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SYMPHONY X/Shadowkeep -
Mean Fiddler, London 18 October 2003

Earlier in the year, while supporting Stratovarius at the Camden Electric Ballroom, Symphony X seemed rather surprised at the warmth of the crowd's reaction to their set and I remember singer Russell Allen declaring "We'll be back". Its something that you hear band's say quite a lot, but one is never quite sure whether it will happen or not. Anyway 6 months or so later they were back and as headliners too.

Support came from Shadowkeep, big fans of the headliners and they got the gig off to a very early start. It was 6:20PM no less when they hit the stage and the venue was still filling up. While I have their first EP and 1st Album, I do not own a copy of Chaos Genesis, their second album on the German label LMP, from which most of their material was culled, so I have to admit that the only song I recognized was the set closer 'Dark Tower'.

The line-up featured new vocalist Ronnie Stixx and bassist Frederick Englund for only the 4th time in the UK and while musically they seemed quite proficient, they didn't quite 'click' with me. Their sound seems too centred in the 80s, (think early 80s Queensryche and Judas Priest) and the solos never raise the songs above the merely ordinary. However the growing crowd seemed to enjoy them and even brought them back for an encore.

After a 30 minute break, during which the Mean Fiddler staff played the same song over the PA 4 times in a row, Symphony X hit the stage to loud cheers - particularly from the contingent of largely foreign visitors who crowded around the stage. They began with the two opening songs from their awesome 'The Odyssey' disk; both heavy and aggressive they really kick-start the show, with larger than life frontman Russell Allen giving a stunning demonstration of his lung power during 'Wicked'.

"Good Evening Everybody" bellowed Allen, "I hope that you are all in a good mood tonight". Of course we were, and I for one felt even better as the band moved through 'Evolution' and 'Communion' from their previous studio effort 'V'. Though I love the fluid yet crunchy guitar of virtuoso Michael Romeo, I also adore the keyboards of Michael Pinella and they had been cruelly hidden in the mix during the opening songs. Here at last their full beauty was released, with perhaps the two finest movements from the long concept piece,which the crowd sang lustily along to. 'Communion' in particular is one of those songs which can be guaranteed to produce goosebumps. By this stage some of the young females on the balcony had caught the roving eye of Mr Allan and when he wasn't belting out the vocals stage front, he was serenading his female admirers :)

The crowd also loved 'King of Terrors', but seemed unfamiliar with the older 'Out of the Ashes' from 'The Divine Wings of Tragedy'. However there were no problems in recognizing 'The Accolade' from the same album as Russ introduced "two songs linked - about a crusade". This was followed by the even more enchanting 'The Accolade II' from 'The Odyssey' album featuring delightful solos from both Pinella and Romeo - really stunning.

The crowd's energy level seemed to dip a little during 'Smoke and Mirrors' and 'Sea of Lies' and the audience were rather taken aback as Russ then announced that 'Of Sins and Shadows' was going to be the final number. "Yeah right", I thought as the time was barely 8:45PM. Nevertheless the band filed off stage when the number came to an end.

The audience certainly weren't in the mood to let things end there and called very enthusiastically for the band's return. First Russ appeared and gave us a quick resume of his time in London as a tourist before he welcomed the other guys back on stage, one by one, each introduced to big cheers.

"Let's go back to Ancient Greece", he declared, introducing the inevitable 'Odyssey' which made an awesome 25 minute long encore. It wasn't flawless, since they seemed to screw up the end, but what the hell, it was great to hear it again - as I had thought that its performance in Atlanta was going to be a one-off.

So, all in all a very good start to the European tour, not sold-out by any means, but a good healthy 500+ audience I think - even if a good number of that seemed to have come across the channel on the Eurostar. T-shirt sales were very good too.

Setlist: Inferno / Wicked / Evolution / Communion and the Oracle / King Of Terrors / Out of Ashes / The Accolade / Accolade II / Smoke and Mirrors /Sea of Lies / Of Sins and Shadows

Encore: The Odyssey

Review: Charlie Farrell

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