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Symphony X and odd-meter grooves, key changes, and polyrhythms

Discussion in 'Symphony X (Unofficial)' started by Detective Clarence Beauregard, Jun 30, 2009.

  1. Detective Clarence Beauregard

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    I consider Symphony X to be at the top of the metal genre in songwriting, as they use techniques that few other bands utilize (successfully). Among these are odd-meter grooves, subtle key changes, and polyrhythms.

    I feel like I’ve said some of this before, but I was thinking about it earlier today and decided to put it in word form.

    Have you ever noticed how Jason Rullo is able to take a riff that contains an odd meter or two (such as 5/8 or 7/8) and still play an “organic” groove, as opposed to a synthetic, staggered one? He really is a master of this. Doing this makes a song flow much better than if he were simply “copying” the riff on drums. An example of this is Set the World on Fire at 0:33. Many other bands (I’ll use Dream Theater as an example, since most of us are familiar with them) can’t seem to get this down – the drums follow the riff and make everything sound broken, almost like the track is skipping (although Dream Theater might do this intentionally). As a result, transitions sound forced and incorrect to the ear. However, even when Rullo does play “along” with the riff (e.g. The Walls of Babylon at 3:08), it sounds awesome and still flows. How he is able to make even the craziest of riffs flow so well is a mystery to me.

    Key changes are another area Symphony X excels in. They are able to make the best, smoothest-sounding transitions so well that the average listener doesn’t even notice the key has changed. Examples of this include Accolade II (the first verse is the galloping riff in Am, while the second verse is the same riff, but in Abm) and Egypt. In the latter, the riff at 0:52 repeats again after the chorus at 2:27, and they are both in completely different keys. They are the masters of playing the same riff in different keys, and blending it so well within the song that it’s barely noticeable. Also, changing keys constantly keeps a song fresh and exciting. In fact, I don’t think I can name even one Symphony X song that doesn’t change keys at some point!

    I can’t think of anyone who uses polyrhythms better than Symphony X. The most common type they seem to use is when the bass and guitar play a simple, pattern-oriented riff (let’s say in 3/4) while the drums play a groove in 4/4. Examples of this include The Eyes of Medusa at 0:37, Rediscovery pt. II at 0:47, and Revelation at 2:33. Sure, the drums could just play in 3/4, but it would have a completely different (and more generic) feel. The way they do it, it almost sounds like the bass/guitar part is floating above the drums, doing its own thing yet still contributing to the rhythm. The band also seems to be big on higher-melody polyrhythms, where Pinnella or Romeo repeats a phrase in a different meter than the bottom-end rhythm of the song. Examples include the beginning of Communion and the Oracle at 0:11, Rediscovery pt. II at 0:11, and the awesome “blended” section towards the end of The Accolade (at 7:27).

    Thoughts? Opinions? Agree? Disagree?
     
  2. Postulate

    Postulate Have a nice day! :)

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    I don't know very much about music, but I do agree that SX's albums just have more of a "flow" than many other bands I've heard...even progressive rock and metal bands have trouble with transitions...it's hard enough to keep all that momentum up without the prog tricks thrown in. So as a result SX's never has to resort to the 'copy and paste' methods of other prog bands (DT obviously being one of them) to sound good.

    I do think, however, that their first and second albums are riddled with bad transitions. Just me, though - they really ironed it out tremendously in Divine Wings. I have seen some of the bad songwriting and transitioning return, however, in Paradise Lost, especially on, as I have mentioned before, Serpent's Kiss and The Sacrifice, which IMO are just awful tracks.

    Like I said, I don't really catch all the subtleties of that time signature stuff, but I know good intertwining rhythms when I hear them! That is why, IMO, Symphony X is NOT a power metal band - their main focus is NOT on melody, but on rhythm, which is a HUGE difference in the sound.

    True - I can attest to this, lol.
     
  3. razoredge

    razoredge Member

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    One of the earliest examples (in rock) I can think of with drummer and riffage taking two different time sigs is Zepps Black Dog, so thats way back for me

    I dont know how nor would be interested in breaking down the music of another band to critique it, I have my hands tied trying to get my own stuff to gel and certainly dont want exact reference points from other bands influencing my creativity. But I will say critizing Dream Theater for not knowing how to transition a piece of music is utter bullshit, they fired up this progressive metal thing thats going on and did it in utmost style, as have many other bands since.

    Key sigs changing.... Hendrix did it just in the course of a progression, The Eagles did it in Hotel California, The Stones - White Horses had some funny business going on... no big deal, nothing new.

    Not trying to take anything from Symphony X, always in my music rotation and with my favorite bands.

    What stands out most to me is Russells ability to put great melodic and fitting vocals over such odd timed and ever changing music.
     
  4. JesterIF

    JesterIF Member

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    I agree with pretty much all you said. I love your little analysis :)

    Everything flows so well together, that's what makes me love this band as opposed to Dream Theater. All the writing techniques they use can easily make the music sound bad if used incorrectly which is the case of most progressive bands out there.

    But, yeah Symphony X are simply amazing at making complicated stuff sound right to the ear.

    By the way, the part at the end of the Accolade must be one of the best examples of this. I had never noticed there was so much things going on at this place until I had a careful listen of this song. And I was like, 'how can all this stuff fit so well together?' :worship:
     
  5. Postulate

    Postulate Have a nice day! :)

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    funny, just as i read this line i was passing over the awful transition at 2:22 in 'a nightmare to remember'

    all of their albums (even I&W, though to a far lesser extent) are riddled with similar instances. i would definitely say DT is poor at making convincing transitions (then again, most bands are even worse).
     
