Progressive Metal has the essence to be one of the most interesting genres of music. And for many earlier releases in the genre, this was true. However, over the years, many Prog bands have limited themselves to playing as inaccessible stuff as possible whilst dwelling on Dream Theater clichés. New Jersey’s Symphony X isn’t without the latter – Michael Romeo’s heavy start-stop riffing screams John Petrucci’s influence – but they also know how to write a good song. In addition, they have a great singer – scratch that, a brilliant one – and an ear for recognizable melodies that many of their colleagues lack.
While the quintet has continued to release quality Progmetal records with remarkably good songwriting, they have yet to surpass their 1997 masterpiece ‘The Divine Wings Of Tragedy’. It’s on this album when they discovered the ultimate recipe to their blend of neoclassical melodies, mythologically inspired themes and ornate arrangements. Also, the mixing job is surprisingly dynamic and organic, which makes the album a pleasure to the ears quite litterally. It gives the light-and-shade workings of the band a little more breathing room than on many contemporary Metal records, including some of their own more recent albums.
‘The Divine Wings Of Tragedy’ combines the virtuosic intricacy that the genre demands with an almost catchy approach to songwriting. Nowhere on the record is that more obvious than on the fantastic ‘Out Of The Ashes’. The heavily neoclassical intro – besides Petrucci, Yngwie Malmsteen is an obvious influence for Romeo – there’s an aggressive verse with singer extraordinaire Russell Allen sounding almost as good as a young Ronnie James Dio, after which one of the most beautifully melodic choruses in nineties Metal takes over. ‘The Eyes Of Medusa’ and the awesome opener ‘Of Sins Of Shadows’ have equal interactions between complex riff work and passages that leave a lot of room for Allen’s incredible range.
But there’s more. ‘The Accolade’, whilst still firmly within the Progressive Metal realm, finds the band adapting a surprisingly Romantic – capital R – approach both musically and lyrically, while ‘Candlelight Fantasia’ is as close to a Prog ballad as it gets. A beautiful song with heartwrenching lyrics. ‘Sea Of Lies’ was probably the band’s most aggressive song at the time, but the most notable song would be the twenty plus minute title track that works itself surprisingly fluently through a number of amazing movements and a couple of beautiful climaxes. The song has all of the band’s five members performing their hearts out.
A work of art. Not just the title track, the entire album. In the end, ‘Pharaoh’ – despite its cool chorus – and ‘The Witching Hour’ are slightly less memorable, but that’s probably mostly due to the fact that they’re surrounded by amazing songs. That’s ultimately what sets ‘The Divine Wings Of Tragedy’ above almost any other Progressive Metal album: the entire album is a pleasing listen, but every song is rewarding to listen to separately as well. And so it is proven that excellent musicianship doesn’t necessarily exclude great songwriting. Possibly, but not necessarily.
Recommended tracks: ‘Out Of The Ashes’, ‘Candlelight Fantasia’, ‘The Divine Wings Of Tragedy’