“Neo-classical” is a term more commonly used in fine art and architecture than heavy metal, but this is one of the epithets ascribed to head-banging troupe Symphony X, which plays Jiantan Overseas Youth Activity Center (劍潭海外青年活動中心) this Sunday night.
“I don’t even know how I’d categorize ourselves, I just like to say that we’re a metal band,” says founding member and lead guitarist Michael Romeo. “Every album is always a little different. Early on maybe there was more of the neo-classical thing … a couple of albums went a little more progressive, with a little bit of influence from some of those ’70s bands like Rush and Kansas ... We’ll use any kind of other influence we can just to make the music interesting.”
Taking the interview by telephone from his hotel room in Hong Kong, Romeo sounds relaxed.
“The audiences have been great, everything’s been really good,” he says of this, the New Jersey ensemble’s latest visit to Asia, where they initially had more success in generating a fan base than back home in the US.
“When we first started the band together in the mid ’90s metal really wasn’t popular in the States anymore ... Around town a lot of the metal clubs were going away, there really wasn’t a scene,” says Romeo, of a period some metal-heads refer to as the “evil grunge era.” “The more technical guitar stuff, I think they still appreciated everywhere else except the States.”
And technicality is very much what Symphony X is about. Though making for a rather portly big-haired crew that wouldn’t look out of place in a Spinal Tap sequel, the band’s musical prowess is nothing to be sniggered at. It is, however, Romeo’s simply boggling fret-board mastery that is the preeminent attraction. Widely respected as one of the most virtuosic soloists or “shredders” in the business, the lead guitarist gives an insight into the dedication required to develop his astonishing musical dexterity.
“When I was younger ... I really got into guitar playing and Randy Rhoads, Van Halen, Steve Vai and Malmsteen and some of the really great guitar players. That’s when I really practiced a lot ... I don’t practice eight hours a day [anymore], but if I feel a little rusty, I’ll go a couple of hours and then I’m back to where I was.”
Touring in the wake of their seventh and most successful studio album, Paradise Lost, set lists are dominated by new material, but revelers can expect to hear older crowd-pleasers like Sins and Shadows or Sea of Lies. “Smoke and Mirrors is another song that always goes over well,” says Romeo, who thinks guitar-music fans of different walks could enjoy themselves this Sunday should they wish to indulge.
“[T]he stuff that we do does cross over to a lot of different things. I think people that like metal would like it, I think that people who like rock would enjoy it too. You know we’re more of a rock band live … maybe [we’ll] goof around a little bit and have fun with the audience. So it’s definitely more of a rock show.”
For information about upcoming heavy metal concerts organized by Rock Empire Music Entertainment, go to www.rockempire.com.tw.
— JACK HEWSON