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Paradise Lost

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★★★★½
(111 Reviews)

Metal Album Reviews[RSS]

  • It took five long years for Symphony X to follow up their previous album The Odyssey. Their new disc, Paradise Lost, based on John Milton’s work, resumes several threads in their music that was largely prevalant on its predecessor. The band continues to mine a solid, crunch-filled heavy metal stomp, retaining some of their progressive elements throughout the process. However, on some of the songs, there is a noticeable shift towards a more groove-oriented approach, driven by Michael Romeo’s unmistakable rhythm work. For instance, “Domination”, although not among the most innovative tracks on the album, bears a certain similarity to Pantera in its tenacious, corrosive riffing, while also taking on the band’s classic neoclassical qualities.

    As stated previously by the band, the CD is perhaps their darkest work thematically. Paradise Lost is not a concept album, but it explores similar themes, mostly revolving around the fight between good and evil; and in order to portray these moods successfully, vocalist Russell Allen opts for more use of harsh vocals, thus eliminating some of his soaring vocal harmonies that defined albums like The Divine Wings of Tragedy and V. The style of vocals employed through most of the album may not sit well with some of the fans on first listen, but given the dark subject matter, there is no denying that the album benefits from this singing style greatly. On “Set the World on Fire”, the band exudes rapid-fire riffery and super aggressive vocals in a V-meets-The Odyssey style, but be forewarned: the song is crushingly intense.

    It always strikes me as funny whenever I hear metal fans complaining about an album of their favourite band being too heavy or aggressive. Allen’s voice is a lot grittier for a reason. He employs the grit for more elaborate dynamic expression. He instilled that style years ago, way back on The Divine Wings of Tragedy; this album sees him taking that style a step further. Similarly, guitarist Michael Romeo uses a range of different scales to implicate various emotions this time around. I absolutely love how he takes a main riff and then does interesting permutations off of it through the whole record. Michael Pinella also boosts that tone in the songs, best heard on “The Walls of Babylon”, where a combination of strong guitar fury and pounding drum attack is wrung through the piece, resolving with dark choirs and a cool guitar “chorus”. Even Mike Lepond gets a great bass solo spot here preceding the maniacal instrumental frenzy.

    The title track, made up of a beautiful keyboard intro, gently strummed acoustic guitars and excellent clean vocals, recalls other Symphony X classics like “Accolade” and “Communion and the Oracle”, more so in their rhythm construction and evocative flow than musically. They’re both defined by excellent dynamic shifts, emotional guitar-keyboard flights, powerful vocal harmonies, and thunderous rhythm aesthetics. However, there are also two cuts that are relatively new entries into Symphony X’s body of work: “The Serpent’s Kiss” stands out for its unusual middle section, weird orchestral parts and other stylistic devices whilst “The Sacrifice” anchors moving synths and clean-toned melodies to Allen’s gripping voice and concludes with a mindblowing guitar solo.

    Unfortunately, not all of the album boasts excellent songwriting. “Eve of Seduction” and “Seven” are both average at best, setting aside melodic power for single-minded guitar aggression. “Revelation (Divus Pennae ex Tragoedia)” fails to close the album on as strong a note as some of their other album finales. Actually it’s a good song, but a bit unimaginative compared to some of their more challenging pieces. Still, I enjoy how the vocals are split between deep, gritty verses and catchy clean harmonies. Also, Pinella’s synth lead is amazing too.

    Jensen Bogren’s mix of Paradise Lost is mindblowing. After working on Opeth’s Ghost Reveries and Katatonia’s The Great Cold Distance, both sonic assaults in their respective genres, he has also done an amazing job on this disc, rendering it the best Symphony X album from a production standpoint.

    It will be interesting to obsverve how Paradise Lost will rank in their fans’ favourites lists, but it’s certainly a welcome addition to their discography and a record well worth the wait.

