"The Odyssey"

(Inside Out/SPV)

01. Inferno (Unleash The Fire)
02. Wicked
03. Incantations of the Apprentice
04. Accolade II
05. King of Terrors
06. The Turning
07. Awakenings
08. The Odyssey
09. Masquerade '98

RATING: 8.5/10

Once you dig beneath the dungeons, dragons and decorative armor, "true" metal carries as many false promises as it does genuine attributes. The fact that recycling standardized riffs and possessing a singer with a voice more featureless than the Arizona desert (take a bow, HAMMERFALL and ICED EARTH) can propel you into the stratosphere seems incredible. More absurd still are such sloppy outfits dwarfing — no pun intended — in a commercial sense real pioneers such as Ronnie James Dio.

Now, if it were based on actual merit, SYMPHONY X would be fast-tracking their way right to the top, leaving all the second-raters to wave broadswords limply in their wake. As it is, they're about to play second fiddle to Finland's STRATOVARIUS on a European live jaunt. On the evidence of this, their sixth album, however, it is they who should rightfully be closing the proceedings.

"The Odyssey", in simple terms, is a fantastic album. And, remarkably, it's fantastic without being their best. So even if it does sag occasionally with the likes of the too-unspectacular-to-be-so-long-winded "Accolade II", there is plenty more here to ramp up the exceptional parts — of which there are many. Take the opening duo of "Inferno" and "Wicked", which mix maximum crunch with those trademark spiralling melodies. Or the seven-part title track, which takes in elements of jazz, symphonic soundscapes along the lines of John "Star Wars" Williams and, once again, good old-fashioned crunch.

Both guitarist Michael Romeo and singer Russell Allen are widely touted as being the band's driving force — Russell in particular wipes the floor with many current "true" metal throatsmiths you might care to mention — but, ultimately it's all about the overall picture, the songs and the inspirational excellence. And if that's what you value in your sounds, you should waste no time in picking up this colossal opus.


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