Well, I don't do very many reviews anymore ever since I quit my radio show, but I felt that a release this important warrants my attention.
I admit I was actually very scared for this album. Anyone who knows me probably knows that I've been a Symphony X fan for almost 8 years now, and I was relatively displeased with Paradise Lost on the whole. I wasn't necessarily against the overall style change, I just felt like it wasn't executed all that well - mostly due to lack of dynamics, and aside from maybe 4 songs, it wasn't very memorable. But what scared me most was that it was a big part of gaining the band huge breakthrough success in America (if you ask me, the music actually was somewhat inconsequential, as the breakthrough occurred BEFORE the album even came out - but nevertheless...) - I feared that the band would be hungry for even more success and thus choose to explore territory even further removed from their roots. I am very pleased to say that that is NOT what happened with this album.
Iconoclast is an interesting album, because I feel that in the face of pressure to both continue in their new style and attempt to return to what their old fans loved about them - they actually managed to satisfy both parties. This is something considerably rare, so overall I must consider this album a triumph for that in and of itself. Stylistically I would describe this album as simply the style of Paradise Lost but with more interesting/complex riff patterns, MUCH more present keyboards, and a bit more melodic vocals from Russell Allen. The band has sacrificed none of the heaviness and brute force of the heavier songs on Paradise Lost, but have found a way to better explore that territory. Even the heaviest of songs are not void of soaring melodies - for proof, see the bridge of the crushing "Dehumanized", which sees Russell Allen clearly displaying why he's worshipped as a vocal god. Overall this album sees less of Russell Allen's "tough guy" vocals - they appear in many of the songs, but only in smaller doses, as he seems to have found his way back to simply SINGING with authority and charisma. Michael Romeo is outstanding as always, maybe actually moreso than he has been as of late, as he turns in a great number of fantastic, dynamic, and actually memorable solos on this album. But moreso than that, this album actually sees the other members of the band shining as well, something that the previous record lacked. Mainly Michael Pinella's keyboards are back in a big way. From the virtuosic, shred-induced keyboard solos, to the subtle orchestrations and backing parts, which were sorely missing on Paradise Lost. The Rullo/Lepond rhythm section is as great as ever before, and I absolutely LOVE the bass sound on this album - it helps separate Lepond from Romeo's riffing. Symphony X are one of those rare bands who actually get the production value and sound they truly deserve from an album. I couldn't have imagined this would SOUND any better than it does.
A short track-by-track analysis:
01 Iconoclast: The longest track on the record at 11 minutes, it's also probably the most technical. The chorus is fantastic and will be superb in the live environment. Great song overall.
02 The End of Innocence: The sort of memorable, heavy and uptempo song that this band is known for (see: Smoke and Mirrors, Inferno, Evolution). Great chorus and one of Russell's best performances on the album. Another favorite.
03 Dehumanized: Crushingly heavy, amazing bridge section, and one of Michael Romeo's best solos on the disc.
04 Bastards of the Machine: Reminiscent of "Eve of Seduction" on Paradise Lost. Very uptempo and very much to-the-point. Fantastic keyboard/guitar interplay.
05 Heretic: One of the heaviest songs on the album, very thrashy at times, but the prechorus is outstanding and there's something oddly catchy about the chorus, despite it's lack of a "hook".
06 Children of a Faceless God: Great track. Main riff is a bit similar to "Serpent's Kiss", but this song annihilates that one. Chorus is fantastic, with an almost choir-like approach to the vocals, and the song overall is just a great one. A definite favorite.
07 When All is Lost: Easily what I would consider the masterpiece of the album. Frankly this is probably one of the best Symphony X tracks to date. Think "Paradise Lost" but longer, more epic, and more dynamic. There is not a single thing I would change about this song. An instant masterpiece/SX "classic" if you ask me.
08 Electric Messiah: Nice heavy, mid-tempo number with a strong and memorable chorus. Overall a very, very good tune.
09 Prometheus (I Am Alive): Starts with a fantastic nearly 2-minute instrumental passage before one of the more "brutal" verse patterns on the album, which frankly doesn't do too much for me. The chorus is fantastic though and redeems the song. Not a favorite, but hardly crap. Great keyboard solo.
10 Light Up the Night: Overall probably one of the most "old-school" styled songs on the disc, somewhat reminiscent of their first couple albums at times, hard to quite pinpoint why/how though. Sticks in my mind a bit less than other tracks, but probably because I haven't listened to it enough.
11 The Lords of Chaos: Despite the questionable intro riff, this song has grown to be probably one of my favorites on the disc, aided by a great vocal performance by Sir Russell Allen. Powerful and memorable chorus for sure.
12 Reign in Madness: This song undoubtedly has several superb moments and overall is growing on me considerably with each listen - but there is a certain lack of finality to it in my eyes. But perhaps that's what the band wanted. As this album is about the destruction of mankind at the hands of machines, I suppose a logical/"happy" ending is somewhat uncalled for. This probably has the power to eventually become my 2nd or 3rd favorite on the disc, and covers a very respectable amount of musical "ground".
So in summation - I was VERY impressed with this album. I really can't see Symphony X fans being displeased with it, though I have already seen ones who are - so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, haha. I think given that it's been 4 years since Paradise Lost, many of the songs have already become engrained in people's hearts and minds - so there's an instant feeling of unfamiliarity with these songs. But I think they are a definite cut above those on the whole, and this album is growing on me with every listen. It's too early to say, but this could probably eventually settle to become my 3rd favorite SX album - behind the masterpieces of V and Divine Wings.