Released: 2011, Nuclear Blast
It’s been three years sine the last Symphony X album and it is sort of weird to hear Sir Russell Allen singing with his own band! Allen has been a guest vocalist on so many albums over the past four years (Revamp, Avantasia, Allen/Lande, Star One) at times I forget he is the main man behind the microphone in Symphony X and not just some hired gun!
Symphony X has always had enormous credibility and popularity with the review staff here at Metal-Rules.com. Just about every album reviewed on this site has got high marks and in 2007 PARADISE LOST made the staff’s overall/aggregate Top 10 for the year.
ICONOCLAST is another superb album and well worth the wait. Looking at the double digipak edition a couple of things struck me. Symphony X have moved away from classic tales of mythology and the overall look/feel/theme of this album is the well-worn and time honored Metal theme of Man Vs. Machine. There must be dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of albums that have explored this topic and in a broader sense (of the history of Metal) Symphony X are not really breaking new ground visually or lyrically. However, for themselves specifically, this is new territory and they do a fantastic job. The package looks and feels great. From the embossed album cover, the giant fold-out poster artwork and generous allotment of three full studio bonus tracks, this is the full meal deal. The band made the jump to Nuclear Blast but I doubt anyone noticed as both Insideout and Nuclear Blast treat the band well.
Speaking of the visual and thematic presentation Symphony X, like so many before have embraced a futuristic look with flesh and metal intertwined. It looks like something from the movie series The Matrix trilogy. I like the Regular Edition version album art better than the Special Edition. Inside there are even giant killer robots that look kinda like ED 209. If you are too young to appreciate the Robocop movie reference, think of the walker-stacker-killer robots of the last Matrix movie. What is it with Metal bands and killer robots? Did you ever see the cover of Dismember’s 1995 album MASSIVE KILLING CAPACITY? I wonder who would win in a battle, the Symphony X robots or the Dismember robots? I’d vote for the Dismember robots because they have a chainsaw-arm so when the two opposing forces both ran out of ammo, the Dismember robots would have the upper hand/chainsaw. I guess what I’m getting at is that there really isn’t any originality in the presentation BUT…it is done so well and is a new approach and look for Symphony X you can’t help look at the beautiful package and say “Hell yeah! That’s freakin’ Metal dude!”
Sonically, this is the bands darkest and heaviest album. It even says so on the promo sticker on the album, so it must be true! In reality, yes it is a shade darker and heavier and in fact I have read a few negative reviews from older fans who can’t handle the ‘heaviness’ and that Russell’s gruffer vocal tones are a turn-off. Truth be told of you took a random track from THE DAMNATION GAME (1995) and a random track from ICONOCLAST and played them back to back for a person who has never heard of the band, they might conceivably say they are two different bands. But is ICONOCLAST significantly different from the also darker/heavier than PARADISE LOST? Not really. These are dark topics and the mechanized guitar tones, keyboards and harsher vocals certainly compliment the presentation very well. Allen stays in his lower register for most of the album.
With the increasing emphasis on ‘Metal’ the band has reduced the symphonic and progressive elements on this album. I think it is a good choice to match the heaviness of the music with the cold and dark futuristic theme and at least they didn’t incorporate industrial elements! This is a very heavy, dark Metal album which is truly a good thing. The guitar tone is truly raging! Depending on your affinity for the old sound will determine how much you embrace ICONOCLAST. Call me crazy but I even hear similarities to recent Dream Theater on this record. The album is fully re-engineered with dark, power prog that walks a fine line between intensity and melody and does it so well. Cuts like ‘When All Is Lost’ is more reminiscent of Symphony X of old and is actually a nice counter-point to the faster, heavier songs.
To summarize, die-hard, longtime Symphony X fans will have a field day and really enjoy micro-analyzing ICONOCLAST. Everyone else can simply enjoy a superbly written, performed and produced Metal album that is very likely to make many, many Top 10 lists for 2011.