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Symphony X – Iconoclast: Review

Many, such as myself, have been waiting for too long for the Symphony X album to come out. Well good news everyone: Iconoclast is out on June 17! It is available in either one-disc or two-disc format. I listened to the latter and believe me when I say Iconoclast met my expectations, despite the ridiculously high bar set by Symphony X.

The Music (rating: A)

Disc 1

  1. Iconoclast
  2. The End of Innocence
  3. Dehumanized
  4. Bastards of the Machine
  5. Heretic
  6. Children of a Faceless God
  7. When All is Lost

Disc 2

  1. Electric Messiah
  2. Prometheus (I Am Alive)
  3. Light Up the Night
  4. The Lord of Chaos
  5. Reign in Madness

Iconoclast is more like Symphony X’s last effort, Paradise Lost, than anything else they have done. This is of course expected with the gradual progress towards the more metal side of their music which has been taking place for quite some time now. This release is a mere continuation of what is already happening. Iconoclast is heavier and thrashier than much of what the band has done up to this point. The guitar riffs have a definite stronger focus and the vocals have a harsher gruff to them. The epic strings are less dominant and the keyboards feel more toned down here. It is still a progressive-symphonic-power metal album, but the “metal” is the outstanding term.

In all honesty, this is a rather familiar to Symphony X’s scene, especially with relation to Paradise Lost. Still, with Iconoclast, there is a definitive movement towards unexplored territory. But they have only approached the border rather than venturing beyond it. Many fans will be disappointed, but not displeased. This is great music, but at times it feels as though it could be better. The band lost much of the symphonic/neo-classical edge which enriched their music so beautifully in past works. Not only did it make their sound so unique, but it also provided an abundance of substance to their already overflowing music. Without as strong a presence, some of the potential impact with this record is lost. It loses some depth and variety as well as more of its enticing intricate side.

But the roots of the band are surely intact in Iconoclast. They are just branching off in a different direction – a more metal direction. The complexity and tight composition are no doubt present, particularly with the title track. In other albums, there would have been an overlaying orchestral component to the complex intro. Here, they took a more raw, thrash approach and it sounds great.

At times, it seems as though there is too much focus on establishing the more aggressive tone in the music. Consequently, Iconoclast rarely veers from its assigned niche and the variety aspect of the album suffers slightly. It is completely inaccurate to say that the tracks blend even slightly. There are large number of great riffs and fantastic solos, and the vocal lines are gripping and powerful (albeit sometimes sung with shoddy lyrics). But the songs are not as dynamic as they should be due to their metal-shadowing personas. There are no ballad breaks within songs which have proven in the band’s past to empower the metal sections. Most of the tracks are slightly stagnant and do not waver from their metal mindset. They start off metal, continue on metal, and finish off metal. The exceptions are the disc closers (“When All is Lost” and “Reign in Madness”) which use softer parts to strengthen the bursting power of heavy ones. But it clearly with this album, it happens less than it probably should.

Also, it seems as though the vocalist was so focused on his heavier vocal tone and forgot about how amazing the sweet side of it was. In Iconoclast, there are very few times when Allen relents from the gruffness of his voice. Even during the softer parts, rare as they may be, he exemplifies power. Yes, it is power and beauty and emotion, so it technically works. But there is already so much power everywhere in this record, why not add some delicacy to it? There is too little of that. Symphony X is so entranced by t heir darker side (though rightfully so) that they forget about how illuminating their light can be.

It need not be emphasized how strong the instrumentals are, especially on the vocals and guitar front; it seems as though Michael Romeo still has yet to create a less-than-killer guitar solo. Riffs are fantastic and vocals show no signs of regression at all. But even the bass gives great support and some stellar bass licks (like in “Bastards of the Machine”). And the drums hold their ground once again, adding much to the transitioning and accentuation throughout the record. With the keyboards turned down, they do not appeal as much as they do in other albums. Nothing given by the keyboards can rival the gem that is “Paradise Lost”. But all in all, the instruments are of the utmost Symphony X quality.

Now, it may sound like I do not love Iconoclast. But with all the negatives I have brought to light, they are all nitpicked issues. Rest assured they are monstrously outweighed by the positive aspects. The songwriting and instrumental execution meets the expectations that come of Symphony X. And despite the lesser symphonic impact and diversity with the record, there is already so much given that it is near impossible to find fault with it. Fans may instinctively show disdain towards where their sound has arrived at, but they would be most unfortunate to do so. Iconoclast is undoubtedly a Symphony X album; do not underestimate the connotations of that statement.

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