During the last quarter of 2001, America’s triumvirate of elite progressive metal bands – Dream Theater, Queensryche and Symphony X -- each released crucial live albums. In the case of Dream Theater, Live Scenes From New York documented the band’s final performance of the career-defining Metropolis 2000 Tour. And for Queensryche, Live Evolution proclaimed that after 20 years, the Seattle band can still rock with class. But New Jersey’s Symphony X perhaps has more to gain than either of its counterparts with the release of Live on the Edge of Forever. Even though the two-disc set spans the band’s entire five-album career, much of the material here may be unfamiliar to U.S. listeners. Which is why this release, recorded at two shows during 2000 and 2001 in front of voracious French and German audiences, is so monumental for the band.
Up until the U.S. release of V in 2000, Symphony X albums were not easy acquisitions in the States, available only as expensive European and Japanese imports. But despite a rather piss-poor marketing effort by Metal Blade (the band’s first and former U.S. label), V was a critically acclaimed concept album that dove into the undersea island of Atlantis, summoned holy Egyptian priests and invoked Greek gods in a heavy retelling of the classic battle between good and evil. And the disc found its way into the hands of hungry U.S. progressive metal fans wanting to hear what all the fuss overseas was about. Live on the Edge of Forever stands up even stronger to that fuss, demonstrating the band’s depth, talent and emotion. Anchored by singer Russell Allen and guitarist Michael Romeo, Symphony X play old and new material with equal finesse – drawing most of it from the band’s last three albums, V, Twilight in Olympus and The Divine Wings of Tragedy. Both men play their parts well, with Allen’s vocal inflections even more distinct live than on record, and Romeo flirting with Malmsteen histrionics but thankfully never going over the top. Keyboardist Michael Pinnella, drummer Jason Rullo and relatively new bass player Michael Lepond make up the rest of this finely tuned machine. And the sound quality on Live on the Edge of Forever, if indeed left untampered, is magnificent.
Most of disc one features tracks from V, played in the order in which they appeared on the album, while disc two covers the better (and heavier, more melodic) tracks from Twilight in Olympus, as well as three cuts from The Divine Wings of Tragedy – including the 20-minute title track. Hopefully, Live on the Edge of Forever, combined with a new studio album and InsideOut Music America’s rerelease of earlier Symphony X albums in 2002, will shout to the masses of Dream Theater and Queensryche fans that there’s a third and equally powerful force on America’s prog-metal scene. Perhaps, for Symphony X, there is no greater praise than that.