Michael Romeo’s War of the Worlds / Pt. 1 Exceeds Expectations
By: Bosk1 of www.dreamtheaterforums.org
Listening to Michael Romeo’s solo album, War of the Worlds / Pt. 1, I realized for perhaps the first time what a unique and distinctive guitar playing style Romeo has. The guitar tones, chord progressions, and solo runs felt familiar and instantly-recognizable. But do not misunderstand—this album is not a retread of Romeo’s prior work. And it does not at all sound like a collection of Symphony X leftovers. Although War of the Worlds often feels reminiscent of Symphony X, and it is impossible to avoid comparisons to that band, this album is its own unique animal.
It is obvious from listening to Romeo’s writing on Symphony X that he has a flair for the dramatic. His songs typically feature multiple layers of guitars and orchestration, with lots of classical influences. War of the Worlds follows in that vein. The ten songs on War of the Worlds are definitely heavy. But they are also complex, huge sounding, and cinematic. And while Symphony X’s albums have progressed more and more to the heavier side through the years, War of the Worlds is melodic and catchy. Some of the hooks are huge and infectious, and manage to stay with the listener long after the album is over.
The heavy guitar riffing, frantic double bass drumming, and classical sounding keyboards that Symphony X fans are familiar with are all here. From a guitar perspective, the album often feels somewhat predictable. The heavy riffing and classically-influenced guitar solos are here in abundance.
But Romeo also experiments with and incorporates some other diverse influences that often take these songs in different completely different directions. F*cking Robots is perhaps the most obvious example. The song is, by far, the most daring, experimental song on the album. In a recent interview, Romeo described the song as incorporating elements of dubstep. And it does. But in ways I found to be very unconventional and different from traditional dubstep. The song begins with keyboards and orchestration that would be the norm as a track intro on any Symphony X album. From there, we get some interesting machine effects over guitar riffs that make the song immediately stand out as something truly different and experimental. The vocals are also very unique and different, being drenched in effects to make them sound somewhat artificial and mechanical. This all adds to the unique atmosphere of the song to make it something truly different.
Speaking of vocals, the vocals on this album are performed by up-and-coming Long Islander, Rick Castellano. And Castellano absolutely nails it. He shows tremendous range and sense of melody, combining the almost-operatic range and power one would expect of the typical power metal vocalist with the cleanness and sweetness of a pop star. For heavy music, I generally prefer vocals with more grit and edge. But Castellano’s cleaner style just works with these songs. Castellano may not be well known yet. But he delivers his performance on this album with the conviction of a veteran.
Castellano really shows off his range in the Eastern-inspired Djinn. His vocals soar over Arabic scales and orchestration that conjures up images of far away lands. Romeo delivers a blazing guitar solo. But this should not be surprising.
At first listen, Believe is perhaps the most straightforward, mainstream-sounding song on the album. And yet, it clocks in as the longest at 8:22. The song starts softly and takes its time before getting to some of its main themes and, eventually, its vocal passages. The song then builds into a huge power-ballad section, and then some complex orchestration that is reminiscent of The Odyssey. Romeo does not wait long to remind us that this is, after all, a guitar-driven album by delivering a signature solo before the song returns to its big, soaring, multi-layered chorus. I would not expect a “ballad” of sorts to be one of the standouts on a Michael Romeo solo album. But this song absolutely grabs the listener and does not let go. At times, it sounds like something from a movie score. At other times, it sounds like 1980s AOR. And Romeo somehow brings it all together in a compelling and satisfying way.
Oblivion is perhaps the most “traditional” song on War of the Worlds. The song features one of Romeo’s signature nasty guitar riffs. The riffing is repetitive, but that is because the song calls for a solid, repeating backbone over which Castellano can deliver a catchy, but attitude-laden vocal performance. Oblivion is that song where you catch yourself midway through bobbing your head and having a great time. This song does not really bring anything new or unexpected to the table. But it is fun nonetheless. And with the amount of variety and diversity on this album, this song does not need to do anything new and different. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with a song that just rocks and makes you smile.
The production on War of the Worlds also bears mentioning. The mix on this album is excellent. The guitars and heavy and percussive. The keyboards and orchestration are huge. The vocals are well-defined and up front. And the drums are crisp and clear. None of the instruments step on each other. This is the ideal type of mix for such a heavy but layered album.
Overall, War of the Worlds is a pleasant surprise. I went into this album with a lot of preconceptions about what I thought a Michael Romeo solo album should sound like. In some ways, War of the Worlds was consistent with those expectations. But the album also had more than its fair share of unexpected twists that make it a much more fun and fulfilling listening experience than I imagined.
