Prog-metallers Symphony X question technological tyranny

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When you’re singing high-intensity progressive metal, like Symphony X vocalist Russell Allen, how do you keep your pipes in shape on tour? For the 40-year-old veteran belter, it’s about what he does with his feet as well as his mouth.

“I try to get out and walk as much as I can,” explains Allen, phoning from his New Jersey home. “When we’re in Europe, it’s great because each town is an historic landmark. I get in five or six miles of walking a day, maybe more. Then I come back, have a sensible meal, and do the show. Now, I do have my fun. I enjoy some of the extracurricular benefits of the rock and roll lifestyle, but nothing in excess. I’ll have some rum during the show, but I can’t have beer, because it gases me up and I’d be burping every lyric.”

Thankfully, Allen’s four-octave range is never compromised so uncouthly on Symphony X’s eighth studio album, Iconoclast. His operatic, Dio-like protestations against “infernal machines” complement the cresting heroism of the title track, running nearly 11 minutes.

On “Bastards of the Machine,” guitarist Michael Romeo cranks out aggressive riffage whose vigorous urgency comes off like Metallica’s James Hetfield challenging Dream Theater’s John Petrucci to a fist fight at the bike racks after school. The furiously charging cadences of “Electric Messiah” are buoyed by the multifarious, monstrous bass rolls of drummer Jason Rullo.

Lyrically, Iconoclast is on top of our times, attacking technology’s overarching influence on daily life. Allen isn’t blithely clicking Facebook’s “Like” button. “I feel like we’ve been conditioned to some degree to accept the inevitable, which is total integration of society, with social networking becoming all the craze now,” he says. “You’re plugging in valuable, irreplaceable parts of you as a person that can be hacked and manipulated. It’s kind of scary. That said, it’s also cool to sing about stuff like [technological tyranny], because it’s just so metal and awesome.”

Also awesome is today’s accepting climate for metal, compared to the Garden State band’s mid-1990s beginnings, when grunge reigned. “It’s a lot better for us,” Allen says. “We couldn’t kill somebody to get a gig in America back then. It just didn’t exist. Even if you could get the right promoters to put you in the rooms, they wouldn’t know what to do with you, because there was no audience.”

Touring with fellow prog-metal veterans Iced Earth is an ideal pairing, but Allen still has goals to achieve in the future. “I’d like to see Symphony X eventually play with a full orchestra and make a DVD of it,” he states. “That would be a real milestone for the band. And I’d love to play the PNC Bank Arts Center here in New Jersey. It’s a giant shed. I just love amphitheaters with that background of nature. They’re so cool to play, especially in the summer.”

Symphony X plays the Commodore Ballroom on Tuesday (February 14).

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