Monday, 22 February 2016

Symphony X - London Review

When it comes to progressive metal, Symphony X have always had a great reputation as a live band. They were probably the first progressive metal band I got into actually, even before Dream Theater and Queensr├┐che if my memory serves me correctly! In all the years that I liked them however I have never had the chance to see them live. They have never been a band to undertake particularly extensive tours, at least since I have been keeping my eye out anyway, and the previous times they have come to the UK I have not been able to make it work. Since the Iconoclast touring cycle ended, the band had been fairly quiet too with the members working on various side projects. This all changed last year with the release of the excellent Underworld album, which I have listened to a lot since it came out. A fairly extensive US tour followed, with the announcement of the European shows coming later in the year for 2016. I knew I had the take the opportunity, as another chance might not come around for a good few years! The gig was at the Islington Assembly Hall, an excellent London venue that I had been to once before. The queueing system was awful however. I opted to collect my ticket on the door, which had a separate queue, which took at least ten times longer than all the queues. We all had to stand in the cold watching everyone else stream past us, all because we had elected to save a few quid on the postage. There may have been a problem with someone's order who was ahead of me in the queue, but I did not feel this length of time stood outside was acceptable! Luckily the actual venue itself is really nice, with a good-sized stage a great sound system that sounded very clear and loud all night.

Due to the queueing issues, the first support band Melted Space were already on stage by the time I got in. Despite my annoyance at having to stand in the cold and rain longer than was necessary, I was not too upset about missing some of Melted Space's set. I learnt, by looking on their Facebook page during their set, that they are a one-man project - led by keyboardist and songwriter Pierre Le Pape - who is joined by various guest musicians live. Melted Space's touring ensemble consisted of no fewer than four singers(!): a clean male singer, a harsh male singer, and two female singers. Lead vocals were shared between the four, and the whole thing came off as an extremely poor man's Avantasia. The gothic/symphonic metal the band played was fairly generic, without any real hooks to latch onto. I found the whole thing to be pretty forgettable and I cannot see myself checking them out further in the future.

Tunisia's Myrath had everything about them that Melted Space did not. They had great onstage charisma and the songs to back them up, with the majority of the set coming from their newly released fourth album Legacy. I have liked Myrath for quite a while, so it was great to finally see them live. Despite being unfamiliar with most of the set (my crowdfunded pre-order of Legacy is yet to arrive!) I enjoyed the band's performance, and was impressed with many of the new tunes. Zaher Zorgati (vocals) owned the stage, moving around a lot and belting out the lyrics with real vigour. The new songs seem to be much more instantly memorable than some of their older, more progressive, work, which made their set easy to enjoy. New single Believer was one of the set's highlights. The melodies throughout that song are very memorable, and Malek Ben Arbia's (guitar) solo was excellent. Only two older songs were included, including an excellent rendition of older single Merciless Times which has an excellent chorus. The set came to an end with Duat, another new song, which was one of the best ones played I think. I look forward to hearing Legacy when it finally arrives (probably just should have ordered from Amazon..). The setlist was:

Storm of Lies
Get Your Freedom Back
Believer
Wide Shut
Nobody's Lives
Merciless Times
Duat

When the stage was cleared, it was not long before Symphony X hit the stage, and delivered one of the best live performances I have seen for quite some time. It is very rare to see a band perform with such sustained energy, while nailing a whole set packed with technically challenging material! A bonus came in the shape of the setlist, which contained every song from the excellent Underworld album played throughout the evening - mostly in order too. Nevermore and Underworld prove to be an excellent opening double salvo, and as Michael Pinnella (keyboards/vocals) played Underworld's lead keyboard riff I knew the evening was going to be something special. This was because the sound was near-perfect, with this keyboards always being perfectly clear and not being drowned out by the band. Frontman Russell Allen was in excellent form throughout. He is the perfect frontman, with a huge vocal range and the stage presence to go with it. He was constantly on the move, acting out the lyrics and really getting the crowd going. Kiss of Fire was one of the set's highlights, with that big riff from Michael Romeo (guitar/vocals), the almost-black metal drumming from Jason Rullo, and the dynamic vocal performance from Allen. Another highlight was the progressive epic To Hell and Back, which again has excellent keyboards and plenty of chances for Romeo to solo. He is one of the most impressive guitarists I have ever seen live (up there with John Petrucci and Nuno Bettencourt), and his playing was spot on throughout as he nailed those complex solos. Another epic in the form of Swan Song closed out the Underworld section of the set (apart from the encore of Legend) in fine fashion, with Pinnella's piano lines really standing out. After the short but explosive instrumental The Death of Balance, two older numbers were played. Romeo channelled Yngwie Malmsteen on these songs, and they were both excellent. Sea of Lies was an excellent closing number, with plenty of moments for the crowd to join in during the wordless vocal sections. The sold out crowd (impressive feat with Dream Theater playing across London - also sold out!) was excellent thoughout, and seemed to be having the time of their lives. They were loud all the time, and the band seemed to feed of the energy. The band came back for a couple of more. The anthemic Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies) probably garnered the best reaction of the night, with some extremely loud singing from the crowd, before the epic aforementioned Legend closed out the evening. The setlist was:

Overture
Nevermore
Underworld
Kiss of Fire
Without You
Charon
To Hell and Back
In My Darkest Hour
Run with the Devil
Swan Song
The Death of Balance
Out of the Ashes
Sea of Lies
-
Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies)
Legend

Overall, this was one of the best metal shows I have seen in quite some time. Symphony X certainly lived up to their reputation as an excellent live band, and the capacity crowd certainly went away happy. I think I shall be thinking about this one for quite some time!

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