Michael Romeo – ‘War Of The Worlds Part 1’ (Album Review)
Given that I live a few miles from Woking (the original British setting of H.G. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds), anything related to that title naturally grabs my attention. Of course, the fact that this album happens to have been made by Michael Romeo – one of the most proficient guitarists in progressive metal, and the founder of Symphony X, a band I’ve been into since the days of V and The Odyssey – also marks it out as more than merely notable.
If someone decided to film yet another remake of The War Of The Worlds, this album would make an excellent soundtrack – albeit an exceptionally heavy one. Romeo’s chosen tones are consistently familiar, which is unsurprising given his central creative position within Symphony X, but here he stretches his musical and expressive palette to fresh limits. The Introduction alone is beautifully stimulating; it sounds as if it were scored across the heavens, not using more earthly and mortal means. Clichéd terms like “cinematic,” “high-definition,” and “4K-grade” may be overused in this kind of context, but they all fit this album to a greater than average degree.
War Of The Worlds is excessively grandiose – and that quality is precisely what makes it so great. With a theme this monolithic, you just couldn’t get away with some timid, half-hearted, jangly hollowbody strumming and a little bit of tambourine in the background. Michael Romeo is not only aware that this situation calls for skyscraping music; he’s also a virtuoso with decades of experience spent delivering exactly that.
In making this album, Michael Romeo had to take a creative position from which any chosen direction would prove controversial. A purely instrumental effort would have appealed almost exclusively to guitarists and classical fans; a fully experimental game-changer would almost certainly cause long-time Symphony X aficionados to question his mental state; and a release that hewed closely to the well-established Symphony X formula (while employing a new lineup) would lead to fans constantly comparing the results to classic Symphony X records while clamouring for a new “real” SX album. In the end, War Of The Worlds Part 1 is a mix of all of the above.
This album’s main curveball comes in the form of Fucking Robots, which incorporates an absolutely sick call-and-response section in which Romeo’s band duels with electronic elements that sound like something from a Transformers movie. Then it gets a bit dubstep (the sonic equivalent of thin ice), and I for one loved it – but then I’m almost definitely in the minority as a Symphony X fan. Personally, had War Of The Worlds been entirely instrumental and this experimental all the way through, I would probably have preferred it to the state it now permanently exists in.
For the most part, War Of The Worlds sounds like what it most probably is – a stopgap between “proper” Symphony X albums used to buy time while SX vocalist Russell Allen continues to recover from last year’s traumatic and tragic Adrenaline Mob road accident. However, that doesn’t make this a half-masted release by any means. Rick Castellano does an admirable job throughout War Of The Worlds, often managing to equal Allen in terms of compatibility with Michael Romeo’s idiosyncratic style – and it’s not exactly shocking that Romeo himself has poured as much of himself into this album as he has any other.
This is a solo album after all, and you also can’t ignore Michael Romeo’s soloing talents – especially on this kind of record. When this guy turns up the dial marked “SHRED,” you fucking know it, and YouTube will soon home plenty of Romeo fans reproducing his latest over-the-top lines in the comfort of their own homes. Frankly, the guitar work in itself is worth the price of admission – and that’s the main reason why I would’ve loved to hear a full no-fucks-given instrumental/experimental extravaganza.
In any case, all you can reasonably ask any artist to do is whatever the fuck they want. Once they’ve done it, the rest of us can make of it what we will. Although War Of The Worlds Part 1 is naturally going to split Symphony X fans into a few hard-debating camps, it bears the undeniable mark of one of progressive music’s most inspiring artists.
Don’t forget: Part 2 is still to come. Then, at some point, Russell Allen will hopefully make his triumphant return, receive a hero’s welcome, and Symphony X will drop the follow-up to 2015’s Underworld. At that point, fans will most likely look back at War Of The Worlds and pay their respects to a guy with temporarily diminished resources doing the best he can – and doing a fucking sick job even during difficult circumstances.
LTK RATING: 90%
Pre-order War Of The Worlds Part 1 (out July 27) on iTunes.
Follow me on Twitter for updates!
Need more to read? Click below to start reading Why Do Good Bands Break Up? for free!