Symphony X

support Power Quest
author GR date 17/03/11 venue Scala, London, UK

Whilst these first few months of 2011 have been adequately fruitful in terms of gigs in good ol' London Town, it has been quite some time since I've put pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard) and expressed my opinion on a show for you, the esteemed Rockfreaks reader. Well, my first "working" (and those are big inverted commas) gig of the year was to be the return of progressive metallers Symphony X to these shores ahead of the release of a new album.

Power Quest

There was only a single support band on offer, in the shape of UK power metallers Power Quest, who I had seen a few days previously at Hammerfest in North Wales. That particular performance had been their first with a new line-up: guitarist Gavin Owen and former Firewind vocalist Chity Somapala having joined the fold last year. You won't be surprised to hear that this was only their second gig together and it certainly marked an improvement in performance and sound. That said, the mix was less than great to begin with and the audience rather sparse; something not too shocking given the Tuesday night.

Despite the band rocking out in the limited space available on stage, these factors conspired to make the first half of the set feel pretty run-of-the-mill. Given the importance of vocals to the genre and his lower register compared to previous frontmen, how well Somapala would fit the Power Quest sound was probably what most fans were interested in discovering.

Whilst the vocalist certainly has a decent voice, with his singing a bit too quiet in the sound mix he seemed to lack the 'oomph' needed to really propel the songs. Luckily though, things improved as the show went on; the sound settled down, the band seemed to find their groove and the tracks in the latter part suited Somapala's voice more. With a new album being released very soon, a selection of new songs were given an airing. The highlight of these was "Crunching the Numbers", a catchy and varied song about the world's recent economic woes - showing power metal doesn't just have to be about fantasy. As the band approached the end of their 45mins the venue had filled out significantly and despite little movement from the crowd, the general reaction was very positive. The last couple of years have seen many member changes in the Power Quest camp - keyboardist and leader Steve Williams being the only constant - if this line-up can remain stable then their shows are sure to keep on improving.

Smyphony X

With the roadies doing their thing in preparation for the headliner's appearance, the venue was packed - if not to capacity then pretty near to it. This was a sign of things to come in terms of audience reaction but with the air conditioning turned off, a trip to the bar was in order. Unfortunately this ended in a losing argument with bar staff over being short-changed, which left me feeling a little pissed off. Why tell you this? Well, because that's hardly the best state of mind to be in when just about to watch a band for the first time.

With that still distracting me somewhat, Symphony X took to the stage to the delight of those around me and broke into "Of Sins and Shadows" from one of their best known albums "The Divine Wings of Tragedy". I must admit that this is the only SX album I've heard and only a few times - so it's testament to the strength of their song-writing that I recognised the song. There was no doubt, however, about whether the majority of the audience was familiar with the material: from start to finish, the audience reaction to the band was one of great enthusiasm, kicking a previously sedate atmosphere up a few notches. Combined with a decent sound mix, natural stage presence and the charisma of frontman Russell Allen, it wasn't long until the show was the only thing on my mind.

As someone relatively uninitiated, I was surprised how heavy the band sounded live, but what came as no surprise was the musical ability of each member. The star in this respect was of course band founder and legend Michael Romeo, whose guitar wizardry was flawless throughout the set. The choice of songs meant little to a SX noob like me but each was received with genuine love from the crowd, the only detour being a slightly ill-judged comment on the current situation in Japan by Allen. This was saved though by a heartfelt dedication of the song "Paradise Lost" to those suffering because of the natural disaster. The track best highlighted just how much the crowd were into the band, with the whole venue singing along loud and clear. A new album on the horizon meant the inclusion of some brand new material - one song called "Prometheus" being played live for the first time ever. Again the passion of the crowd was apparent, as people seemed genuinely excited to be hearing new tunes.

I must say that being unfamiliar with much of the set and given the lengthy nature of prog metal songs, some did start to drag towards the end of the evening. That certainly didn't bother those fans crammed into the middle of the floor, who jumped, moshed (a bit) and sang their way though to closer "Sea of Lies". On the way out I heard someone joke that they wished Symphony X had played more from "Images and Words" - whilst they may not have reached the heights achieved by Dream Theater, they certainly showed why they're one of the premier prog metal bands today.

8

Photos by NR

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