Artist: Michael Romeo
Album Title: War of the Worlds – Part 1
Label: Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group
Date Of Release: 27 July 2018
In this ultra-competitive world of music in which we find ourselves in 2018, where it is ever-more difficult to carve out a living and keep going, there’s an argument to suggest that within many genres, there is an erosion of fun and enjoyment on the part of the musicians – it has become a serious business.
In the world of heavy metal, it has always been pretty difficult to eke out a living unless you’re Metallica or Iron Maiden. But even metal artists are feeling the effects of technology, streaming, illegal downloads and everything else besides, meaning that even in this generally underground genre, the bands are susceptible to greater levels of stress.
So it comes as something of a blessed relief to listen to an album that is the result of nothing but fun and creating something for the love of it, rather than out of a sense of duty or a need to pay the bills. That record is this, the sophomore solo outing from Michael Romeo, the guitar wizard and co-songwriter of Symphony X. Entitled ‘War of the Worlds – Part 1’, it features a seemingly relaxed and happy Romeo alongside a cast of bassist John ‘JD’ DeServio (Zakk Wylde), drummer John Macaluso (Ark, TNT, Yngwie Malmsteen) and vocalist Rick Castellano.
Bearing in mind that Romeo’s guitar style is so distinctive, it’d be foolish to suggest that there are not strong parallels between this solo effort and his work with Symphony X material. Indeed, there are many similarities, meaning that anyone who is a fan of recent Symphony X output will find plenty to enjoy here. For the most part, this is full-on metal fare, with muscular rhythms, chunky, imposing riffs and a ton of six-string flamboyance as Romeo lets rip with alarming frequency.
However, to call ‘War of the Worlds – Part 1’ a mere Symphony X clone is doing this record a big disservice. For a start, there is a massive amount of classical music-inspired film score material littered throughout the record. The opening track, neatly-titled ‘Introduction’ begins in dark and moody film score fashion before opening into pure unadulterated heavy metal territory, albeit enhanced some bombastic symphonics that touch on operatic at times. Hearing the orchestration duel with Romeo’s blazing solos and intricate guitar work is something that I don’t think I could ever tire of hearing.
As the album develops, the symphonics remain, acting as either a theatrical bridge between compositions or enhancing the compositions themselves, providing a rich backdrop upon which the blistering metallic output sits.
It’s not until the second track, the high-octane ‘Fear The Unknown’ that we get to hear Castellano’s voice for the first time. And I have to say that he is hugely impressive, surprisingly so. Many listeners will expect to hear Russell Allen sing atop compositions like these and it may disappoint a few that he doesn’t. However, I like the fact that Romeo has gone for someone different to sing because it helps to further distance ‘War of the Worlds – Part 1’ from his regular day job. Admittedly, there are times when Castellano sounds similar to Allen, such as within the excellent ‘Black’, a track that features some abrasive, angry singing not to mention a killer hook-laden chorus as well as a heavy dose of riff-driven groove. Naturally, as with just about every track on this record, there are plenty of warp-speed guitar solos and expressive leads to be heard. Who said solos were dead? For this reason alone, guitarists like Romeo should be lauded, as I want to hear guitar solos in my metal until the day I die.
One of the songs that is bound to divide opinion is the charmingly-named ‘Fucking Robots’. When I first heard it, I thought I was listening to the final death throes of a mortally-wounded, demented Decepticon. But it isn’t an out-take from one of the Transformers movies, it is in fact a song that is coloured by weird digital sounds and electronic effects alongside more film score atmosphere. And then, out of literally nowhere, we’re hit around the skull by an anthemic chorus, the kind that gets instantly lodged in your head and has me grinning from ear to ear. For that reason alone, I have also grown to rather like the bizarre quirkiness of the entire song and the slightly cumbersome way it writhes and lurches outside of the fabulous chorus.
It’s a case of ‘from the ridiculous to the sublime’ as ‘Djinn’ follows, bringing with it a sense of the utterly overblown and pretentious, yet managing pull it off with a certain ease and suave swagger. ‘Djinn’ is arguably the energetic centrepiece of the album, which for over seven minutes offers bold theatrics including forays into Middle Eastern territory, blending these rich textures with pounding rhythms and some of the most insane lead guitar work that’ll have you throwing away your guitars in jealous disgust.
The obligatory rock ballad, for which I am generally an unashamed sucker, makes an appearance via ‘Believe’, another heavily orchestrated epic-sounding composition. However, it isn’t long before the commanding, heavy riffing makes a return thanks to the satisfyingly bruising ‘Differences’ which again has me grinning thanks to another wonderfully memorable and satisfyingly melodic chorus.
The big question has to be this: ‘has the interminable wait for a new Michael Romeo solo album been worth the wait?’ The answer, certainly as far as I’m concerned is ‘yes’. ‘War of the Worlds – Part 1’ is a powerhouse of a record that retains one foot in the tried and trusted camp familiar with long term Symphony X fans whilst bringing enough originality to the party to make it an interesting and engaging listen. With ‘Part 2’ almost completely written already, it threatens to be an exciting time for Romeo – and a successful one if the quality of this ‘Part 1’ can be maintained.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse