August 16, 2011

Review: Symphony X-Iconoclast

Like Vonnegut, Bradbury, Huxley and Orwell all holed up in a room with some Jäger and some Slayer, Symphony X has concocted a pseudo-sci-fi fantasy metal epic depicting the pending war between man and machine (a la Terminator, The Matrix, etc.), brought on by our overreliance on modern technology. Iconoclast is a glimpse into this dystopian future, as seen through the eyes of Symphony X.

The inescapable irony of Iconoclast is that while lyrically railing against the tyranny of our robotic overlords (aka, Roboverlords), the music itself sounds as if it were made by machines. It’s so precise and technically prefect that it’s effectively had all the humanity wrung out of it. It’s cold the way actual metal is cold, not the way metal music cold… cold to the touch, not cold inside.

Lyrically it’s not very inspired. Just the titles (“The End of Innocence,” “Dehumanized,” “Bastards of the Machine,” “Children of a Faceless God” etc.) do as much to inform the listener as the lyrical content, but all the riffs are right on point. The bass and synth have been toned down a bit, compared to some of their earlier efforts, making the prog-prefix a little harder to justify, but the quality does not suffer. There are professionals at the top of their game.

“Iconoclast,” the albums lead off track has an anthemic, uplifting chorus. The rhythm changes and the bass lines may be the defining aspect of this song. The refrain, “We are strong/we will stand and fight,” is the battle cry of the album, appropriately included in the title track. The dizzy guitar intro on “Bastards of the Machine,” before devolving into a palm muted chug-a-long with the occasional guitar frill or squeal thrown in to make it, you know, more metal, is a powerful statement both musically and lyrically. “When All Is Lost” has a simple piano intro, joined in time by some spacy synth textures before letting go of the reins completely and letting it ride for its 9-plus minute duration. The guitar entrance around 1:38 compliments the piano melody beautifully and the two instruments continue to play off one another throughout the song. If I had to guess I’d say the most thought went into the composition of this song, it is the most dynamic and interesting on the album. Some of the tracks have a hard time pacing themselves, and wear out before they’re finished, but “When All Is Lost” had me on the figurative edge of my seat.

Like a lot of metal, the catchiest choruses are often the cheesiest, most clichéd bit of lyric contained in the song. “Feel my pain/my wounds are in vain/I believe it’s the end of innocence” may sound trite and smack of a junior high attitude, but somehow all this is forgotten when your belting it out at the top of your lungs. (I’ll bet Russell Allen thinks so…) I’m of course talking about “The End of Innocence.” Iconoclast doesn’t suffer for mediocre lyrics though; they are merely a secondary trait, a way to tie twelve tracks together. It’s really all about the music.

Loosely stringing together one liners and clichés doesn’t make it a concept album, but I’m willing to give this one a pass. It seems like less of a concept album and more of a bare concept or sketch. It’s not clear if there’s any resolution in the conflict between humans and technology, so rather than view this album as prophetic and be disappointed I choose to view it a documentary, depicting the battle and not the war per se. Bottom line is, if you’re not lactose intolerant, and can stomach lyrics covered with three kinds of melted cheese, you should find yourself drawn into this album by the end of the first track.

4/5 Stars

Key Tracks: When All Is Lost, Iconoclast, Light Up The Night

Drew Vreeland

August 15, 2011

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