As one of the premier names in neoclassical/symphonic progressive metal, New Jersey quintet Symphony X are truly a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, they’ve not been able to capitalize on their stylstiic supremacy in a long time, with their last tour concluding in August of 2019 and their newest album—Underworld—arriving in July of 2015. Thus, they’ve been chomping at the bit to unleash their fire once again, and that’s precisely what they did at the Keswick Theatre on May 11th. Supported by two more phenomenal acts (Trope and Haken), Symphony X seized the night as only they could.
Self-described as “an alternative rock band with progressive elements,” Trope got started at 7:00 PM and played almost non-stop for about 35 minutes. Whereas the official group is a quartet, this performance consisted only of singer Diana Studenberg and guitarist/producer Moonhead. Remarkably, though, they carried on just fine by using guitar loops, prerecorded percussion, and the like to fill in the gaps.
In fact, they replicated much of their debut LP, 2021’s Eleutheromania, extremely well. Highlights included “Lambs,” “Privateer,” “Surrogate,” “Season’s Change,” and “Pareidolia.” Each track—among others—felt sufficiently individualistic while also offering a strong cumulative overview of Trope’s aesthetic. Admittedly, comparisons to artists such as Evanescence, Anathema, Karnival, The Gathering, and especially Tool were apt; however, the combination of Studenberg’s affective mystical bellows and Moonhead’s innovative instrumentation delighted in their own right. They put an emblematic spin on Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” too, which struck a great balance between faithfulness and freshness (as all cover songs should).
Shortly thereafter, Haken played an hour-long set that was—at the risk of sounding hyperbolic—absolutely mind-blowing. Predictably, they favored 2020’s Virus above all else, kicking off with the LP’s opening duo (“Prosthetic” and “Invasion”) before closing with “Carousel.” Having just returned from this year’s gargantuan Cruise to the Edge festival, they were in perfect shape, with virtually every note and effect accounted for as they played some incredibly complex music with ease. Likewise, vocalist Ross Jennings’ voice was immaculate, so they really couldn’t have reproduced the material any better.
Of course, the same holds true for the intermediate pieces, such as the chaotic instrumental “Nil by Mouth” (from Vector) and fan-favorite “Cockroach King” (from The Mountain). Expectedly, they nailed the Gentle Giant-esque vocal collages of the latter tune, just as they captured all vintage 1980s nuances of “1985” (from Affinity). They even interrupted the song with an unanticipated dive into Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” further cementing their love for the bygone era. Throw in an appearance from their latest single—“Nightingale”—and you have an extraordinary show.
Honestly, Haken were so impressive that—depending on which act you like more—they may’ve outshone the headliner. That’s certainly not a knock against Symphony X, though, as they put on one hell of a 90-minute crusade. Backed by a giant poster inspired by the Underworld artwork—and bathed in the same alternating-color lighting scheme that decorated the prior two bands—they dove into several of the best compositions from their most recent record. Specifically, they dished out “Nevermore,” “Without You,” “Kiss of Fire,” and “Run with the Devil.” It was extremely intense and theatrical.
Before they finished, they also pulled out something from nearly every preceding collection, including “Evolution (The Grand Design),” “Serpent’s Kiss,” “Sea of Lies,” “When All is Lost,” and “Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies).” More often than not, the audience was visibly enthralled, with plenty of people singing along, headbanging in the aisles, and clapping when prompted.
While each inclusion was captivating, it’s surely the encore— “The Odyssey” in its entirety—that was the superlative part of their trek. No matter how obligatory it may’ve been, there’s a reason why it’s among the most celebrated progressive metal suites of the last two decades, and it’s always a crowd-pleaser.
Naturally, each act was also quite amiable and enthusiastic, so there was a significantly welcoming vibe during the entire night. For instance, Studenberg continually thanked the room for being there, and she showed a lot of appreciation for getting the chance to open for Haken and Symphony X. Afterward, Jennings ran around the stage with uncontrollable excitement, and as expected, he donned a glowing pair of glasses (red) for “1985.”
As for Symphony X frontman Russell Allen, he displayed youthful joy and humility by repeatedly encouraging the crowd to celebrate the fact that live music has returned. (He also danced with his mic stand a few times, spoke about the highs and lows of being forced to isolate during the pandemic, and admitted to “cling[ing] to rum like a pirate.”) In other words, he acted like he was in the company of friends, radiating a charming level of playfulness to complement his unquestionable professionalism and talent.
It's difficult to think of anything that could’ve made these performances better, as each band brought their A-game and thrilled the room. Undoubtedly, Trope took full advantage of the opportunity, enveloping the audience in their hypnotic progressive/alternative metal splendor from beginning to end. Likewise, Haken and Symphony X mesmerized with characteristic technical prowess and personable vigor. It may seem like forever since our ears have been denied these live music behemoths (sorry, I couldn’t resist), but they're back in full force and ready to reestablish their reign.