March 28, 2022

Romeo has brilliantly merged his love of cinema with his symphonic metal heart to produce a vibrant album.

Ah, back to the old H.G. Wells classic. It’s impossible not to mention War Of The Worlds without thinking of Jeff Wayne’s evergreen musical masterpiece that sets a high benchmark indeed. Michael Romeo, whose day job, so to speak, is lead guitarist for Symphony X, launched his own interpretation of the story with War Of The Worlds Pt I in 2018 and here we are at the second and possibly final instalment.  I say ‘possibly’ because Part II does not conclude with the Martians unexpectedly succumbing to bacteria.  In fact, Martians don’t really get mentioned at all. And while a lot of the lyrics have a general SciFi leaning, even that is not consistent as Romeo points out: “For the most part, there’s a strong sci-fi element to the album, but on a few songs I’m kind of like, ‘Maybe the aliens can just sit this one out while we fight among ourselves…ha.’”

So, those hoping to hear a story-based concept album will be disappointed, but those hoping to hear a musical concept album will not. That’s because four of the eleven tracks are fundamentally film score music full of wide cinematic sweeps, luscious strings, and all the usual dramatic sound effects you’d expect to hear in a cinema. Romeo’s classical leanings are well known from Symphony X but here he shows he could be a match for John Williams! The main theme from these cinematic pieces reappears at various points in the regular rock songs which cleverly creates a sense of unity, just as one would find in a real film score or a rock concept album.

Those familiar with Symphony X will know exactly what to expect in terms of the regular rock songs here: outstanding symphonic metal, heartily laced with Romeo’s trademark licks. Some of the soloing is totally out of this world (you might say from Mars…). The first two ‘proper’ rock songs are outstanding. Divide & Conquer comes out of the trap faster than a greyhound and is underpinned by furious speed metal drumming before it slows down perfectly for an irresistible melody in the chorus. This is followed by Destroyer with its memorable Immigrant Song-like vocalising and an Eastern feel helped by Romeo playing the saz – a sort of long-necked lute used throughout the Middle East. That curiosity about different sounds also sees Romeo playing a seven-string guitar which he explains in the release notes: ‘I’m always looking for different colours and sounds. It could be by incorporating electronic elements or different guitar tones. The seven string added a cool, dark vibe on a few of the tunes’.

Maintaining the level of quality of those two tracks over a full album would be well-nigh impossible but some do come close. The centrepiece, at least in duration, is the nine-minute Maschinenmensch which around the half-way mark brilliantly interweaves the cinematic themes with some outrageous guitar playing. Cinema buffs might recognise the song title as the name of the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Another highlight is Just Before The Dawn that has an ‘80s power balled feel to it. The lovely chord change and melody for the anthemic chorus is very predictable but at the same time totally irresistible. It’s also a great vocal performance from Dino Jelusick (Animal Drive) who crones away like Coverdale at his best. Jelusick’s contribution to the album is significant even if attention will naturally gravitate towards Romeo’s guitar acrobatics. If you do want to just concentrate on Romeo’s guitar then the CD version comes with two discs, one of which is an instrumental version. At just over an hour, the LP version (without the instrumental take) is actually a double too.

Romeo has brilliantly merged his love of cinema with his symphonic metal heart to produce a vibrant album. Never mind if you’re as confused as me about a century old robot appearing in a Martian invasion story. Just sit back and enjoy the music and hope that Romeo blesses us with a third episode of this saga!