  6. Detective Clarence Beauregard

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    I was just using DT as an example, since pretty much everyone here is familiar with their work. But if you listen closely, a lot of their transitions (particularly in the recent stuff) sound very forced and mechanical. And like I stated, perhaps they do this intentionally.
     
  7. razoredge

    razoredge Member

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    ^ .
     
  8. Postulate

    Postulate Have a nice day! :)

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    hey you were the one who cited hotel california :lol:
     
  9. DavidPartay

    DavidPartay Cold Forged

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    I completely agree about DT's transitions sounding forced. That's one of the main things about Symphony X's music which I have ALWAYS thought they did a lot better. Half the time you can't even tell they've changed time signatures, at least, not if you don't know the change was there.

    But as you said, it's possible DT are doing the transitions in that manner on purpose, and given that seems to be a key element of their style I'd say it's likely that's the case. Some of the transitions are really noticeably bad though.

    The only other groups I can think of off the top of my head with transitions as good as (or better than) Symphony X are Planet X and On the Virg.
     
  10. Eternal Dragon

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    I think it comes down to how you write your songs. If you set out and say "oh well this song is going to be 17/8 5/4 6/7 3/4" then you're destined for failure. If you're jamming and that particular thing happens then it will more likely sound HEAPS more natural.

    Imo you should never plan time signatures, and only plan key changes if you're consciously aware of the effect that the change will have.

    Some bands just use this sort of technicality as a form of wankery. Often the culprits need to just unlearn what they have learnt and start from the very beginning exploring the raw aspects of sound/music. Tone, timbre, harmony, contrast, etc. It's really a good idea for any musician to do either way because it keeps you grounded, and aware of the real purpose of what you're doing.
     
  11. razoredge

    razoredge Member

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    ^ So true, its what any musician hears and feels initially, but other times Im sure some may just want to try something different, those educated and understanding such stuff. All I notice is all bands have smooth transitions AND abrupt transitions, I dont make such a big deal of it, its their artistic freedom.
     
  12. Detective Clarence Beauregard

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    :lol:

    I agree with you.
     
  13. Eternal Dragon

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    hahahah what an awesome typo.
     
  14. Lucius Octavion

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    Very nice thread. I love music theory and stuff and I hardly even noticed the key change in Accolade II, thanks for pointing all this stuff out! :)

    Now the only thing I can't stand is when classical purists dismiss Symphony X right away without even listening or paying close attention. Closed minded people. You see, at worst they dismiss it as your average pop rock/metal music which is just garbage to them (and me). But, at best, they view it simply as classical music being crapped upon, which of course is ridiculous.

    There is no other band, let alone a metal band, that is as theoretically and technically advanced as Symphony X, simple as that. Which is why it annoys me when people categorize the band as progressive power metal. Why the need for a label if it so hard to categorize them in the first place. Michael Romeo has simply ignored this and has said "We're a metal band and thats how I see it" or something like that
     
  15. Detective Clarence Beauregard

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    I believe Romeo said something like "You can listen to Wicked and say we're a metal band, or listen to the Accolade and say we're a progressive band; the way I see it is we are a progressive metal band." Of course we all know how much Romeo loves genre labels! But yeah, as far as calling them power metal, that's just plain stupid. Sure, some of their songs may have power metal-style choruses, but it pretty much stops there.
     
  16. _Gentleman of_the Snow_

    _Gentleman of_the Snow_ Prog' Drummer

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    I agree. I don't consider them a power metal band at all. A few similarities here and there, but they are minimal, and still done better than the actual power metal genre, lol. SX are a progressive metal band, period.
     
  17. Lucius Octavion

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    Yeah but you could then say that Dream Theater is a progressive metal band. They do have a similarity to Symphony X, but the two bands in reality sound nothing alike. Symphony X being much more varied and interesting, so that gives us another problem with labels.

    The other thing that annoys me about the power metal label, is that Symphony X somehow always manages to be labeled as power metal, yet silly folk metal bands like Turisas and Ensiferum that clearly are a direct form of powermetal, never seem to get that label.
     
  18. _Gentleman of_the Snow_

    _Gentleman of_the Snow_ Prog' Drummer

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    Dream Theater are definitely prog metal as well, but keep in mind, bands of the same genre do not have to sound the same.
     
  19. PrgrsveMetalnChains

    PrgrsveMetalnChains Vocal Prince

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    Honestly when I first heard 'em with the Odyssey album (my first SX listen), I just thought of them as a metal band with progressive influence. You have hard, almost southern rock vocals in some songs, with shredding metal guitar and some awesome picking in others, with great keys that vary from melodic to all out progressive style keys...they are just a diverse metal band IMO. I guess you could call them "Prog Metal", but when I talk to someone about what type of music they play, I say metal...and then go into a bit of detail on how it differs from the generic screaming shit. Most "musicians" greatly appreciate this band, especially how the vocals differ from every other metal, progressive, or general rock band out there with Allen giving so many different styles. God...I love this band.

    Definately would never label them as Power Metal though; when I think PM, my mind goes immediately to bands like Stratovarius and Dragonforce...neither of which I like. All I think when I hear the genre "Power Metal" is huge power chord carried choruses with mediocre lyrics accompanied by a high voice. Allen brings soul and feeling to that, as Romeo beings a lot of bluesy influences in, making for an amazing album each time.
     
  20. squidfetish

    squidfetish Member

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    I've just noticed that the word polyrhythms has the longest string of consonants in any word I've ever seen. Is there a longer one somewhere? Oh.... no unpointed Hebrew please!! :cool:


    Maybe I need to get out more.... :rolleyes:
     

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