Symphony X are one of the biggest names in the progressive metal scene for a while now. Fronted by the charismatic and powerful Russell Allen and winged by the virtuoso guitarist Michael Romeo, the band is back after a gap of three years and decided to cross the Atlantic for a European tour to get back on stage.
Before they did, Savage Messiah from the UK opened with some of their heavy / power metal mashups, and I arrived just in time for the last two tracks of their setlist. The band is completely new to me, I had a few immediate remarks: The vocalist had a solid soprano range, and his singing style was very akin to Bruce Springsteen, with the occasional high-pitched scream. The final song was very accessible, potentially radio-friendly heavy metal with hooky guitars and fun drumming.
While waiting for the big guns to show up, I was taken aback by how big the turnout was on the night. It helped that it was a Friday, but I didn’t expect the band to be this popular in Europe seeing as I always considered them to be underrated compared to the genre greats such as Dream Theater. The median age of the crowd was much higher than the last couple of times I’ve been to the venue, reflecting how long the band’s been making music.
As the lights are cut off and the symphonic set in, the crowd lets out a huge cheer as, one-by-one, the members take their positions and jump into the riff-heavy “Iconoclast”, with Russell Allen entering the stage wearing a pair of shades. Full of energy, he moves with vigour and gets the spectators off their feet with some spectacular high notes. While the song is not my favourite in terms of lyrics, it proved to be a fun opener. For the next track, the band rolled back the years, performing “Evolution” off ‘V: The Mythology Suite’, with two dual solos and drum fills forming an improvised bridge. The next one was “Serpent’s Kiss” from my personal favourite ‘Paradise Lost’ and Allen took the opportunity to introduce the band, reminding us that they played for the first time in Paris in the very same venue many years ago.
The songs that followed heavily featured their most recent album ‘Underworld’. Allen let the crowd sing a line on the chorus, which they happily partook in, while Romeo plays more preposterously quick shred-heavy solos. Allen takes a moment to thank his audience, revealing that after the accident that befell a dear friend of his during the Adrenaline Mob tour a few years back, he didn’t know of what to expect when back on the road. As he encouraged the crowd to live each moment, he then sang along the ballad “Without You”. Allen slightly struggles during this one, though the song is notoriously difficult to pull off due to its sweeping range. Allen held a made-up competition for who could scream the loudest, before finishing pre-encore with “Set the World on Fire”.
For the encore, the band decided to entertain the audience to a live rendition of the mighty “The Odyssey”, their 24-minute magnum opus from the album of the same name. Allen’s mid-range stretches during the first verses are magnificently delivered, showing off a scarcely exposed melodious side to his voice. While long-term fans loved singing along its motifs, I noticed quite a few restless ones lost in the mid-section. They lacked the surprise wow factor that, taking a recent example, Haken has in their epics. I was also slightly disappointed that original member Michael Pinnella took a backseat both in the stage and the mix, speaking of the whole show and not just this the song. Small qualms aside, the symphonic parts were, as Allen ended the night with an extended ‘I love you’ to the audience.
La Machine du Moulin Rouge is my favourite venue in Paris, and tonight again proved why. The sound all night was crisp, the bass was loud and buzzing, the vocals were not overpowering and there wasn’t any unnecessary loudness competition. The lighting deserves a mention too, draping the performers in blue and switching to brightest colours at opportune moments.
Symphony X put on a marvellous performance on the night, mixing up the setlist to reflect their two decades of material while performing the tracks to near perfection, all in a venue that truly allowed them to shine.