    Posted on December 23, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • After waiting an eternity for a new Symphony X album, the band delivers the goods. I’m sure there will be lots of controversy among the faithful over Russell Allen’s gritty, malevolent vocals on this one, but I dig ‘em. Allen has the best voice in progressive metal, and he whoops the tar out of all the candy-a$$ pseudo opera-boy wailers in most other prog metal bands. The band shows killer chops and a great ability to groove in odd time. (The track Paradise Lost starts out in 25/8!!!) In spite of this, they serve up great melodies and the musicianship always serves the song. No pointless noodling here. These guys should be AT LEAST as big as Dream Theater. After the upcoming tour, they will be.

    Posted on December 23, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • We have all been waiting impatiently for a follow-up to 2002’s “The Odyssey”, an album that stretched the boundaries of progressive metal and blurred the lines between genres. It was gothic, epic, symphonic, complex – everything a prog fan could want.

    And now, finally, after a 4-year absence, Michael Romeo and company have finally delivered an album that lives up to its predecessors.

    Though one could argue that no album released this late could match the standards fan have set. And in a few ways, it does not (there is no promised epic). However, the beauty of “Paradise Lost” lies in its consistency and impeccable production. Mastermind Michael Romeo, on top of being a gifted guitarist with a penchant for being a classical virtuoso, is also a talented songwriter with a knack for perfectly blending crunching guitars with soaring choruses and symphonic passages.

    This album is, without a doubt, the most melodic album the band has created, start to finish. The opening symphony-meets-metal track, “Oculus ex Inferni” is reminiscent of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem” and (for video game nerds) extremely close in construction to Nobuo Uematsu’s “Liberi Fatali”, the prologue from Final Fantasy XIII. It is deliciously ominous, foreboding and the best symphonic introductions in metal since Shaman’s “Ancient Winds”.

    “Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies)” is a trademark Symphony X opener (see: “Evolution (The Grand Design)”, “Of Sins and Shadows”, “Inferno”), with squealing guitars underlying Russell Allen’s rough vocals, which only seem to get heavier with each new album. “Domination” and “Eve of Seduction” increase the speed, turning prog into power, tearing up Allen’s throat and shredding Romeo’s fingers. “Paradise Lost” and “Sacrifice” are the album’s ballads, recalling such gems as “Communion and the Oracle” and “The Accolade”. Everything we have come to appreciate about Symphony X is in these tracks.

    So far, we have nothing terribly new. Everything I have listed can be found in earlier material. So what are the standout tracks?

    Combining brilliant guitar work with choir-work that can make the hair on your neck stand is “The Walls of Babylon”. The fusion between Romeo’s guitars with the ambient choir-work in the song’s chorus is absolutely sublime. It is here that the production value in this album truly stands out. It is a truly gothic piece that never forgets its progressive metal roots. Finally, the album’s closer, “Revelation (Divus Pennae ex Tragoedia)” is more than just a mouthful of a name. It is a song that takes the intricate, multi-passage nature of “Awakenings” and tightens it to make a 9-minute masterpiece. Combining the odd time signatures that made symphonic passages in “The Odyssey” such a challenge with the band’s typical intense vocal harmonies, the song soars.

    Though I would have liked another 20+ minute magnum opus, I am more than content with “Paradise Lost”. It is the first Symphony X album that has no jarring flaws. It has no needless interludes (See “V: The New Mythology) no mediocre songs (See: “The Odyssey”) no thoughtless construction of solos (See: “Twilight in Olympus”). It is simply fantastic.

    See also: Symphony X – The Odyssey, The Divine Wings of Tragedy

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • The biggest difference in the Symphony X sound is that on “Paradise Lost” they have gone straight Progressive Power Metal and have dumped the Neo-Classical side of their sound for a more in-your-face Metal approach. However, they do incorporate symphonic arrangements and choirs in an exemplary, bombastic production sound. From the Progressive Metal “Domination”, the driving “Serpent’s Kiss”, or the absolutely gorgeous title track with its glorious chorus, there is something for everyone who wants something different from Symphony X. Those wanting more of the Neo-Classical sound Symphony X actually helped create may be disappointed. From what I can hear, having painted themselves into a corner with “The Odyssey”, a change in direction was necessary for the band to remain vital. “Paradise Lost” has the most creative guitar work I’ve heard so far; while some of their albums contain flashier guitar shredding, no other has this much variation in texture and style. I’ve rated many of their past albums highly, but “Paradise Lost” is certainly the most interesting and creative excursion in their already impressive catalog.

