What to make of this, Symphony X’s eighth studio release? I’ve heard one or two snorts of discontent on the interweb, mutterings along the lines of ‘we’ve heard it all before’ and ‘it’s boring’, and, whilst the first point of contention may have some flesh on its bones, the latter is, gratifyingly, utter hogwash. There are elements here that even the most casual Symphony aficionado may find themselves thinking “that sounds like…”, most notably some of the vocal melodies deployed by vocalist Russell Allen, but really that’s as far as it goes beyond saying that Iconoclast is a pretty good fusion of the band’s last two studio outings (2002’s The Odyssey and Paradise Lost from 2007).
Overall the sound of Iconoclast is more biting, more bleak. In an interview with MaF last month guitarist Michael Romero stated that he’d looked for a colder, more mechanical sound than on previous SX releases, and, that being the case, this album is a success sonically. The likes of the title track and the excellent The End of Innocence are reliant less on texture and more – much more – on good, old fashioned bludgeon; that’s not to say the band has lost it’s ear for the baroque, or it’s love for florid keyboard touches shoehorned into crevices lesser bands would leave untouched… it’s just the band in 2011 seems happier to crush where previously they’ve caressed, and, to this reviewer at least, that’s a big bonus.
Having said that, the album’s big ballad, closing track When All is Lost, is probably the album’s best. No band in metal today, with the possible exception of Dream Theater, tackles the change of pace inherent in songs like this quite as well as Symphony X. That’s of course because no band in metal today – with no exceptions- possesses a vocalist quite as majestic as Russell Allen. He’s equally at home on the heavy stuff, make no mistake; but as a balladeer the man is simply peerless. There’s a soulful tone to his voice that adds class to everything he touches, and on When All is Lost his performance is spinetingling; a delicious hark back to the glory days of singers such as Joe Lynn Turner (Yngwie/Deep Purple/Rainbow) and Lou Gramm (Foreigner), shot through with a classiness and control which is so sadly often missing in the output of many of his peers.
So, very possibly this isn’t as progressive as many of the band’s more hardcore adherents might have wished for, but as a stand alone work it’s pretty good and the performances of Romero and especially Allen make it worth a listen, hell, probably even a purchase, for anyone with a yen for classy, classic heavy metal. If you can find it, opt to buy the two-disc ‘Special Edition’ of the album which features extra tracks and is sequenced in the running order that the band itself preferred.