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(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

Symphony X live in Manchester

Prog reviews Symphony X in Manchester

Support bands can range from the unexpectedly stunning to the truly dreadful, and tonight we experience both extremes.

Openers Melted Space have three singers, each putting their own dubious spin on the art, ranging from a poorly growl to out-of-tune histrionics. Mercifully, second act Myrath, with their North African slant on progressive metal, provide a welcome dose of originality and class, not least on the captivating track Believer.

The Club Academy in Manchester is a rather downtrodden venue, with the industrial basement setting replete with visually obstructive pillars and a claustrophobia-inducing low ceiling. It’s a scene screaming out for rock star attitude and skilled live proficiency, and thankfully, Symphony X duly bring a stadium level of professionalism to the evening’s entertainment.

Sprinting towards the microphone, donning shades and bathed in red light, Russell Allen looks almost out of place, his confident demeanour at odds with the surroundings. But Allen knows his ability and it’s genuinely tricky to think of many of his peers who could exceed his vocal panache and secure presence. That level of self-assurance is matched by the rest of the band, with guitarist Michael Romeo’s melodic shredding augmented by a mighty rhythmic backdrop.

The set is understandably slanted towards their latest album Underworld, which is one of the band’s strongest in recent years, and the rawness of Nevermore and the title track are ideal set openers.

The ever-present background chatter from the bar is momentarily silenced in respect when Allen recounts a tale about his wife’s cousin dying of a heroin overdose. It’s a rather shocking introduction to Without You, which gives an already intense song a new framing. Musically, it’s a welcome break from some of the more unremitting momentum, and it provides the standout moment of the evening.

There’s a fleeting Brian Pern-style moment, when the singer dons a mask during the stunning To Hell And Back, before launching himself into the crowd. However, even the most hackneyed of stage props somehow works tonight.

A foray into the depths of their back catalogue in the form of the uncompromising Out Of The Ashes and Sea Of Lies adds variety. With performances like this, it’s curious to ponder why Symphony X haven’t made a deserved major breakthrough. Perhaps the answer is that, at times, they can appear too rigid in their style – an unsettling, juddering wall of technical power that would benefit from the occasional moment of laid-back elegance.

That said, there’s no doubt the band remain a mesmerising live act who, on tonight’s performance, still have the potential to vault to the next level.