Live report by David Araneda (words) and Ricardo Santos (images)
After a two-year hiatus, the American progressive metal gods SYMPHONY X announced earlier this year a European tour, which came to many as a surprise since the band has not published new music after 2015’s “Underworld”. I must mention that I fell in love with this band back in high school and it had been over ten years since I last saw them live in Santiago de Chile, so my level of excitement towards this comeback tour was way beyond the usual. So, when I found out they would come to Helsinki and that I would be able to write a live report for this webzine, I knew it would be a special night. Finnish fans seemed to be just as excited, since the tickets started selling so quickly that the gig had to be moved to a bigger venue, which also went sold-out a few days before the show.
The opening act, SAVAGE MESSIAH, was for sure a pleasant surprise for those who were not familiar with their music. This young London-based heavy metal band used their forty five minutes on stage very wisely and certainly managed to connect very quickly with the audience. Their energetic set consisted mostly of songs from their solid studio album “Demons”, released just a week ago, including highlights such as ‘The Bitter Truth’, ‘Under No Illusions’, ‘Down and Out’ and ‘Parachute’, a country cover with a metal twist. The charismatic lead singer/guitarist and founding member Dave Silver showed that he knows how to handle a crowd this big and the band managed to conquer an audience that perhaps had not heard of them before. The band took the time to hang out with their fans after the show, and they mentioned that this was one of their best gigs so far.
After a short break SYMPHONY X came to the stage, the house was fully-packed and boiling with anticipation. The set started with ‘Iconoclast’, title track of their 2011 album, featuring a long instrumental introduction full of virtuosity and musicianship, after which front man Russell Allen joins the band wearing Bono-like sunglasses and the crowd goes bananas. Russell’s stage presence and vocal performance is beyond impressive, putting the audience immediately in his pockets. Without taking a breath, they continue with ‘Evolution’, a killer track from their conceptual album “V”. As a long-time fan, I was so happy to see Jason Rullo fully recovered and completing the classic line-up of the band, after dealing with health issues a few years back. Mastermind Michael Romeo indulges us with his shredding skills, justifying why he is considered among the greatest guitar players in the world.
The band seems to be having a blast and they even take the time to drop some Star Wars jokes. They slow down things a little with the groovy mid-tempo of ‘Serpent’s Kiss’, showing that SYMPHONY X is not only about shredding and fast double-kick bass drums, but they know how to deliver a wide range of music styles with both elegance and heaviness. An extremely playful and charming Russell introduces the rest of the band and tells how happy they are to perform in front of so many people in a headlining show in Finland. ‘Nevermore’ brings the speed and aggressivity back, including some of the heaviest riffs in their catalogue, which has been a pattern in their latest albums. As the band is slowly starting to work in new material, I’m very interested to find out what will be the musical direction they’re going to take in the future.
Then it’s time for something more mellow and emotional. Russell gives a heart-felted speech about the loss of his friends from ADRENALINE MOB in a fatal accident that also left him in deep pain, both physically and mentally. He dedicates the next song, ‘Without You’, to his late friends and to the audience, telling already at this point that this is a very special night for him. You can hear it in his voice that he really means it, and he delivers a thrilling vocal performance, full of passion. Back to the heavier side, ‘Domination’ is one their fastest and finest tracks from the acclaimed “Paradise Lost” and they nailed it with technical perfection. Based on the setlist and the audience’s reaction, this album seems to be clearly everyone’s favorite. I personally love it, but I also wish they made some room for “The Damnation Game” and “Twilight in Olympus”.
‘Run with the Devil’ is a more laid-back song and Allen takes the opportunity to dance a bit a sip some whisky, revealing that this is one of the secrets to keep his voice so strong. I don’t recall him being so humorous last time I saw them, but he was clearly in a great mood to entertain everyone, even coming to the front row to shake hands with the audience, including myself. The iconic intro by bass guru Michael Lepond is an unequivocal sign that we’re about to hear ‘Sea of Lies’, their only nod to the masterpiece that is “The Divine Wings of Tragedy”. During the middle section Russell plays with the crowd, making us scream as loud as possible to scare the demons away. I can’t remember seeing a -Finnish audience this participative and responsive before, maybe it was because on Fridays Finns let go of their shyness with the help of booze.
They strike again with another fast track taken from “Paradise Lost”, the brilliant and furious ‘Set the World on Fire’, which helps to build the atmosphere before the epic grand finale. The band leaves the stage and the crowd keeps cheering for minutes. Everyone seems to know what’s going to happen next, so the crowd shouts in unison “Odyssey … Odyssey … Odyssey”. The band comes back, and Russell tells us to prepare for a magical twenty-five-minute journey to the ancient Greece. We’re obviously talking about the title track from 2002’s “The Odyssey”, one of the most ambitious songs in their catalogue, and which is always a privilege to listen to in its entirety. The multi-layered orchestrations by keyboard master Michael Pinnella are complemented by Romeo’s guitar tricks. Before the last section, Allen and Romeo tease each other in a hilarious game that Michael wins by leaving Russell singing by himself.
The audience responded with an almost ceremonial worship, accordingly to what we just witnessed, a masterful display of power, clinical precision and technique. But SYMPHONY X are far from a cold bunch of geeks, they also have their human side and seem very overwhelmed by this warm reception by the Finnish fans, who have been waiting for years to see this show. I really hope they release some new material soon and keep their promise to come back to Helsinki in the near future. Kudos also for SAVAGE MESSIAH, who took the audience by surprise with their youthful energy and showed that they have a lot of potential to grow bigger in the metal scene in the years to come. This was definitely one of those unforgettable evenings that makes you reinforce your love and respect for your teenage heroes, but also helps to keep you up to date with the newest generation of heavy metal.
Live report by David Araneda (words) and Ricardo Santos (images).
Symphony X – setlist:
Evolution (The Grand Design)
Run with the Devil
Sea of Lies
Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies)