"Peace Sells"-era Megadeth with Ronnie James Dio on vocals, everyone on steroids. A cyborg keyboard player whose voice is what he plays. That's my impression of this album.
My initial impression was not so warm. "V: The New Mythology Suite" was my introduction to Symphony X and I loved that album. So I had high expectations. The first comments I jotted down were not very flattering. The first song, "Iconoclast", includes a choir and a symphony and it's a powerful, heavy, and great song with which to kick off the album. The music is heavier and far more intense than anything from "V".
The next five songs are all excellent metal tunes: fast, furious, brutal, and intense. Like an avalanche that can halt in an instant and become a bulldozer or a quick flourish or artillery assault and then back to an avalanche. The guitars are fast and change from charging riff to machine gun spray of notes to battering thunderous riff. The drums are incredible at abrupt rhythm changes, speed, and unanticipated restraint. The keyboards not as prominent as on "V" but when they are, they're very suitable with a mechanical sound and rarely pretty or delicate.
Russel Allen's vocals sound beefed up compared to ten years earlier and he manages some great Dio "Aahhh-ohh-oh" hollers. But after five excellent metal tracks, the progressive and symphonic aspect seems to have been abandoned. "When All Is Lost" makes up for it by bringing back the real piano and acoustic guitar and the softer melodious side of the band while still being heavy. This one song is where the band really flex their symphonic muscle and shades of "V" flicker by, reminding us that this is the same band. More of this would have made a more symphonic progressive album, but I've really come to love the heavy side.
Of course I had to buy the double disc. I heard the record company wouldn't release the double album unless a single disc would also be released simultanneously, their logiic being that sales would be better if some members of the public were only willing to shell out for a single disc.
The second disc continues with what we've heard mostly so far: 6-minute fast and furious metal tracks. There are more excellent songs and to be clear each song has its own unique opening so that there's no confusing one for another. I just feel the overall atmosphere of brutally sharp and tight heavy metal remains unchanging. "Reign in Madness" is a longer track so once again there's more room to stretch out the song and add some acoustic guitar and piano. Nothing pretty like "When All Is Lost". The piano here is haunting and the guitar riff heavy. This part is a brief interlude in the otherwise intense track.
A few final words, Allen's vocals remind me also of Luke Easter of Torniquet. There's good melody in the tunes, so it's not just savage shouting or hoarse singing. The music is heavier and beefier with more weight than "V". Though a bit disappointing at first, I now enjoy the album. The sound is well produced; it's not dense and muddy like many heavy albums. Everything is pumped but clear. The guitars and drums work together to emphasize one another and add power to the riffs and playing.
As a metal album, I'd say this one really delivers. For a symphonic/progressive metal album, I think it could use a little more like the title track, "When All Is Lost", and "Reign In Madness".