By Thrash-head

Around the early '90s came a five-piece out of New Jersey that would set the progressive and traditional metal worlds on fire. Soaring tones and heavy tunes showed promise, especially in the case of Michael Romeo's Yngwie-worship soloing, but with the addition of "Sir" Russell Allen on lead vocals on their 2nd LP, things took the turn they needed. With each album, the band has progressively (no pun intended) written better songs, gotten better members into the lineup, and created more original musical landscapes. Now with "The Odyssey," the band went into the studio with Steve Evetts, of Skinlab, Earth Crisis, and Sepultura fame, and produced arguably the finest metal disc of 2002. The sound quality was there, very clean and precise to bring out the best in a band where precision is key. The songs themselves went into a direction where the heaviness was more in focus than ever before, and the songs were writ with the intention of causing the crowds to sing along and injure their necks while in a headbanging fury.I stood aside with bassist Michael Lepond at a recent stop on their December tour with Blind Guardian, and we discussed about the new album, tour, and much more.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: In the past, when I would pick up a Symphony X CD, I wouldn't expect to rock out with it, but rather to sit back, and enjoy a purely intellectually stimulating listen. With this new one, I put it on and was amazed at the songwriting, and I couldn't help but bang my head to it. Much of your past efforts seem to revolve around the five members flexing their musical muscles, soloing like crazy, whereas this one seems like you held back the intricacy just enough to let some really heavy songwriting take control. Was this the intention?

MICHAEL LEPOND: Well, basically we just started writing and it just kinda came out that way. We're confident in our musicianship and we don't always have to show off. We just wanted to write some good heavy songs. They just kept coming out, one heavy tune right after another, and we went with it and thought it was good, but we also threw in a couple songs for the big prog fans, like "The Odyssey", and "Awakenings", and "Accolade II." I think the album has a good mix of heavy stuff and really moody stuff, and I love the idea that it's really heavy.

WC: As far as the progressive metal scene goes, it seemed like for a while all the bands coming out sounded exactly like either Queensryche, Fates Warning, or Dream Theater. And then in the midst of that comes this band called Symphony X, which seemed to kinda put the "metal" back in "prog-metal." Do you think that this might have had something to do with how people are accepting you a lot more than some of the other bands?

ML: I guess we really don't think about how much metal or how much prog to put into it. I think the strength of the band is that we have the metal audience and we have the prog audience and we maintain a balance. I mean, a lot of progressive bands I'm not into because they're not heavy enough. I mean, I like metal, ya know? And what's good about this band is that everybody comes from totally different influences and we just put it all together and that's how we get what we get. We just do what we do and we don't think about it.

WC: One thing especially that I noticed is that Russell has been pushed out to the front of the mix a little more and this is arguably his BEST performance to date, as far as pushing his range and his versatility goes. Was that also something that was intended?

ML: When we started writing, and the riffs were coming out really heavy, basically for those songs to happen, he had to step up to the plate and just do it, and give it all he got. He just did it and was singing just as heavy as the riffs. I think what makes Russell so great is that he can sing with the heaviest of 'em and then he can sing a beautiful ballad just so beautifully. That's what makes this band so strong.

WC: And he doesn't go over the top on all these falsettos like all these other prog and power metal singers tend to do.

ML: What's good is that he doesn't really listen to too much power and prog. He listens to more of the stuff from the 70s, like the hard rock singers [I detect a sizable influence from Kansas and Foreigner--Old Fart Mality]. He doesn't really think about it and so he's not gonna sound like any of these people. And the most important thing with what Russ does, is that he doesn't do too much he does just what the song needs.

WC: Did Russell's involvement with the Star One project play havoc with recording schedules or anything like that?

ML: No, he did it real fast. He recorded real fast; it wasn't a really long project. And then he actually did a quick tour with them, and while he was out there he actually did a lot of Symphony X press, so it didn't really bother us.

WC: How did this tour with Blind Guardian come about? It seems like a power metal fans dream tour?

ML: Blind Guardian was planning to come from the states, and they were looking for an opening act to get a good strong package together. It was done through our record company, they got the gig for us. It worked out real well because a lot of people have never heard of us, and a lot of times after Blind Guardian people will come up and say "hey, you guys were great, I'm gonna buy all your CDs," and that's why we're doing this.

WC: It's been rumored of some troubles on this tour? Can you provide us any insight?

ML: At the beginning we had a lot of problems on our end. We had a really crappy tour bus (laughing). We didn't have any crew to help us. It was really rough because we just had to take care of everything ourselves. So we were like, if this doesn't get better within a week, we're gonna drop out. Thank God, the guys in Blind Guardian were really helpful, we got a nice tour bus, a nice crew, and things are lookin' good.

WC: Any last words for your fanbase?

ML: Everybody who's comin' to the shows, thank you so much. To the guys in Blind Guardian, thank you as well. It's been really great, and we really appreciate it. We're going to be coming back for a U.S. headlining tour next year and we'll be headlining Europe next year. It's looking great and we look forward to seeing everybody out there.