Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Symphony X - The Divine Wings Of Tragedy

Released in 1997, The Divine Wings Of Tragedy is the third album by progressive power metal band Symphony X. It was at this point where people literally suddenly jumped up (I’m assuming here) and shouted at the peak of their voices, “Who the fuck are these guys? They’re great!”

It’s unsurprising that the album title sounds not unlike Judas Priest’s Sad Wings Of Destiny. I assume this is an etymological influence here, an overt reference perhaps. I doubt there’s a single power metal band to not have been touched by the metal studded fingers of Rob Halford and co. Their early material providing the grounding for most of the hallmarks of the genre, and of course they later went onto define power metal in the most vivid sense with 1990’s Painkiller, one of the greatest metal albums ever released (certainly in this reviewer’s top five).

Beyond that, but whilst we’re talking about influential facets, in his review of the Gigantour in August, Chris Beaumont posits that they are similarities of Symphony X to the music of the mighty Dream Theater, and this I agree with. But I would go beyond that to put forth an idea that early Dream Theater influenced Symphony X (on top of the more metal-based influences), and that later Dream Theater is influenced by Symphony X. Although it’s probably more accurate to say that later Dream Theater is simply influenced by heavy modern metal in general, but certainly some of the riffs on this album wouldn’t seem out of place on Train Of Thought.

So the album then, eight songs, sixty-five minutes of heavy progressively-infused power metal.

The lyrics are the usual stuff you get in this bastion of music, metaphysical negativity, allusions of historicity (the Egyptian themed ‘Pharaoh’) etc, not the type of thing that’s really going to challenge the verse of Whitman or Blake. But if I wanted to see majestic musical poetry dripping with profundity I’d listen to Dylan, that’s not what this is about.

No, this is about the mighty guitar playing of one Michael Romeo. He may look a bit like Yngwie Malmsteen (there’s a hint of the corpulence in him), but unlike Malmsteen he plays for the song. Don’t get me wrong when Malmsteen’s good he’s great, but beyond the first couple of albums it all gets excessively patchy, there’s only so many ways you can play a minor-scale neck-pickup flurry of notes. Romeo is much more song-orientated, he’s about how the music sounds, not “here’s the bit where I play 16th notes at 200bpm for a minute and a half”.

It’s Romeo’s powerful riffs that make this album, the D-tuned chuggathons, the chunk envied by a million Yorkie bars. The synergy between the rhythm guitar riffage and the drums make for a wonderfully powerful and tight soundscape.

Then of course his solos are splendid melodic treasures, often including a number of trade-offs with the keyboard player, again the type of prog metal discourse exemplified by Dream Theater. And there’s a subtly to the playing, one of my favourite moments is during the mellow medieval-esque intro to the ‘The Accolade’ when the keyboard understatedly plays the vocal line for the to-be-found-later-in-the-song chorus.

Despite my previous negation of the lyrics, there is a plethora of catchy chorus’; however this is more to do with Russell Allen’s excellent vocal performance than any particularly deep lyrics. First track ‘Of Sins and Shadows’ exhibits said sublime chorus.

I’ll circumvent the linear review convention and avoid a song-by-song dissection, but I will say that the highlights are fan favourite ‘Sea Of Lies’ (with it’s infamous arpeggios), ‘The Eyes Of Medusa’, and the twenty minute epic title track.

So then, concluding remarks, brilliant album. Clearly not recommended for people who get nauseated at the very contemplation of a palm mute, or a power chord, or an artificial harmonic. But for those looking for something technical, heavy, and catchy, then what the hell? This is obviously for you!


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