Symphony X – Paradise Lost

Symphony X

You know you are onto a winner (or you are deeply in the shite) when you find an album with Latin title tracks…

I also used to think (back in the days of gate-fold sleeves and Boots ‘the record shop’..) that an album with great cover art sounds better, feels better, behaves better and is all round better-better than an album without great cover art.

This album has got both!

This album proves that prog-rock is alive and well and is living in exile in ‘Neww Joysie’ (say it in a Soprano’s voice and you’ll get it) and that ‘thrash metal’ and even ‘death metal’ have grown up and are now wearing brown cords and hanging around the house smoking a pipe and wearing tartan slippers.

The American neo-classical prog-power metal band Symphony X was founded in 1994 so, just because you haven’t heard of them yet, it don’t mean that they haven’t been round the block (and back, after getting a pack of ciggies and a bottle of Tequila.)

In fact, they have already produced two critically acclaimed albums: The Divine Wings of Tragedy in 1997 and V: The New Mythology Suite in 2000. Some like to compare them to Dream Theater and, it is true, once or twice on Paradise Lost you get a nostalgic feeling you had been here before (regression, perhaps, as if you are playing out scenes from a memory?)

Their music contains strong neo-classical elements and it would be hard not to compare the opening track on Paradise Lost to anything by Carl Orff.

So the album starts off with Carl Orff and the title track is in Latin: Oculus Ex Inferni.
Pretentious or what? Well, I haven’t even started yet! The whole piece is based upon Milton’s epic poem of the same name. This famous poem concerns the Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Man the subsequent temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and resultant expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s work was done in blank verse and put into 12 books (a bit like the Aeneid- you know the epic poem by one of the Tempest brothers- I think it was Virgil.) So it is well ‘arty-farty’- we are talking Arts Foundation Course A101, 102, 103 and 104!

Symphony X’s version of Paradise Lost only goes to 10 tracks (not 12 so they missed a trick) and ‘goes on’ for about 61 minutes ( Milton’s effort takes about a week to read) and the Orff-like opener moves nicely and cleverly into Set The World On Fire- a grungy but orchestral sweeping statement. No light, but rather darkness visible. This, then, is followed by Domination and then, for my money the best track on the album, Serpent’s Kiss.

In these tracks there is power, there is technical brilliance and there is superb musicianship. I like the feeling that good and evil are battling it out on this disc. It actually reminds me of the ‘black’ side of Queen II (for those of you that remember that far back.) For example, you get a harpsichord solo or piano flourish right in the middle of a heavy dark guitar piece. Then you get Russell Allen’s vocals soaring above. The dark-guitar comes courtesy of guitar guru Michael Romeo a Yngwie Malmsteen protege and it shows here.

The album finishes off with Revelation (a bit like the bible.) This is the longest and, probably, the ‘rockiest’ track on the album, going on for a good 6 or more minutes and followed by those softer keyboard solos (reminiscent of ELP) before returning with a vengeance to the grungy horror of death metal guitars. Growling out across the black sky.

All in all, don’t expect this to be an easy listen. Don’t expect to be able to play it to your old grandma whilst she knits you some ear defenders. And don’t expect to really get to know this album in just a day. It will reward you if you take time to really, really listen.

Yes, Paradise Lost is dark and it is haunting. Yes, it is intelligent and it is heavy. Yes, this album has got a first class honours degree in The Dark Arts. Yes, but, do you know what? It is actually very accessible and not far remov’d from God and light of Heav’n.

One of the great albums of the year so far.

Notes:

On the cover is a Mlitonesque Rebel Angel. The fantastic US version of Paradise Lost features a superb foldout and digipack that was designed by Warren Flanagan, who has done art-direction for major motion picture blockbusters such as I Robot, X-Men and Blade. I ordered my copy from the states just to get it!

Founder Symphony X guitarist and composer Michael Romeo llves and works in a Dungeon! It figures.

For more reviews check Adpontes-Staines regularly

Get the Symphony X album here

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