War Of The Worlds / Pt. 1 is due out July 27th on Music Theories Recordings
Michael Romeo Online:
Melody, emotion, and heaviness. These are the three words that most come to mind when listening to Redemption’s seventh studio album, Long Night’s Journey Into Day. The new album has all three of these elements in spades. And they work together to provide a listening experience that keeps me wanting to come back for more.
Long Night’s Journey Into Day sounds like classic Redemption. And at the same time, it manages to sound like something completely new. I was nervous about whether I would like this album. I will just go ahead and be direct: I LOVE IT.
Perhaps the most jarring bit of “newness” is the addition of vocalist Tom Englund (Evergrey) in place of Ray Alder. I admit feeling a great deal of trepidation when I heard that Ray had been replaced. For as long as I had been a fan up to this point, he had been the voice of Redemption. When I heard the first promo single, Little Men, I was not sure what to think. There was certainly nothing wrong with Tom’s singing. But it was jarring hearing music that was so obviously Redemption and hearing someone other than Ray Alder singing.
After letting that song sink in, and now hearing the album in its entirety, I can confirm that Tom was the right man for the job. His voice suits the material perfectly. He not only sings the lyrics—he sells them and gives them a deep sincerity and emotional impact. And he strikes a very nice balance between familiar and new, which is a theme I cannot help repeating. His voice suits the music perfectly, and he sings the songs as someone who has been in the band for years. He also knows how to emote without over singing. And it is obvious from the level of emotion he conveys that he truly connects with the lyrics.
It is also worth noting that other changes in the band include contributions from Simone Mularoni and Chris Poland on guitar and Vikram Shankar on keyboards. All three make their presence felt and take the music to new levels.
The songs range in length from more traditional “radio friendly” track lengths (And Yet at 3:47 is the shortest) to long, progressive epics (Long Night’s Journey Into Day at 10:30 being the longest). It speaks to how well these songs are written that the short songs do not feel too short, and the long songs do not feel like they overstay their welcome. As is typical of Redemption’s music, each of the songs tells a story. Those stories are deep and often very introspective. They frequently present a bit of a story arc that involves a conflict and resolution of sorts. For that to work and not come across as too trite or pithy, songs often need time to breathe and let the lyrics fully play out. To put it another way, these songs take you on a lyrical journey that takes time to unfold. Unlike some modern progressive metal acts, the solos and instrumental passages enhance and add texture to the atmosphere created by the lyrics, rather than distracting or detracting from it.
The album starts with an eerie 15-second intro at the beginning of Eyes You Dare Not Meet in Dreams before launching into a blistering up-tempo guitar riff reminiscent of the opening tracks of Redemption’s past two albums, This Mortal Coil and The Art of Loss. From there, the song alternates between heavy and melodic. But the focus is on heavy, and this song sets the tone that this is beyond any doubt a metal album.
But the album is not all thick-as-a-brick riffs, blistering solos, and breakneck speed. And Yet is an example of the haunting and melancholy moods Redemption is known for. The song showcases some gut-wrenching piano and keyboard parts that are nothing short of beautiful. Tom’s softer vocals compliment the somber mood of this track perfectly.
Indulge In Color is a great example of the band at their most melodic and upbeat. The song feels very much like a successor to Snowfall On Judgment Day’s Black and White World, and Nick Van Dyke has acknowledged that the songs share much in common.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the cover of U2’s New Year’s Day. When I first saw the title in the track list, it did not immediately register, and I did not realize it was a cover. But once the song started, I recognized it immediately. The band does a phenomenal job of both being true to the original and bringing something new to the table. There is some very creative heavy riffing and double bass drumming that bring a heaviness that the original version of the song obviously did not have. And yet, it also has the signature keyboard parts and melodies from the original that make it instantly recognizable. I felt that the covers CD included with This Mortal Coil really showcased Redemption’s ability to take familiar songs in different genres and present them in fresh and exciting ways. They do that here and absolutely nail this U2 song. I might just prefer this version to the original.
The closing epic and title song spans a wide range of emotions. The clean guitars and soft, subdued vocals the beginning start the song on a mournful tone. But as a lot of Redemption’s songs tend to do, the track builds, and as it does, it constantly transforms and evolves, and takes the listener on a journey. It is fitting that it ends the album on an uplifting and hopeful note. It is reminiscent in many ways of Snowfall On Judgment Day’s Love Kills Us All / Life in One Day.
I hate to go this far after having the album for such a short period of time, but I will go out on a limb and say that Long Night’s Journey Into Day is going to be a contender for 2018’s album of the year. The album is just that good.
