You don’t really hear much about the state of New Jersey these days, now that that the trashy MTV show Jersey Shore has been mercifully put out of its hair-gelled misery. Yes friends, there are much better things from the Garden State for you to enjoy, namely the progressive metal band Symphony X and thrash metal pioneers Overkill! Both bands were on a quick two-month trip around the US, and they luckily arrived at The Masquerade to shake the walls with some seriously crunching metal.
Overkill’s punk-infused brand of thrash metal hasn’t changed much over the years, and what also hasn’t changed much is lead singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s snotty, Johnny Rotten-esque vocal delivery. His vocals are the perfect counterpoint to the wall of guitar and drums coming out from behind him, courtesy of bassist D.D. Verni, guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer and drummer Dan Lipnicki.
When you have 30 plus years of material to pull from, deciding on a set list is a difficult proposition. “Armorist,” the first song from Overkill’s latest album White Devil Armory, got the night started, as the band settled into the groove. Recent material like “Electric Rattlesnake,” “Bring Me The Night,” and “Bitter Pill” fit in perfectly with the more classic Overkill tunes like “Hammerhead,” “Rotten To The Core” and “Hello From The Gutter.” Tempos were fast and furious, and each song included ripping solos from both Linsk and Tailer.
Overkill’s stage show was a full arsenal of blinding strobes, smoke machines and saturated yellow, red and green lighting. Singer Ellsworth looked downright sinister at times, bathed in red light on a stage full of green. Ellsworth – a New York Mets baseball fan – even managed to get a jab in at the local sports fans, wondering aloud (in his “Joi-sey” accent): “what happened to your f-ing Braves?” Hey, we’d like to know as well Bobby.
“Skullkrusher” and “Elimination” from their 1989 The Years of Decay album finished their set, before returning to the stage to perform their now signature ending song, the punk cover “Fuck You.” Humorously, right after the last strains of “Fuck You” ended, the band shook hands with fans and threw guitar picks out into the audience as War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” played over the loudspeakers.
Overkill has been experiencing a bit of a rebirth the past few years, and with performances like this it’s apparent that they’ll be around for many years to come.
Symphony X is a band that maybe doesn’t have the name recognition of other bands in the genre such as Dream Theater, and that’s a shame because this is an insanely talented bunch of musicians. Front of the line in the “insanely talented department” is guitarist Michael Romeo. A formidable musician, Romeo writes much of the band’s music, along with recording, engineering and producing their studio work. Oh yeah, did I mention that he’s a total badass on the guitar? Think of him as an American Yngwie Malmsteen (minus Malmsteen’s ego) who writes better music.
Touring to promote their latest album Underworld, Symphony X isn’t shy about pimping their new material. The first six songs that the band performed were the first six songs from the Underworld album. I’m going to guess that the band did this to keep the continuity of the songs together to enhance the overriding theme of the album. That, or they just felt like playin’ the new stuff. Either way, it was a “win” for the audience.
After the pre-recorded opening music “Overture” ended, Symphony X took the stage and launched into the aggressive riff of “Nevermore.” Imposing lead singer Russell Allen made his first appearance with trademark wrap-around sunglasses in tow as colorful lights flew around the darkly light stage. Allen’s versatility was on display all night, switching from the more aggressive passages of “Underworld” and “Kiss of Fire” to the more delicate vocal line and soaring chorus of “Without You.”
The rhythm section of this band is a powerful machine, effortlessly finding their way through the tightly-wound and ever-changing tempos and arrangements that is Symphony X’s music. Bassist Mike LePond stays locked in a precision groove with drummer Jason Rullo’s machine gun double-bass drumming, always being fed by melodies, textures and flourishes from keyboardist Michael Pinella.
I have a feeling that Russell Allen’s love of the late-great Ronnie James Dio had an influence over the creation of “Charon,” as it eerily resembles the Rainbow classic “Gates of Babylon.” The band dipped back into their early history only once with the performance of “Of Sins and Shadows” from their 1997 album The Divine Wings of Tragedy. Allen–always the showman–appeared again, this time donning a theatrical mask and cane, replicating the imagery that appeared on both the early Symphony X albums and their latest release Underworld.
A trio of songs from the band’s Paradise Lost album (“Serpent’s Kiss,” Eve of Seduction” and “Set The World on Fire”) set up the blistering grand finale of “Iconoclast” from the band’s 2011 album of the same name.
I was blown away by Symphony X’s musicianship, songwriting, and all-around presentation. I think the “X” in Symphony X might just stand for “X-cellent.”
(Ok, that play on words might not work, but you get my drift.)
Full Gallery of Overkill