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Symphony X: Symphony X, The Damnation Game, The Divine Wings of Tragedy, Twilight in Olympus (Special Editions)

Three reasons to revisit the back catalog of Symphony X:

1. After years of toiling in obscurity, the New Jersey-based band has emerged as one of America's strongest progressive-metal outfits, building a solid reputation both at home and around the world.

2. Symphony X keyboardist Michael Pinnella recently released the excellent but anti-Symphony X solo album Enter By the Twelfth Gate, Symphony X vocalist Russell Allen is working on a solo collaboration with fellow meteal singer extraordinaire Jorn Lande, and the seventh Symphony X studio album is slated for release sometime during the first half of 2005.

3. Reissues are fun.

InsideOut Music spent a lot of time and money reissuing many titles in 2004. Among the most welcome are two early and hard-to-find releases from Evergrey and these four titles from Symphony X. After 10 years, most of them spent on various labels with poor distribution in the United States, Symphony X finally landed a deal with InsideOut a few years ago that has helped the band make up for lost time. The Odyssey, from 2002, became one of the label's best-selling titles, and now fans who missed out on the sonic odyssey toward The Odyssey are treated to handsome digibook reissues of Symphony X's first four albums: 1994's self-titled debut, 1995's The Damnation Game, 1997's The Divine Wings of Tragedy and 1998's Twilight in Olympus. Each comes with enhanced sound, screensavers, a four-part video interview with singer Russell Allen and guitarist Michael Romeo spread across all four titles and liner notes penned by Pinnella and Romeo (though, oddly, just for the first two reissues).

Back in 1994, Symphony X could only dream of such elaborate packaging for their debut album, which is a rather undefined and unrefined collection of mostly typical progressive metal featuring Romeo (fresh from Phantom's Opera), Pinnella, bassist Thomas Miller, drummer Jason Rullo and shaky vocalist Rod Tyler. Often a source of slight embarrassment for the remaining band members today — sometimes Romeo doesn't even like to discuss the record — Symphony X was originally only released in Japan but nevertheless exhibits the fluid guitar melodies, the judicious use of double-bass drums, the classical influences, the epic arrangements and the high-brow lyrics that would eventually come to characterize the band's distinct sound. Just about the only thing missing is vocalist Russell Allen …

… who would make his debut on The Damnation Game — surprisingly at the suggestion of Tyler, who knew he wasn't right for the gig. Allen's muscular voice, along with Romeo's distinct fretwork and Pinnella's delicate classical touch, created Symphony X's signature and panoramic sound. Despite coming from a New Jersey grunge band called Street Wise that reportedly played a hybrid of Guns N' Roses and Soundgarden, Allen and his iron-clad throat transformed Symphony X from a decent band into a powerhouse. His vocals jump ranges but remain rooted in the lower registers, and he sounds as if he's forcing the lyrics a little more on The Damnation Game than he would on subsequent releases. The band's neoclassical reputation is solidified here from the get-go, as the title track opens the album with bursts of adventurous arpeggios. Fortunately, Romeo knows when enough is enough, and his fits of furious flurry are tempered by the deft juxtaposition of gritty guitar and precious piano on "The Edge of Forever." Riff-heavy songs like "Dressed to Kill" and "Savage Curtain" would later influence "Of Sins and Shadows" from The Divine Wings of Tragedy, while the aggressive, classically influenced title track would lead to "Sea of Lies" from The Divine Wings ... and later to the title track of The Odyssey. All the while, Symphony X never loses sight of its commitment to melody — even if some of the songs tend to get lost along the way.

By the time The Divine Wings of Tragedy was released, Symphony X had found its groove seemingly everywhere but in America. Much heavier than its predecessors, the album absolutely pummels listeners unlike anything else in the band's repertoire, save The Odyssey. Opener "Of Sins and Shadows" remains a favorite in concert, and its invigorating mix of rapid-fire guitar and dramatic Queen-like a cappella lays the groundwork for an album that remains the strongest of Symphony X's first four discs. Allen's voice continues its evolvement by adding grit and endurance, especially on songs like "Sea of Lies," "Out of the Ashes" and "The Eyes of Medusa." By contrast, Allen sounds lost in a dream on "Candlelight Fantasia" and "The Accolade." The 20-minute title track begins with beautiful chanting and eventually showcases the band in all its over-the-top glory – complete with Miller and Rullo's massive rhythm section, Pinnella's alternately delicate and whirlwind keyboards and Allen's most crystalline singing to date.

Picking up where The Divine Wings of Tragedy left off, Twilight in Olympus boasts "Church of the Machine," which delights with up-front keyboards, cymbal crashes and Romeo's thick riffs, and the brief "Sonata," based on Beethoven's "Sonata #8 in C Minor" serves as an intro to the musically violent "In the Dragon's Den." From that point on, Twilight in Olympus doesn't let up, flirting with speed metal and power metal on various tracks until the closing piece, "Lady of the Snow," a love song about "a mistress dressed in silvery blaze" that begins as a ballad but builds – similar to "Candlelight Fantasia," which closed The Divine Wings of Tragedy. Twilight in Olympus was marked by personnel changes, but the music hardly betrayed the band's underlying turmoil.

Symphony X signed with Metal Blade Records, its first U.S. label, for 2000's V: The New Mythology Suite, a concept album built around the story of the lost underwater city of Atlantis. After poor promotion, though, the band joined the InsideOut family, released The Odyssey and continues to make prog-metal history. These four "Special Editions" go back to where it all began…

Track Listings
Symphony X:
1) Into the Dementia (1:01)
2) The Raging Seasons (5:01)
3) Premonition (5:37)
4) Masquerade (4:28)
5) Absinthe and Rue (7:16)
6) Shades of Grey (5:41)
7) Taunting the Notorious (3:20)
8) Rapture or Pain (5:05)
9) Thorns of Sorrow (3:54)
10) A Lesson Before Dying (12:07)
Total Time: 53:36

The Damnation Game
1) The Damnation Game (4:32)
2) Dressed to Kill (4:44)
3) The Edge of Forever (8:58)
4) Savage Curtain (3:30)
5) Whisper (4:48)
6) The Haunting (5:21)
7) Secrets (5:42)
8) A Winter's Dream: Prelude (Part I) (3:03)
9) A Winter's Dream: The Ascension (Part II) (5:40)
Total Time: 46:25

The Divine Wings of Tragedy
1) Of Sins and Shadows (4:58)
2) Sea of Lives (4:18)
3) Out of the Ashes (3:39)
4) The Accolade (9:51)
5) Pharaoh (5:28)
6) The Eyes of Medusa (5:26)
7) The Witching Hour (4:15)
8) The Divine Wings of Tragedy (20:41)
9) Candlelight Fantasia (6:45)
Total Time: 65:28

Twilight in Olympus
1) Smoke and Mirrors (6:09)
2) Church of the Machine (8:57)
3) Sonata (1:25)
4) In the Dragon's Den (4:00)
5) Through the Looking Glass (Parts I, II, III) (13:05)
6) The Relic (5:03)
7) Orion-The Hunter (6:56)
8) Lady of the Snow (7:09)
Total Time: 52:46

Added: December 22nd 2004
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Symphony X Web Site
Hits: 4280
Language: english

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