautiful little ballad unlike any we've previously heard from the band. It has elements of the earlier, lighter SX fare, but it's much groovier, simpler, and more emotionally resonant. The drum and bass groove during the verses is like nothing I ever expected to hear from this band. The chorus is anthemic and Russell's clean singing throughout sounds wonderful. Is this Romeo's most restrained playing of all time? Even the solo is more emotional and restrained than usual (as much as is possible with MJR). The FX-laden bridge with the piano and heavier bass groove is lovely. It's nice to hear this band pulling back and opening up for some beauty in the music again. Russell goes full Dio in the bridge, complete with sounding a little improvised. I should dislike this song. I should call it, "Symphony X attempting a lame radio ballad," but, it works. 9/10
5. Kiss of Fire - From darkness into light...some of Rullo's heaviest work ever combined with a purely chaotic riff from Romeo. This song kicks off like a fucking demon. Lepond's bass fills during the main riff and the heavy chugging to start the verses sounds incredible. From start to finish this song just rips my face apart. I think this one reminds me of Paradise Lost the most: we've got pummeling riffs, Gregorian chants, and Russell hitting a fucking wicked high note during the chorus. Does it get a little lame? Absolutely, but they own that lameness. Everything about Russell's performance here sounds like he's having fun. It's great. The big musical pause before the 808 drop at 2:40 and the entire subsequent section is just brutal. Romeo's solo is on fire here again. I love Russell's final "rise" followed by the chanting outro and Pinnella's ludicrously prominent strings. +1 for no fade out! 10/10
6. Charon - I'm not in love with the main riff of this one (it sounds a little like paint-by-numbers Romeo writing), but it all gets so much better when the verse starts. The slinking, groovy section is wonderful, even if Russell's vocal melodies are strange throughout. I don't know if I love or hate the sliding notes in the pre-chorus and chorus. The music is certainly hinting at classic V-style songwriting, but the vocals have a bizarre structure to them. I do love the open swing feel of the chorus with Lepond's jazzy bass walks and the synchronized vocal/drum hits in which it culminates. Romeo's solos are a thing of beauty here, even if one of them should be a keyboard solo (share the spotlight, jerk!). The more I've listened to this one over the years the more I like it. It's vibe is unlike anything else. The outro might be the coolest musical moment on the whole album. 10/10*
7. To Hell and Back - The intro promises a return to the magic, sweeping, epic sound of years gone by. Does the song live up to it? No. Does the song live up to it as well as I think modern Symphony X can possibly live up to it? Yeah, probably. We hit the vocals a little quickly, but thankfully those vocals are fucking amazing. I love the timing of the verses. In fact, I really love everything Russell does in this song. He's using every part of his range and tone to sublime effect. The chorus is nice, Romeo's hitting all those bluesy leads again, and the keyboard layers in the bridge are nice. Some of the transitions are a little clunky, but that's to be expected since they've been writing more straightforward material for the last two albums. Russell's "no quarter given" is very catchy, especially with Lepond's subsequent bass fill. Also, another keyboard solo! I wouldn't put this one in the true "epic" category, but it's an awesome longer song. The ending is masterful. Pinnella wins this round. 10/10
8. In My Darkest Hour - A pretty average riff here, but it moves quickly into a quiet, bass-driven verse. The lyrics are a cheese fest of leftover Judas Priest song titles, but for some reason I really, really like it. I think the pre-chorus and chorus are just stupidly catchy. Romeo's solo also has some tasty, memorable licks. I feel like this song was written during a Saturday night hangout after a long D&D game. You can hear Russell's joy. 9/10
9. Run With the Devil - The blues continues here, albeit in a more frenzied, vaguely neoclassical fashion. The verses are clunky and Russell's vocals sound really weird - under/overproduced? They're very thin. Most of this tune sounds like a classic rock song ft. Michael Romeo and Jason Rullo. I'm pretty sure Lepond is doubling that guitar riff and that's fucking insanity. It's not a great song, but again: it's fun! 7/10
10. Swan Song - The piano is lovely, but it's so rushed. We just crash right into it with no buildup, no emotional climb...the listener is just shoved into a verse. It's super awkward. I feel like there was a long intro that was cut "for time". This arrangement reeks of pop sensibility more than anything else on the last two albums. It's a shame too, because musically this is the most classic SX track on the album. Raw piano, slinky bass fills, Russell in his best clean range, a chorus with low vocals a la "Paradise Lost", a light touch on the musicality: it's all here, it's just too muted and too heavily edited. The solo section is gorgeously sparse and Romeo channels his inner Satriani with some start-stop bluesy passages. This is a good song, but I just can't love it the way I think they intended. 9/10
11. Legend - We come to our closing track with riffs straight out of a video game and some nice drum/bass syncopation. Melodically, this song is a treat. It takes the emotional approach of older tunes and applies it to a modern SX song structure. Russell sounds splendid. We get our third sliding "ooooooh" section on the album, and that's a little too much, but thankfully the chorus is a massive slab of epic, powerful cheese. Pinnella's keyboards are raging throughout this whole track and it's a giant release for the album. We're finally given the ludicrous amount of keyboards we crave! The quiet chorus before the final musical ascension is a thing of beauty. It ends abruptly and I couldn't be happier. Possibly the best song on the album. 10/10
Album Rating - 9.0/10
Even when this album is absurdly heavy or aggressive, it sounds like the band is having fun. It's not robotic, it's not overly repetitive, it has emotional scope, it's a truly solid Symphony X offering. Is it Divine Wings, V, or Odyssey good? Not at all. But, in judging these songs on their own, it's really enjoyable. I like this album a lot. If this is the future of Symphony X, I'll take it a million times over Iconoclast.
*this was easily the weakest song on the Underworld tour. I don't think it translates well as a live song and that's what they've been writing for on the past three albums. I'll bet we never hear it live again.