2015 Symphony X interview with Michael Romeo
This year marks the start of Symphony X’s third decade. Started in 1994 by guitarist Michael Romeo and keyboardist Michael Pinella, the New Jersey-based progressive metal quintet has been helping shape the sound of heavy metal for two decades. This month, the band, which also features drummer Jason Rullo, vocalist Russell Allen, and bassist Michael Lepond, will release its ninth studio album, Underworld. The new record finds Symphony X tapping into the feel of its earlier works like 1997’s The Divine Wings of Tragedy and 2002’s The Odyssey in creating this masterful and dramatic new piece of work.
Recently, Michael Romeo spoke with Metalholic to discuss the record and how it all came together. He shared that the band began tossing about thematic ideas early on in the process:
“There’s a couple of things that we talked about before we even started writing. We do that with every record, just sort of figure out what it is we’re going to do. Early on, Dante’s Inferno came up. Orpheus and the Underworld myth kind of thing were being tossed around. There were cool things about both of those. They are very similar kind of stories, but the thing I thought was cool was with Dante, the heavier songs, they lend themselves well to that kind of thing; a little darker, a little more aggressive. If there is any sort of a symphonic element you can have the choirs, you can have the dark strings—you can paint a cool picture. But on the other side of things, especially with the Orpheus myth: His wife dies and he’s going to go to Hades to save her, and the idea of all those things was cool. We didn’t want to tell a story, read lines out of a book or anything, but it was like trying to make the lyrics more personal. And that had more of an emotional side to it. And we were talking about through the music, bringing back some of the things we’ve done through the years. Having the real heavy stuff but having the more soaring melodies on maybe a softer song, with the acoustic. We’ve done all these things in the past, but this time there was definitely a conscious effort to incorporate all those things and the idea of going to hell and back for someone.”
The previous Symphony X album, Iconoclast (2011) took a heavier direction, but with Underworld, the band return with more melodic and dramatic impact. As Romeo shares, the record has a cinematic scope to it:
“I think there’s a cinematic feel to some of the stuff. I mean, there’s always been a little bit of that in what we’ve done; bringing in these orchestral elements: And this record has bits and pieces of it too. A little bit of those kinds of moments on the album, I guess ‘cinematic’ is kind of a cool word. There’s a little bit of everything. I think there are songs on this record that could have been on Iconoclast—really heavy, aggressive; and there’s some that could be on our third album, going way back—a little more progressive, a little more melodic. There’s definitely a good variety of stuff.”
During the full interview, which can be heard below, Romeo also digs deeper into Underworld; he talks about the importance of song sequencing, his work on Michael Lepond’s solo album, and he even shares his favorite guitar riff on the new record. Romeo even talked about working with his New Jersey brethren in Overkill on last year’s White Devil Armory. The two band’s will join forces this summer for their first tour together, which begins in September.