Michael Pinnella - Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Russell Allen - Vocals
Michael Romeo - Electric, Acoustic And Classical Guitars, Sitar, Mini-Harp, Backing Vocals
Thomas Miller - Bass, Backing Vocals
Tom Walling - Drums
Of all of the various Progressive Metal bands that have sprung up over the past decade or so, no other that I have heard articulates the archetypal nature of the genre better than SYMPHONY X. Sure, DREAM THEATER may have been the spark that lit the flame of the Progressive Metal movement in the '90s, but SYMPHONY X is the one band that exemplifies the base nature of the genre in almost every way. The vocals often approach the falsetto breaking point, technically stunning guitar and keyboard unisons are the norm rather than the exception and mythology-influenced lyrical motifs are present and accounted for. Some might contend that most Progressive Metal is often no more than a mere synthesis of the gaudier elements of Power Metal with the technical chops of the Neo-Classical Speed Metal movement and in the case of SYMPHONY X that description is certainly apt.
So to continue on that train of thought, if SYMPHONY X is the archetypal Progressive Metal band, then I would contend that "Twilight In Olympus" then would be the archetypal Progressive Metal album. If I were to describe the genre in all of its highs and lows while making reference to only one album, this would be it. Sir Russell Allen, love him or hate him, goes on a tear. Romeo and Pinella's solo duels, unisons and interplay are unparalleled by any other guitar/keyboard duo in Prog Metal. The shameless twee of "Church Of The Machine" never fails to illicit a few chuckles on my part. Everything from the fade-in vocal over-dub that opens the song to the to the cheesy Jens Johansson-esque harpsichord synth lead that makes an appearance a few times throughout the song just reeks of Progressive cheese and I absolutely love it.
"Twilight In Olympus" offers up pure Neo-Classical excess. Although not quite RHAPSODY, they do come close with some of the lyrical themes. A well-executed rendition of Beethoven's "Sonata #8 In C Minor" is used as an intro to "In The Dragon's Den". Here Allen's singing could break glass and the lyrics about being "lost in the dragons den" are completely mint. Again, the instrumentation is stellar in all respects (I especially enjoy Miller's bass and how he manages to still sound active among the frenzy of the Romeo/Pinella lead assault). And then, there's the mandatory long-form song to be found on all significant Progressive Metal releases. "Through The Looking Glass" is a thirteen-minute, three-part track that I consider the high point of the album. Romeo's first solo is probably his best on the album just in terms of placement, as it transitions into a soft, melodic piano section that contrasts beautifully with the hard-edged shredding. Slower on the main than the rest of the album, the long-form composition is undoubtedly SYMPHONY X's strength (the title tracks from the albums "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy" and "The Odyssey" also are perfect examples of this). Oftentimes in Prog Metal, ballads sound forced, cheesy, or insincere. Thankfully the final track of the album "Lady Of The Snow" manages to avoid this all-to-common failing. Allen sounds emotive, sincere and genuine and the song (and album) are better for it.
Let's face it, most everybody knows if they like this kind of music or not. High-flying bombast, pretentious lyrical themes and outstanding musicianship are par for the course and greatly appreciated on my part as a huge fan of the genre. Guitarists should pick this up if only to hear one of the most under-rated guitarists in Metal tear it up and fans of DREAM THEATER couldn't choose a better place to branch off if in search of other Prog Metal artists. Very solid and lots of fun. (Online November 26, 2003)
Guest Reviewer Dan Pritchard