Saturday April 5th at the Nokia Theatre in New York City's Times Square on paper looked to be a great triple bill of progressive metal. On one hand, seeing as Symphony X were slated to headline at the largest venue yet in the New York area was probably reason enough to head into the Big Apple, but add in the fact that symphonic metal veterans Epica as well as Canadian technical extreme metallers Into Eternity were along for the ride just added the icing on the cake. SoT's Pete Pardo and Ken Pierce were in attendance for this great night of metal.
It was great to see the Nokia fairly full for this show, which says a lot to the growing drawing power of Symphony X, at least here in their backyard (the band hails from New Jersey). Canada's Into Eternity opened the show to a rousing roar from the crowd. After all, these hard working lads have made their way through New York on numerous occasions the last few years, so the metal faithful were very familiar with them and anticipating their set. Lead singer Stu Block is a commanding vocal presence on stage with his myriad of extreme metal styles, and lead guitarist Tim Roth is right by his side laying down plenty of complex & crunchy riffs as well as blinding solos. The line-up is rounded out by guitarist Justin Bender, bassist Troy Bleich, and drummer Steve Bolognese, all who add greatly to this well-oiled metal machine. While the band tore into familiar pieces like "Out", "Severe Emotional Distress", and "Splintered Visions", the real treat was hearing the new track "Diagnosis Terminal" from their soon to be released concept album The Incurable Tragedy. As always the band was extremely tight and powerful, their brand of progressive, death, black, thrash, and power metal really clicking with the audience. Headline status for this band surely can't be too far away.
Despite the fact that lead singer Simone Simons could not make the tour due to an extended viral illness, Epica chose to continue on with stand-in vocalist Amanda Somerville filling in. Not only has Amanda served as Simone's vocal coach in the past, but she also has lent backing vocals to most of the Epica albums, so she is well familiar with the music. Despite missing Simone's presence, let's face it, Amanda did a fine job on this evening covering all the material. While she clearly has a different style than Simone, her emotional and passionate pipes fit right in on tracks like "Chasing the Dragon", "Consign to Oblivion", and the stunning "The Obsessive Devotion", in which she duels with the raging black metal shrieks of guitarist Mark Jansen. Epica's music was powerful, symphonic, and heavy, filling the large venue with plenty of sonic bombast, which was a stark contract to the more manic & technical music of Into Eternity but served as a great bridge to headliners Symphony X. The crowd loved every minute of it, and Jansen told the fans that they would be back in 2009 with a healthy Simone. That will be something to look forward to.
This evening was the third time I had caught Symphony X in less than a year, and each show has been nothing less than spectacular. This evening would be no different, and the band even switched around their set list a little which made it even better. As the last tour saw, things kicked off with a host of tunes from the most recent CD Paradise Lost, namely the instrumental "Ocultus Ex Inferni", "Set the World On Fire", "Domination", and "Serpent's Kiss", which got the crowd all fired up and even a huge yet surprising mosh pit going in front of the stage. It's been more than obvious that this new album has really clicked with the fans, as the crowd reactions from the fans on these new tunes has been fantastic and seem more enthusiastic at times to some of the older tunes. That was evident when the band tore into tracks like "Masquerade" and "Through the Looking Glass", two older classics not played in years yet surprisingly did not get greeted with the same enthusiasm as the tracks from the new album. Russell Allen, ever the powerful frontman, was just in top form on "Paradise Lost", and classic crunchers "Inferno", "Smoke & Mirrors", and "Sea of Lies" once again got the crowd worked up into a frenzy. The riffs and blinding solos of guitarist Michael Romeo were as always spot on (this guy is in the top 5 metal guitarists in the works in my view), and the rest of the band, drummer Jason Rullo, keyboard player Michael Pinnella, and bassist Michael LePond were extremely solid. As with any New York area show, the VIP section was filled with Symphony X family and friends, who Russell spoke to frequently during the show. An interesting moment was when the singer tried to goad the audience to do some shouting, at one point claiming that the Boston fans the previous evening were louder…needless to say this comment got a huge roar from the crowd! While on this evening the band would not dip into their epic "The Odyssey", they did pull together a long medley that housed parts of both "Revelation" and "Divine Wings of Tradedy", and close out their encore with one of their signature tracks, "Of Sins and Shadows".
