Dream Theater is beginning to stagnate. Queensrÿche has jumped the shark. Nobody even knows what Devin Townsend is on anymore. In fact, it would certainly seem that Symphony X is one of the gracious few progressive metal acts that's actually been getting better as of late. While The Divine Wings of Tragedy or V: The New Mythology Suite will always have their proponents, no one can deny that the quality of their newer albums has been steadily on the rise. This is especially true with the release of Paradise Lost in 2007, arguably their best album to date.
And what's amazing is that their two-disc opus Iconoclast has actually exceeded what were already high expectations for a follow-up. A loose concept album about the future rise of the machines against mankind, the album showcases some of Symphony X's best material of their career. Though certainly some of tracks are better than others, there are absolutely no bad songs to be found on either disc. The entire album is a smorgasbord of wonderful material.
Part of the reason for this is the fact that Symphony X has toned down their neo-classical influences just a touch. While it may be the perfect stylistic choice for exploring ancient mythology and epic poetry, neo-classical metal doesn't immediately seem like the appropriate genre for music about the futuristic machine-led apocalypse. They haven't changed their style drastically, but they've changed it enough to fit in thematically with their concept, and the result of such a small change has a noticeable impact on the quality of the album.
That doesn't mean that Symphony X have gotten any less intense, mind you. “Dehumanized” has some of Symphony X's heaviest riffing in a long time, sporting a main riff that wouldn't sound out of place in djent. The opening track “Iconoclast” is also one of the best single tracks of their career, powering on for ten minutes without ever losing steam. Of course, the more straightforward tracks like “The End of Innocence” or “Prometheus (I Am Alive)” will also satisfy anyone looking for some intense, compact power metal. And I'd daresay that the disc one closer “When All is Lost” is one of the strongest tracks of Symphony X's career, proving that they can still ballad with the best of them.
If we really want to pick nits, then I could complain about some of the lyrics. I know Symphony X has every right to use vulgar words as much as anyone else, but I won't lie, they can't really pull it off well. Both “Bastards of the Machine” and “Dehumanized” toe the fine line between 'awesome' and 'trying too hard to be edgy.' For some reason I cannot listen to Russell Allen singing “Hit the switch - you son of a bitch” without chortling aloud. But again, this is just splitting hairs for criticism, and definitely doesn't noticeably lower the quality of the album.
In addition to the extended version of Iconoclast the band intended to release, there is a single disc version as well. The shorter version of the album omits a few tracks and rearranges the track order around to make the album feel a bit more structured. Though the double album version is far superior, both versions of the album are nonetheless excellent. I wouldn't recommend buying it a second time if you happened to get the shorter version, but if you haven't purchased this album yet, you owe it to yourself to get the 'special edition.'
This is really an amazing album, blending symphonic and power metal perfectly with just a hint of steel-plated riffing. Though it doesn't eclipse Paradise Lost, it certainly comes damn close. This is certainly one of the best progressive albums of 2011.
9.0 / 10
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