These days it seems that New Jersey is nothing but a place filled with crooked politicians, overly tanned douchebags, and high taxes. While all that may be true, there is also great things coming out of my place of origin from delicious submarine sandwiches to the real Jersey Shore areas such as Pt. Pleasant, Cape May, and Asbury Park. One of the best things that is coming out of NJ right now is music, namely progressive metal powerhouse Symphony X. Having just released their 8th full length studio album Iconoclast, these Jersey boys have struck gold yet again and delivered a beast of an album.

For this review I will be passing my thoughts on the 12 song 2 disk Special Edition of Iconoclast. There is a 9 song single disk version available, but according to the band the 2 disk set is the track list and structure that they intended to be released. The length of the album(1hr and 23min) was a bit long to fit on a single disk so the label Nuclear Blast wanted it to be released as a single disk set cutting some songs, and after some b.s. and bickering we’re left with with these 2 versions. If anything the Special Edition set is physically put together very well boasting sturdy packaging and some great artwork depicting the man vs. machine theme of the album. So, when purchasing make sure not to cheat yourself and pick up the 2 disk edition, those 3 songs go a long way and really flesh out the album. So, onto the review…

Iconoclast is an album that grabs you by the hair and commences to melt your face only giving you a breather from the onslaught on the ballad “When All is Lost”. Expanding on the darker sound they experimented with on their previous album Paradise Lost they add lots of elements of groove metal and delve deeper into their progressive roots. I mention groove metal because through out the entirety of Iconoclast there is this groove element present in every song that just makes your head bang and your foot tap non stop, even in the ballad. That element of groove mixed with all the other styles Symphony X have established over the years creates a feeling of racing full speed on an out of control airplane, you don’t know if it’s going to go up down, left right, in or out, there is a sense of danger, but you’ll be damned if it isn’t on hell of a fun ride.

The trademarks of Symphony X are their use of complex timings and odd meters as well as songwriter/guitarist Michael Romeo’s exquisite riffing and soloing, lyricist/vocalist Russell Allen’s stellar singing and metal voice, and keyboardist Michael Pinnella’s(a Pt. Pleasant native, the town across the street from where I grew up 🙂 ) delightful and emotional melodies and atmosphere building. Bassist Michael Lepond comes from the Steve Harris school of bass playing with his galloping bass lines and drummer Jason Rullo keeps everything in check flawlessly floating around the difficult structures and timings that Romeo has created. On Iconoclast all these trademarks are in top form and while you can definitely tell this is a Symphony X album you can hear the progression of their sound.

The concept of the album is “based the idea of machines taking over everything, and all this technology we put our society into pretty much being our demise”(Russell Allen). Iconoclast doesn’t really have much in the way of a narrative like many concept albums do, but all the songs are based that theme. The music also compliments that theme perfectly with Pinnella’s keyboards really adding to the futuristic feel of the album. The aforementioned groove that the album has on it also fits well with the theme with riffs and bass lines resembling pulsing pistons in a machine and Romeo’s frantic at times soloing resembling circuitry. And don’t get me wrong, this is nothing close to something like industrial or electronic metal, the whole package feels very human and organic playing on the “man” part of “man vs. machine”. The delivery of the concept, while being nothing new or original, is impeccably executed and shows the great songwriting talent that they have.

Song wise, there is not a song on this album that is nothing less than outstanding. Rising above the rest are the ultra catchy and powerful “Dehumanized”, and “Heretic” includes one hell of sick and complex riff(starting at 0:32) as well as a wonderful face melting solo from Romeo. On “Electric Messiah” Russell Allen takes a some lyrics that would be lame and cheesy if sung by any other vocalist and gives them meaning and power and he gives a wonderful performance on the groove-laden “Children of a Faceless God”. The true closer to the album(available if you purchase the 12 song version) “Reign in Madness” is another standout track showcasing Symphony X‘s mastery of the progressive end of their spectrum.

Iconoclast is a hands down must buy album for fans of all areas of metal. They have really outdone themselves this time around and this is an album I will be listening to a lot, now and into the future. This is without a doubt one of the best releases this year(and previous years) and their best since their breakthrough album V:The Mythology Suite(maybe even better, time will tell). It’s times like these that I’m proud to say I come from Jersey. Go Out And Buy This Album NOW!!!(the 2 disk set of course 😉 )