Let's face it, Russell singing a geology textbook would be infinitely deeper than any of the "Allen/......." albums that exist.Overall, this is a fun, aggressive tune and an outstanding showcase of Sir Russell's talent. A few of you mentioned that he seemed to struggle here, but I didn't hear it. I also don't focus on vocals as much as most do, since I see them as just another instrument. I don't know what the lyrics are about, but let's be honest - Russell could sing a geology textbook and we'd all still be in awe.
Also, the album's liner notes state that the entire band performs backing vocals, so those choirs are more authentic than I thought.
I think without that (admittedly too brief) pre-chorus the song would be very one-dimensional. That shot groove adds a nice layer.Verse is OK-ish I guess, but that bridge is a thumb down. I'm not really a fan of breaking the tempo that quickly without any pay-off (back-vocals are nice, tho). I agree that the chorus is a bit of mouth-full. Also, I'd like it more if they just skipped that bridge and went straight into chorus (IMO, it would serve better in this short-rocker). That short manic piano sound after first chorus is a thumb up.
First part of guitar solo and first synth solo is like they've done their homework (not in a positive way). "Look at all these scales and perfectly aligned same-duration notes we made!". Lacks some emotion at least. And about the ending - that really is some great groove but I just can't shake that Russell's thing at the very end. Is it grunting? Speaking? Whatever, you have a voice, you used it in the outro, just end it, man. Less is more.
However, this is a much better album opener comparing to the previous one. (Also, the next song started playing and I must admit, production on that one sounds much better. Will this album be like debut album where every song has its own mastering politics?)
this was better than I expected given all the negative comments I’d seen about the debut.
With a review like this, you are bound to love the later material! It’s awesome to see someone going through this discography for the first time.Gotta play catch-up, so here’s my first-listen hot take:
Symphony X - Symphony X (1994)
- Into The Dementia - A reasonably haunting intro that gives way to blues-tinted neoclassical noodling that completely apes Yngwie’s tone and style. The production isn’t very good. Gets the job done satisfactorily, 6/10.
- The Raging Season - OK riffage. The singer is amateurish, but I’ve heard worse. Ew, those vocal harmonies are not good. The pre-chorus vocal line is pretty good, but that chorus is not working for me at all. Well, that bridge certainly thinks it’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but you, sir, are no “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The interlude’s pretty cool, and I like the quick outro. Mixed bag, but more good than bad. 6/10.
- Premonition - Nice piano opening, and I like the rhythmic play after the synths come in. Nice clean guitar and piano bit. Good vocal line on the verse and I love that effervescent guitar going on in the background. I like the change in feel for the all-too-brief pre-chorus, and then the chorus has a pretty good vocal melody, but poorly executed backing vocals. Mmm, harpsichord. Mmm, sweet legato neoclassical soloing. Cool outro. Well, that was better — let’s say a solid 7/10.
- Masquerade - Mmm, pipe organ. Sweet neoclassical soloing. Oh, sweet, the pipe organ is staying in it to win it! The vocal lines aren’t working for me here, but the guitar fills are sweet, and I like the way the pre-chorus changes things up. Oh, fuck yes on that pipe organ and guitar interlude, and on the extended solo afterward. Love the descending riff under the second part of the solo. The music on this track is great, but the weaker vocal parts drag it down to a 7/10.
- Absinthe And Rue - Cool haunting opening. Love the complex riff that follows. Not as enamored of the verse riff, or of any of the vocals here, and the syrupy chorus is the pits. The little staccato interlude is OK, but the smooth interlude that follows is great, as is the heavier interlude and solo section that follow on from there. Hmm, that outro feels out of place. Well, I was going to go lower, but the instrumental sections on this are so good that I think this one clings onto a 7/10.
- Shades Of Grey - Nice opening, great verse melody. The chorus feels a bit cheesy. Hmm, “The Camera Eye” called and would like its interlude back. Another strong verse, and an OK pre-chorus appears before returning to that somewhat cheesy chorus. Really nice solo section. Ew, modulating the chorus did not help matters. Another mixed bag, probably lands at a 6/10 overall.
- Taunting The Notorious - Nice intro, nice guitar/bass tradeoff solo. Otherwise a solid but not particularly impressive rocker. 6/10.
