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.