Symphony X – Damnation Game
After their rather abysmal first effort, Symphony X returns in a rather explosive manner with a very solid progressive metal album. The musicianship has improved a lot by this time, and no longer sounds quite as much like the Malmsteen worship of the first go. While developing their own sound, the two biggest improvements are really the vocals and the production. The latter still sounds a bit hollow and the drums still don’t quite get that kick that they will in later albums, but it’s a vast improvement from the self-titled release, coming off a lot clearer and the backup vocals are more audible. The more noticeable difference is the addition of Russel Allen: his voice is so much better than Rod Tyler’s it’s not even funny, and he boasts better tone and control over his voice, even though he doesn’t have any real training. He also has a gruff quality that makes him a rather distinctive singer, but he can also do soft and smooth (though his best work here will have to wait until Paradise Lost).
Damnation Game starts off with the explosive title track, which reminds me a lot of “Smoke and Mirrors” from Twilight In Olympus, with the scale runs on the guitar and such. “Damnation Game” and “Dressed To Kill” are both decent songs, but are nowhere near the best this album has to offer. “The Edge Of Forever” is a song that sets the stage for a lot of the band’s songs to come after it; it’s a half ballad/epic in the same vein as “The Accolade”, “Communion And The Oracle”, and “When All Is Lost”. This song is soft, emotional, but also has some hard-hitting moments and is very melodic. After “The Odyssey” (the song), “When All Is Lost” is my second favorite song by the band, and this is fairly similar; definitely a must listen.
“The Savage Curtain” is similar to the first two songs and relatively unremarkable. “Whispers” reminds me a lot of “Candlelight Fantasia”, in fact you can find a little of almost every song they’ve written to date in this album. It is obvious that this was the birth place of ideas, and while there really aren’t any true standout tracks, it’s very influential material. “The Haunting” is a fairly traditional progressive metal song with some notable soloing and solid double bass drum, great vocals, the works; this is probably one of the more memorable songs from this album. “Secrets” is decent, but nothing too special. “The Winter’s Dream” duo on the other hand, are really good. The first part is a short and sweet ballad that’s very pleasant, and the second is melodic metal heaven (it’s got great riffing and a great chorus) After “The Edge Of Forever”, this is definitely the best song from the album and something to remember.
I’ll admit, there are some large flaws with this album. The production isn’t great, Allen doesn’t sound amazing, and some of the songs feel like filler which is not a good thing when the album is only 46 minutes. On the whole, however, Symphony X really begins to set themselves apart and to develop their own sound with this release. Overall it’s a solid album and a good starting point for one of the greatest progressive metal bands of all time.
Ian’s rating 3.5 out of 5.0