- Rapture Or Pain - I like the challenging rhythm on the guitar line, and the accompanying drumming. Some nice change-ups on the way to the verse. The verse and pre-chorus vocals aren’t the best (though the pre-chorus guitar fills are sweet), but this is probably the most successful chorus of the album so far. Mmm, harpsichord and harmonized guitars. I think the good parts are good enough to hold onto a 7/10 here.
- Thorns Of Sorrow - Sweet guitar and pipe organ tradeoff intro. Nice driving riff with organ accompaniment. Solid verse. Nice change in feel on the pre-chorus, though it doesn’t totally come together, and then the chorus has backing vocal issues again. The extended vocal harmony bit later on is interesting, but feels like it belongs in a different song. Nice guitar and synth tradeoff solo. Probably does enough to earn a 7/10.
- A Lesson Before Dying - Nice acoustic opening, strong verse vocal and pre-chorus. The group vocal that follows isn’t quite as successful, but it’s not bad. Pretty good interlude that gets much cooler when the piano and guitar start trading off. This eventually leads into a somewhat cheesy chorus. Ooh, the acoustic bridge after the second chorus is very good, and the harmonized vocal bit crescendos nicely. The jazzy interlude that follows is cool, as is the queasy, crunchier bit after that. Lots of neat instrumental sections keep coming, though the synth-heavy ones verge on carnival music in spots. The final chorus is more successful than the previous ones. Nice, exotic-feeling outro. The music is mostly great and the vocals are mostly successful here, so I think I can round this up to an 8/10.
Mostly OK-to-good with a pretty great finale. The singer isn’t the best, but when he’s delivering well he reminds me of Michael Vescera, which is probably appropriate because Vescera was Yngwie’s vocalist at the time...LOL.
The production could be better, and the backing vocals are often cringey, but this was better than I expected given all the negative comments I’d seen about the debut.
I put all of these albums in the same category: interesting, but unmemorable and not very good. Kamelot’s is the most interesting because it still featured Roy Khan (and is technically their third album)! He just doesn’t fit with the band yet at all because the band didn’t really know what it was (identity crisis is kind of something Kamelot has always struggled with).I agree that it's not as bad as even I sometimes make it look - honestly, if I got into Symph X chronologically and first heard the debut, I'd probably be fine with that, it's more like the rest of their discography is just so much better I don't see the reason to return to this. What I want from the band, the others do better. I like DT's When Dream and Day Unite much more and I still listen to that one once in a blue moon (though slightly more often than this one). On the other hand Kamelot's Siege Perilous, which is also widely disliked, I love anyway even though I came across it after I'd already heard most of their latter, greater work, so I guess it's either me being weird again or even those "early, best forgotten" albums by various bands have a hierarchy of their own.
- that final Russell's attempt at "soul" at 4:05 and beyond, including the very last vocal lines... no, just no. Sorry, but... NO.
The song closes with a heavier section after the third chorus reprise, and it's cool and all, but Russell's "damn... damn... damn...nation game!" ought to be a meme. It sounds hilariously off. I love you Russ, but no.
Dressed to Kill
The first really memorable song on the album, it was also the first to get a bit tired of. The intro riff is great, in fact I really like the whole progression leading to the first verse (with the keys giving this almost church-bells aura to the last part thereof) and I really like Romeo's solo full of blooozy feelings and their following "Burnish unison" (you know what I'm talking about).
The more I listen to it, the more I think that the strongest part of this song is the intro. It sets the template for a lot of the dynamic riffs and rhythm section interplay the band will do in the future.Okay but now we're really getting somewhere. The intro to "Dressed to Kill" is fucking awesome. Romeo's riff is cool as hell, and Pinnella and Rullo gradually add in synths and drums to create a nice shade for the song. As the riff gets further backing those synths really add layers to the overall vibe. It really sounds like a rider traversing Arabia, and then when it changes and goes into that chugging section it's as if he's finally arrived, under the cloak of night, at the town he's been looking for. And god that chug is literally my shit. The way Romeo keeps building up in intensity is awesome.
You're not even wrong, but it's still just really funny to me. Don't worry, pretty soon I'll be doing a lot more praising of his little soulful ad libs. This is just an early attempt at them that doesn't quite work - although I honestly wouldn't take it out because again, it's so funny.Alright, I’m not gonna say it’s great, but I do think this is the first moment where we hear Russell and not just some guy singing for Michael Romeo’s band.
