Thursday, March 15, 2007

Maiden as an Analogy for Symphony X

After several days of discussion about Symphony X stemming from their (partial) participation in this show with my buddy Seth, I built up enough interest to go out and download their full catalog after years (literally - I bought V: The New Mythology Suite five or six years ago and I've seen them live twice since) of intending to do more exploration of the band's history. In general, I'm pleasantly unsurprised by what I'm hearing (i.e., I expected the music to be good and it is), but while listening to Symphony X, their first album, recorded with previous singer Rod Tyler I made some observations I felt I had to share.

Right from the first track, it was painfully obvious that Rod Tyler is no Russell Allen (the current singer). Lines that Allen would take completely over the top (as is appropriate for a power metal singer) leave Tyler's mouth in a comparatively tame fashion. That's not to say he's a bad singer - he's got a bit of vibrato and can hold a tune - but his style is somewhere between "reaching" and "completely wrong" for Symphony X's music. The analog that came to me immediately was Iron Maiden: Blaze Bailey isn't a bad singer, but when he sings Maiden he's a poor man's Bruce Dickenson and everyone knows it.

I also quickly noticed that, in addition to Tyler's shortcomings, the backup vocals on this album are absolutely wretched; at one point I swore I was listening to the results of Alvin and Chipmunks kicking Dave to the curb, dropping their voices a few octaves and forming a progressive metal band. To say that this album is an excellent illustration of the necessity of a strong singer and a good producer might be an understatement.

Then "Masquerade" came on. "Masquerade" is a rocking track and the band re-recorded it with Allen on vocals in 1998, releasing it on Prelude to the Millenium (and then again as a bonus track on The Odyssey). Listening to the original version (with the newer version in my head) I realized that Symphony X is a clear, clear illustration of why Maiden should rerecord The X Factor and Virtual XI. Both albums have their fair share of good songs that have done well when Maiden plays them live with Bruce at the helm - they're just lacking that touch that would put them in the same glorious group as almost everything else Dickenson has done with the band.

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