Arch Enemy! Symphony X! Fight!
We start with Arch Enemy (my personal favorite going into today's battle). The first few tracks of “Khaos Legions” feels like a series of deliciously cruel thrill rides, from the slow build of the intro into the adrenalized takeoff of “Yesterday Is Dead And Gone”. And just when that track draws to its relatively languid end and you're ready for a break, “Bloodstained Cross” starts the whole mania all over again, like the bastard son of “Heartwork” and “Rust In Peace”. The guitar work of Messrs. Amott and Amott are beyond reproach, but really the whole band sounds nearly faultless throughout this album. This very long album. Somewhere around the fourth track, the album starts to drag... and that's only a third of the way through. The excesses of the album serve only to dull its overall bite, and while we could conceivably have had a new classic on our hands, we otherwise have to settle for a very competent and muscular Arch Enemy album, but one that doesn't particularly stick with you once the ride's over.
Let's see how Symphony X fares by comparison. With a much shorter intro, the band launches into a quick overture-style melange of every great prog metal trope from the last 10 years. And indeed, there's something breathlessly unabashed about the way that “Iconoclast” plunders from Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, Opeth, and a score of others. But you know what? This album's so good at the borrowing, that the resulting blend sounds fresh and new. It's proggy as the day is long, but it's also got groove, and tasty guitarsmithery, and (too soon?) Dio-esque vocal cojones. And while it may not cut to the bone quite as well as “Khaos Legions” does, “Iconoclast” is somehow just more listenable from start to finish; listen to Symphony X's idea of a deep cut, and how memorable it is compared to anything in the second half of Arch Enemy's album. This album is pure ear candy, and far more likely to bring you back to it.
And with that, Symphony X rises while Arch Enemy falls. Tune in tomorrow, when Obscura battles The Black Dahlia Murder.