Dream Theater can afford to take more risks because they are a much more popular band, and a lot of their fans are "lifers" who will eat up anything they play. Conversely, Kamelot and (especially) Symphony X won't take the risk of playing what they believe isn't their catchiest material for fear of missing out on grabbing a new audience. It's why 90% of a typical Symphony X set is from their last three albums. While this is true of Kamelot, as well, at least Symphony X's recent material (while different from their previous works) is still good.The confidence in said material is also an interesting study: Symphony X and Kamelot never even reference these songs anymore (almost like they didn’t exist), whereas Dream Theater played songs from WDADU forever live.
Dressed to Kill is a massive improvement over the opening track - and I like the opening track! This song is only slightly slower, but it's groovier and more powerful overall. I would even include this amongst my favorite "rockers" of the band's early years.
- I love the verses in this song, as they have a haunting tone with the eerie strings in the background. I also love the vocal melodies, which as @Diesel 11 pointed out, contain an Eastern feel. Russell just sounds so damn good here! This verse is in Cm, and while it would have made a ton of sense for Thomas Miller to have used the 5-string here for depth, I don't think he did.
- The chorus, while not outright catchy, is loads stronger than the previous track's. What stands out to me the most here is the overall power in Russell's voice - something that's amplified when it modulates a step and a half up on the third and fifth occurrences (from Fm to Abm). I think this modulation should have been saved until the end of the song for the "omg is he really hitting those notes?!" factor, but it's not a huge deal.
- Romeo's harmonizing of himself in the next section is cool, but notable to me for containing another modulation - this time of the intro's harmonic minor motif, from Ebm to Cm.
- The second verse is just as interesting as the first (the harmonies on those melodies are delightful) - but now it's in Dm. Symphony X loves to modulate like it's going out of style, and I love them all the more for it. After I started listening to them on a regular basis, I'd get bored halfway through other bands' songs that tiredly drone on and on in the same key. I've been spoiled.
- The interlude brings the harmonic minor motif back, this time in Gm.
“The Damnation Game”:
This song is OK-to-good. The pre-chorus phrasing is kind of awkward, and not all of the parts work, but large sections of it are quite good. Let’s say a robust 6/10.
“Dressed To Kill”:
The second verse seems to work better, and the pre-chorus is surprising and pretty cool with the backing vocals. Hmm, I’m not sure that chorus modulation was necessary, but that final held vocal note is pretty impressive.
Well, that was solidly good with only a few minor blemishes — let’s say 7/10.
The fast songs on this record (and some that follow) are definitely that. I think Russell comes into his voice a lot on the next few albums and quickly becomes way more than a Dio clone, unlike someone like Jorn Lande who just rode that clone town to bone town. What? IDK. Bye.Symphony X is pretty much just Ronnie James Dio joining Yngwie Malmsteen for prog metal, so that seems like much of it is up your alley! Your score for "The Damnation Game" is exactly my own.
For sure. Russell has way more soul than Dio. Dio is always think of as a spider spinning webs in front of your eyes to tell his stories. Russell is power and passion incarnate.I think Russell comes into his voice a lot on the next few albums and quickly becomes way more than a Dio clone
I literally cropped this line out and sent it to my girlfriend. This is exactly what I try to get across when I hear something I like. Nightwish and Symphony X both like to do these riffs and have a high guitar thingy come out of nowhere and I have no idea what it's called but it's like juggajuggajuggajuWOOOEEEEbumbunnabumbunnabumWOOOOIIIIdundunna and they both like to drop the instruments out and let the heavy ass guitar have some breathing room and I have no idea if that's actual musical skill or just showing up but it's like, goddamn smash that shit right into my skull bro.Everything breaks down to Romeo's chugging guitar and Pinnella's piano ushers us into the real drive of the song. God, I love this shit. I'd mainline it like heroin. Fuck the heroin, just give me this song.
Wow, it's almost like you've forgotten that "Shades of Grey" exists.This is definitely the band's first truly strong chorus.
Yes, yes!!! Goddamn you are spitting fire today. This is exactly what I've concluded about Rullo except not so well expressed. When I first listened to Symphony X I literally could give less of a shit that he wasn't on Twilight in Olympus. LC was all "thank GOD Rullo has returned" in his V review and I was thinking, "Okay. Yeah. Good."considering Rullo is beyond awesome throughout this entire track. I don't talk about him enough because he's so well-integrated into the song that he doesn't shift my focus (a la Portnoy). Love that guy.