All in all, Symphony X continued to show why they are considered one of the best progressive metal bands currently on the scene. Along with strong support from Epic and Into Eternity, this was a great night of music from three of the genre's brightest stars.
Ken Pierce-I'm always happy when a band who works hard at their craft and releases relevant album after album finds good things happening for them and such would be the case for former Inside Out Music Recording artists Symphony X who are now under the watchful eye of SPV Records. The Progressive Metal juggernaut is a local favorite who hail from NJ but their reach and impact on the genre has been massive and on a global scale for some time. With each release their underground legions of followers has gotten bigger and as result finds the band needing to hit larger scale venues in order to properly hold a show when each tour comes around. Their latest album is entitled "Paradise Lost" and the reception that it has received has been nothing short of outstanding. Perhaps it's because of how good the album actually is, or perhaps it's those hard core listeners who have followed the band over the years that are doing their job and spreading the Symphony X gospel to anyone and everyone they could possibly reach. The bands last appearance in NYC was in May of 2007 and held at the nearby B.B. King Blues Club. At that particular show it was only them on the bill but tonight they would bring Canada's own Into Eternity and the Dutch Metal Symphonic stars Epica and the show would be at Times Square's Nokia Theater – a venue that holds quite a bit more screaming Metal heads when it comes down to it. Here is a little bit about the evening.
Into Eternity: Let me start off by saying that when it comes to the guys who make up the band Into Eternity that the first phrase that comes to my mind is "road warriors". This is very simply based on how I came to first know about them and then become a fan that was afforded the chance to enjoy their music again and again based on their almost consistent gigging as opener for more bands than you could count on one hand. As expected they hit the stage with their usual burst of energy and long standing members Stu Bloch, Tim Roth and Troy Bleich were now in sync with their no longer new members Steve Bolognese and Justin Bender. With their going on first for tonight their set list would be all but five or six songs it seemed and be over before some people even made their way inside which is a shame. Let's hope that these were folks who had seen them a number of times in the past because if they chose to pass on them this evening they would miss two new compositions being performed from the bands soon to be released fourth album. Stu is a great front man and kept the bands musical momentum up all the more by talking to the crowd and addressing them to scream louder while the guitar wizardry of Roth and Bender really was aiming to impress. This was a perfect bill for them, but I have to say that I always find them fitting in well based on the level of diversity their brand of Metal brings to the table. The only downside besides the short set would be the terrible mix that they had been given and instead of being a crystal clear Metal machine there was a bass heavy muddiness to a lot of the tunes. The set was "Black Light Ending", "Severe Emotional Distress", "Splintered", "Diagnosis Terminal", "Surrounded By Night", and "Timeless Winter". The new stuff sounds good and I applaud the band for introducing us to some of it tonight when it is not even recorded and released. It seemed to go over good as well and I am sure we will all enjoy whatever they give us when it comes out. Epica was on next and I had to say I was curious how their set was actually going to turn out.
