Review: Symphony X “The Divine Wings of Tragedy” [Zero Corporation]

Review: Symphony X “The Divine Wings of Tragedy” [Zero Corporation]

- in Reviews

I’m not extremely familiar with Symphony X, but most of what I’ve heard from them so far sounds appealing enough, yet I’m a bit surprised by the reputation of The Divine Wings of Tragedy. I certainly wouldn’t call this a progressive metal milestone, I certainly wouldn’t call this a progressive metal milestone, nor do I believe that it’s superior to the two albums it appears between. Whether my ears are somewhat damaged, or that the outside world has gone mad, I don’t know for certain – but what I can tell you is that The Divine Wings of Tragedy has its fair share of strengths and weaknesses.

The Divine Wings of Tragedy has plenty of drive; meaning that you won’t complain about overly sophisticated musical puzzles of any sorts. With the exception of the moody, yet clearly progressive aura of ‘The Accolade’ and the twenty-minute long title track, the tunes are relatively short and most importantly – devoid of any excessive fat. Therefore, I’m not surprised that this album is well-received and I can see why it would function as a decent gateway to progressive metal. Extremely memorable choruses function as the center of each tune, plenty of hooks leave enough of an impression behind and vocally, we’re dealing with a powerhouse of a singer. Simply put; Russel Allen dominates this album with plenty of range and charm. He’s a masculine singer, yet he isn’t afraid to show his vulnerable side and it’s something that I prefer over the overly tough approach that I find to sound somewhat out of character. While I’ve heard people comparing Russel Alleen to Dio, I’ve never been able to make that association. If anything, you can also tell that he’s been inspired by Freddie Mercury once you’ll come across several vocal choirs, yet in general, I’d describe Russel Allen a mix between Tony Martin and Jørn Lande. Talking about Symphony X without mentioning Michael Romeo would also be a mistake and while Romeo’s solos get extremely close to the Yngwie Malmsteen territory, they hardly come across as exaggerated features to fill any empty voids. Clearly, Michael Romeo knows that more doesn’t always mean more (something that Yngwie Malmsteen certainly doesn’t!) and it’s all for the best.

What bothers me from time to time are the chugging guitars and if you’ll ask me, aiming for a chugging guitar attack is often a risky business. The guitarists’ approach comes off a bit too stiff and empty for my taste and therefore, it’s either up to the remaining instruments and / or Russel Allen to make a positive change. Sometimes this isn’t an issue; as ‘The Accolade’ isn’t meant to be a riff-centered piece after all, but when it comes down to the (partially) heavier tracks, this obviously becomes problematic. ‘Of Sins and Shadows’ chugs its way through the verses with little going on and almost sounds as if the guitars operate on auto-pilot. While Russel Allen’s high-spirited vocals are a joy to behold, they’re obviously not enough to turn things into a masterpiece and thus, it’s not exactly an ideal album opener. There’s also the title track, which undergoes a journey of divine choirs, tasty shredding and peaceful acoustic settings, but with guitars mostly chugging through the motions during the early minutes, its peak and near-finale sections, the action scenes leave to be desired (although I’ll admit; that riff before the solo promises a lot; sadly it’s very brief). Either way, I find the calming segments to be the most appealing here; with Russel Allen’s soulful vocals floating between dreamy landscapes at the early and finale parts of the track. You’d expect The Divine Wings of Tragedy to end right after, but apparently the band had other ideas in mind; which doesn’t make much sense to me, either. Not only does ‘Candlelight Fantasia’ sound out of place, but it’s got nothing good in store to begin with; unless you get hot from that lullaby of an opening section and those Amorphis-esque keys. Finally, I’d also argue that ‘Pharaoh’ sounds extremely dated; not only does it chug onward in a pale manner with some annoying pinch harmonics to boot, but it also features some laughable keys that remind me more of a 90’s video game than anything else. If that sounds appealing to you, then be my guest, but it surely doesn’t to me!

As harsh as I may sound, it should go without saying that I enjoy The Divine Wings of Tragedy nonetheless. It has some gems in store and surprisingly enough, some of these sound somewhat straightforward. The blistering ‘Sea of Lies’ rides on a thundering main riff that makes me think of something Dave Mustaine could have written before he decided to play dumbed down heavy metal by following Metallica’s footsteps in the early 90’s. ‘Out of the Ashes’ is another accessible track; a no-frills example of rousing power metal that sees cute keys join battle together with some ripping guitars. Out of the more progressive takes, I also enjoy ‘The Accolade’, with its medieval atmospheric aftertaste that makes its way between hard-hitting guitar chops and elaborated solos, while ‘The Eyes of Medusa’ is a riff grinder of a tune with an interesting contrast between mysterious verses of myths yet to be discovered and a mean-spirited chorus.

In the end, The Divine Wings of Tragedy wouldn’t be a bad choice to start with if you’ve yet to discover progressive metal, even if I don’t consider it to be essential. Personally, I can think of other albums that I’d recommend beforehand, too and in Symphony X‘s case, you could easily dive into the two albums that surround this one for a similar good time.

Score: 75/100 – A legend forever?

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