Symphony X - The Damnation Game (1995)
Symphony X are back with their second album and a sound that will quickly distinguish them as one of the top prog metal bands in the world.
The differences between this and their self-titled debut are noticeable immediately. Besides the addition of powerhouse vocalist Russell Allen, who's incredible voice can easily switch between both melodic and aggressive styles, the production has been vastly improved and the songwriting is a lot more confident and refined.
The songs on 'The Damnation Game' flow so much fluidly than before. Michael Romeo's intense riffs and exotic solos are much more tasteful, and Michael Pinella's keyboards never sounded this beautiful on 'Symphony X'. While this is far from the bands most ambitious work, it's still a solid blueprint which the New Jersey quintet would build upon with future releases.
Featuring highlights such as 'The Edge of Forever', 'A Winter's Dream', 'The Haunting' and the title track, the reason this only gets a three-star rating is because, despite being a really good record, honestly, it just pales in comparison to what's to come. Such is the strength of the bands later output that I find myself very rarely listening to this one. Still, if you're a fan of Symphony X, then this is definitely an album worth owning!
Symphony X has made great works of art that paint pictures into your mind too complex to look at clearly. But before their career took off with The Divine Wings of Tragedy and other subsequent albums, there was The Damnation Game, coming after (NOT before) their debut album. The band's first two albums are both mostly forgotten, but The Damnation Game is a little more well-known. Even the band has probably forgotten about those albums because almost none of the songs in them anymore, despite their live album being titled Live on the Edge of Forever. At least this album has a unique learning experience!
This is where the band's style was really starting to take shape. The band had started really forging their well-known sound. The elements that we all know are in a supreme craft in this album.
When the opening title track begins, you know right away that the melodic neo-classical/progressive metal sound is fully formed in a fast pace. Drummer Jason Rullo shows his fantastic skills, and new and current vocalist Russell Allen puts his voice in full power. The excellent "Dressed to Kill" is underrated. Just listen to its killer beauty! The 9-minute "The Edge of Forever" is a semi-ballad, similar in vein to the previous album's "Premonition" but longer. One of the best tracks here in my opinion!
The structure changes and speedy soloing in "Savage Curtain" are savage but a little hazardous, especially in the chorus. "Whispers" is a rare touching ballad in the same pace as the previous album's "Shades of Grey". That's probably the best ballad the band can ever make. "The Haunting" has numerous different moments of glory.
The glory continues with "Secrets", which has fantastic keyboards, solid guitar rhythms, and memorable vocals in this fun ride of a song. The ending suite, "A Winter's Dream" consists of two parts; the prelude and the longer main part, but I think the suite work better as a two-part song instead of two separate tracks. The "Prelude" is just beautiful, consisting of keyboard-orchestral music with Allen's soft vocals. A nice effect of imagination! The second part, "Ascension" kicks off the heaviness and takes on one more metal ride before ending the album in a nice bang.
This album, along with their 1994 (NOT 1996) debut, might not be the best way to start your Symphony X journey unless you're doing it chronologically, but it's no burden. It's something that must be own by progressive/power metal fans. The band played their game well....
Favorites: The Damnation Game, The Edge Of Forever, The Haunting, A Winter's Dream (as a full suite)