When Brazilian thrash legends Sepultura parted ways with frontman Max Cavalera in 1996, many thought that would be the end of the road. An acrimonious divorce that seemed to favour neither party, the remaining members auditioned several well known musicians before eventually choosing Ohio born Derrick Green as the man to replace the outgoing Cavalera brother.
The ninth studio album by Symphony X, titled Underworld (Nuclear Blast), is not a concept album, but thematically deals with the journey into the underworld, specifically as pictured in Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’, which is reflected in titles such as ‘Underworld’, ‘Charon’, and ‘To Hell and Back’.
The album opens very nicely with the instrumental ‘Overture’, which, while not an actual overture, has a nicely bombastic classical feel and flows right into ‘Nevermore’, the first single of the album. It is a very heavy progressive song with fast guitar riffs and a slower cadence to the vocals. In similar vein, ‘Underworld’ features some very heavy vocals and even screams from Russell Allen; this contrast between the primal vocals and a more ethereal, clean voice gives a great deal of depth and energy to this song, though the placing of second single, ‘Without You’, straight after – a much softer song that features acoustic guitars and a Country feeling mixed in with the Symphonic Prog – is rather jarring.
‘Kiss of Fire’ has another killer intro, but the most impressive part of this composition is the choral arrangement, which delivers interesting emphases in the lyrics. This is also one of the songs in which Russell Allen can really show off his vocal range. ‘Charon’, a song about the ferryman of the underworld, is also very interesting, as the muted riffs set a really interesting atmosphere and the vocal melodies have notes of mystery and suspense.
Elsewhere, Symphony X mesh heavy prog, 70s prog, and classic hard rock, and the album finishes strongly with ‘Legend’; fast paced and heavy, yet melodious, exactly what you want from the X.
Nine albums in, and while there are some absolute killer songs on this album, there are a few bits, such as ‘To Hell And Back’ and ‘Swan Song’ with its clichéd lyrics that break the tension and don’t come together so well, yet overall the bands’ class shines through more often than not.