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • THE BAND: Russell Allen (vocals), Michael Romeo (guitars), Michael Lepond (bass), Michael Pinnella (keyboards), Jason Rullo (drums & percussion).

    THE DISC: (2007) 10 tracks clocking in at approximately 61 minutes. Included with the disc is a 14-page booklet containing song titles/credits, band photos, thank you’s, and several pages of fantasy artwork dealing with dark landscapes, both good and evil. The tri-fold case is a made of cardboard that opens upward and out, verses left to right. All music written by Romeo (except “Paradise Lost” by Romeo and Pinnella). All lyrics written by Romeo and Russell. Label – InsideOut Music.

    COMMENTS: Symphony X continues to shred. The same line-up is still in tact that gave us “The Odyssey” (2002) and “V” (2000)… a huge bonus in this day and age where keeping a band in tact over the years is proving to be a tough thing to do. From the outside looking in, the band’s chemistry shines – they seem to know what they want, how each other plays and their capabilities, and the direction they want to go… everyone’s on the same page. Symphony X continues to be huge in Europe, but has somehow still avoided mainstream success (unlike their progressive rock peers Dream Theater). Perhaps that’s the draw for me – supporting the underdogs and spreading the word about such talented bands worthy of audible praise in the world of rock and metal. I had to give “Paradise Lost” several weeks to listen and absorb what was there. First though, I had to get past the thin lame cardboard case – with two of the foldouts looking like flames or fingers intertwined that pop out at you like a 3-D book you had as a kid. Over the years I can only imagine these foldouts getting ripped/bent/frayed by lots of disc use. To me, this is a terrible packaging job. As for the music, it’s superb as expected… it’s right on par with each of their last 2 albums… though “V” is still my favorite followed by the older “Divine Wings Of Tragedy” – “Paradise Lost” will still sit on the same lofty perch. Romeo continues to be the brainchild of the band… having the major hand in writing all the music, as well as sharing the lyric duties. Part of me wishes this was more of a group effort. The musicianship is unsurpassed… I put Romeo & Co on that same lofty stage as Dream Theater and Kamelot… each band member is a wizard at their instrument(s). The album starts with a 2-and-a-half minute instrumental “Oculus Ex Inferni” – exciting to the hilt – up and down moments with evil chants in the background that would fit nicely in the recent re-make of “The Omen”. The first song featuring Allen’s vocals is “Set The World On Fire”… this song, as well as others that followed left me puzzled. I’ve always be drawn to Allen’s wonderfully silky smooth vocals. But on most of “Paradise Lost” he seems downright belligerent – more attitude, growl and gruffness in his voice (at times he comes off sounding like a heated Ronnie James Dio). I think though, that’s the tone of the album – like good and evil are battling it out, and the end of the world is a distinct reality. You certainly get that idea from the lyrics and artwork within the album. So as much as I miss his smooth vocals on albums past, the roughness in his voice fits “Paradise Lost”. The title track is by far the mellowest on the album. Lots of nice piano and keyboard moments as you might expect with Pinnella having a hand in the writing (reminds me of one of my favorite tracks of theirs – “Communion & The Oracle” from “V”). The album closes with the longest song (just over 9 minutes), and it’s perhaps the most varied on the disc. “Revelation” rocks for nearly 6 minutes, followed by a soft interlude, then back to a heavy finish. It’s complete with keyboard solos that would make Keith Emerson proud. Sit back and let “Paradise Lost” spins several times before judging. Perhaps not Symphony X’s best album (ultimately a tough decision because the band has several brilliant albums), but still an amazing piece of work (5 stars).

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now