Let’s get this out of the way right now: Michael Romeo’s second solo album sounds exactly like Symphony X. It certainly makes sense if only due to his first effort, 1995’s The Dark Chapter, essentially serving as a demo reel used to form the prog giants in the first place. But when the real thing has been sporadically releasing albums that all sound the same for the last decade, questions are inevitably raised when a near identical sound pops up under a different name.
To be fair, War of the Worlds/Pt. 1 isn’t exactly the fourth coming of Paradise Lost. The hooks are similarly streamlined with matching choral effects, but the sound honestly reminds me more of The Odyssey than anything else. The guitar tone has a modern tinge but “Fucking Robots” aside, the implementation is surprisingly subtle. The vocals are also quite melodic, entirely avoiding the growly inflections that Russell Allen has become infamous for in recent years.
On top of that, the musicianship is rock solid. Rick Castellano’s voice will inevitably draw Allen comparisons, especially since he occupies a near identical range without boasting that distinct grit, but he’s good enough to make you wonder why he hasn’t been featured in a prominent project prior to this. The rhythm section also demonstrates technical skill without getting too flashy and the symphonic work is strong throughout. Even if it’s impossible to not imagine how this would’ve sounded with Lepond or Pinnella on board, you can’t deny Romeo picked some talented guys to play alongside him here.
And even at the heights of solo artist self-indulgence, Romeo still remembers to write actual songs. Singles “Fear the Unknown” and “Black” aren’t quite classics, but their upbeat tempos and catchy choruses do help keep them memorable. Following that, the aggressive mid-tempo “Oblivion” may be the album’s best overall song and “Believe” is the best of the longer, more melodic tracks. Much will also be made of the dubstep flavorings on “Fucking Robots;” having those effects sputter awkwardly in lieu of vocals during the verses was an odd decision but the actual composition honestly doesn’t differ from just about anything else on here.
War of the Worlds / Pt. 1 is a hard album to view “objectively.” Despite the solo artist tag, your views on this effort will depend not only on your feelings towards recent Symphony X material but also on the notion of a different band mirroring it in several aspects. There is an uncanny valley running throughout that could be a deal breaker for even the best songs on here. I enjoy this album overall but if it’s an indication of where Symphony X is headed, it might not be a bad idea to let Mike Lepond do some extra writing on the next one.
“Fear the Unknown”
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