Epica: I've been into this band for a couple of years now and was quite happy when they signed their deal with Nuclear Blast Records and released the positively captivating "The Divine Conspiracy" album back in September of 2007. The band did a short US tour with Napalm Records artists Visions Of Atlantis and our NYC show found both The Agonist and Unexpect on the bill as well, so those who managed to make it out to this one had nothing less than an awesome time. Shortly after the tour however we had heard reports that Simone Simons, the bands singer, had fallen ill and was not making a number of shows in order to better recover. Many had hoped this ailment would be long gone by the time the band returned to the states for the tour with Symphony X but it was not to be the case and she would instead sit out for these shows and be temporality filled in for by Amanda Somerville. Somerville is no stranger to the genre that Epica wanders and if you are up on your releases of the bands that also do it then you have definitely heard her before. The band would hit the stage as if there was no change in their roster and Amanda proved very early that she was more than capable of doing their songs and the interesting thing about her was the slight difference that she would bring to the performance tonight. You see, Amanda has been able to sing on a number of different types of albums over the course of her career and with that has used her voice with a little more flexibility than Simone has been able to. While I love Simone's passion and fiery vocal presentation I had to admit that I was enjoying the chance to hear Epica with a slightly different twist. Guitarist Mark Jansen was in top form tonight and delivering his sinister growls over Amanda's high melodies while the rest of the guys played their hearts out and also seemed to love the sizable stage that they had to run around on. Another point to mention was that their fill in drummer Arien was now the bands official player. Welcome aboard Arien, this is a great gig I am sure. The Epica set was not as long as we would have liked but they did manage to get to a little bit of everything from all of the albums and that was great. The crowd was mostly here for Symphony X but their fans are more open to sounds like Epica's as opposed to some other bands fans and the response was quite positive for them. The new album is something that anyone remotely curious about the band should pick up because it presents so many different interesting roads of music and was one of my own favorites for 2007. Symphony X was next and the energy level was about to hit a little higher.
Symphony X: I had mentioned that the last time Symphony X performed that they on the eve of the release of their new album and at that show there was hardly the space to catch your breath. It was exciting and while the group played a couple of their new songs they mainly focused on their existing classics for the crowd. Since that time the album has been met with incredible levels of approval and really is finding the group in command of their destiny after so much hard work. Performing at the now officially sold out venue was a testament to how well the release and the band have been going over. The guys also hit the stage running and this is some really moving Progressive Metal so there is a whole lot of energy going on amidst the display of technical prowess. Guitarist Mike Romeo is a neo-classical guitarist fans dream and he continually impresses me each and every time I catch the group. Hidden back up behind his drums was Jason Rullo and while I couldn't see him clear from my angle, you certainly heard all that he was able to do as he brought the bands sound together with complex syncopation and thunderous beats. Lead singer Russell Allen handles the stage like its master and he also does this with a beaming smile that lets you know just how happy he is to be up their delivering his music to you. The engaging singer periodically spoke to the audience and occasionally tossed in the humorous anecdotes for good measure and what this gave the perception of was that one of your good friends was up on stage singing. I was pretty sure that everyone who had attended that B.B. King's show was here tonight as well, and if they were there was no chance of disappointment in the set list as it would be quite different this time around. The amount of attention being given to the new album found most of it being performed at this show and when you added them up you were left with a grand total of seven numbers directly from "Paradise Lost". Now, this is not uncommon these days and bands are finding it imperative to present a lot of their new material to the fans in the hopes that it will generate CD sales. We saw Rush do about nine numbers from their latest "Snakes And Arrows" while Iron Maiden performed "A Matter Of Life And Death" in it's entirely on their tour of 2006. Does the practice work; well it's a matter of opinion because if all you want is the bands classics then you will hate it while if you are open to their new stuff it will floor you.
The band bypassed their album "V" entirely and while "Sea Of Lies" was initially written on the set list, they would change that to "Walls of Babylon" before they went on. If you glanced around to the swirling mass of humanity in the general area you would see that no one seemed to mind their doing the performance this way – clearly the new release was breaking a lot of ground for the band. The other thing you could take notice of tonight was how in command of their game the band was and that there was no way that they could be an opening act for anyone less than a Heavy Metal or Progressive Metal super power at this stage. It's been a long and well travelled road for Symphony X and their armies continue to grow as each day passes by. If you are not already on board then I suggest you catch up before this train steamrolls past you.
Symphony X Set List
Ocuclus Ex Inferi
Set the World on Fire
Through the Looking Glass
Smoke & Mirrors
Sea of Lies
Revelation/Divine Wings of Tragedy
Eve of Seduction
Out of the Ashes
Of Sins and Shadows
Epica Set List
The Obsessive Devotion
Menace Of Vanity
Chasing The Dragon
Cry For The Moon
Fools Of Damnation
Consign To Oblivion
Into Eternity Set List
Severe Emotional Distress
Surrounded by Night