Release Date: July 27, 2018 - Metal Blade Recortds
01. Eyes You Dare Not Meet in Dreams
02. Someone Else's Problem
03. The Echo Chamber
05. Indulge in Color
06. Little Men
07. And Yet
08. The Last of Me
09. New Year's Day
10. Long Night's Journey into Day
Review by: Bosk1 of www.dreamtheaterforums.org
Saints Will Conquer – A review of Armored Saint’s concert in Toronto and an interview with singer John Bush
One of the most underrated bands of the late 80’s/early 90’s, Armored Saint has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Released in 2015, their album “Win Hands Down” was a welcome return to form, and yet another clear evidence that these Californians should have had better luck in their heyday. On their current tour they are playing what is arguably their best effort, “Symbol of Salvation”, in full, along with other highlights of their career. Having just finished a successful trek in South America, they are now playing a handful of dates in the US and Canada. Lotsofmuzik’s Rodrigo Altaf witnessed their show in Toronto and was able to catch up with their legendary singer, John Bush. Find the interview and concert review below.
Part I – Interview with John Bush
Those who say “you should never meet your heroes” clearly haven’t met the guys in Armored Saint. As I stood inside The Mod Club in Toronto waiting for the interview with John Bush, I was able to watch the soundcheck and the meet and greet. The lucky few who paid for this experience were greeted by the band, who patiently signed every piece of memorabilia brought in, shared stories, posed for pictures and were genuinely interested in the fans’ perspectives. I even shared a story with their guitar player Jeff Duncan about another one of their concerts I witnessed – their show in Perth, Australia in 2009, where John Bush got so sick that he had to miss it. Jeff and bassist Joey Vera shared vocal duties on that show, and that is still remembered as a dramatic occasion in the band’s lengthy career. If you’re used to meets and greets where artists seem disengaged and in a hurry, the experience with Armored Saint will change your views completely – these are genuine and down to Earth guys, who have a genuine appreciation for the fans’ interest in the band.
After the soundcheck and meet & greet I was led to John Bush’s dressing room, and chatted for a few minutes:
Lotsofmuzik: Welcome to Toronto! So on this tour you’re playing Symbol of Salvation in full – what kind of memories does that album bring to you?
John Bush: Wow, lots of memories. You know, recording it was a lot of fun. We worked with Dave Jerden, whom I ended up doing back to back records with, because he did the Sound Of White Noise album with Anthrax when I joined them. He's a great guy, an amazing person and he's very dry and he had done a bunch of records before that – with Alice in Chains, Jane's Addiction. So we were really excited to work with him, and his engineer Bryan Carlstrom, who has unfortunately passed away since then was awesome as well. And so it was fun to be in the setting with them. The Studio Eldorado used to be Marvin Gaye’s studio way back in the day. So that was really cool. And we had regrouped by then and we were feeling really confident about the material and the record. I don't think we thought it was going to come out as cool as it really did, but it was just a fun moment of recording, and knowing that no matter what we went through with Dave [Prichard, guitarist] dying and everything else that we were kind of on our way.
Lotsofmuzik: Almost 30 years on, and that album still has tremendous punch – I dare say that it doesn’t sound dated even after so much advance in recording technology. To what do you credit the lasting power of those songs?
JB: Well, I just think it's the songs, you know what I mean, because sound changes, but the songs are eternal. So I think that that's probably the thing that keeps it going. When Dave wrote the bulk of those songs and we wrote them we knew about him being sick. So the future of the band was always kind of in doubt at that point and his life was in doubt. So I think it allowed us to really dig deep the material and kinda take chances. We always took a lot of chances as a band really - Armored Saint has always been a very diverse band. At that point we had no record company and when we started writing those songs we just were like “it doesn't matter, let's just do what feels good to us and have fun with it!”. So I think that those songs kind of reflect that carefree feeling and attitude.
Lotsofmuzik: Almost like Rush’s 2112 because similarly for them it was do or die at the point they made that album, right?
JB: We were free at that point. So for us it was fun to just experiment and if you listen to some of the demos and stuff that were done during that recording, those were even more diverse stuff we had sent out. A song like “People”, for example, which we later released in the “Nod to the Old School” album of rarities probably shouldn't be on the record, but you know, we always were willing to take chances. I think that's good.
Lotsofmuzik: Would you be able to pick a favorite song off the album?
JB: [long pause] Ummm no…[laughs]. No, because it's always changing for me. But I am enjoying playing some of the deep tracks that we didn't always play. “Reign Of Fire”, “Last Train Home” and “Tribal Dance” we of course play those all the time. But “The Truth Always Hurts”, “Burning Questions” and “Hanging Judge” for instance, we haven't played those songs in a long time, so it feels fresh and fun to play them on this tour.
Lotsofmuzik: The Symbol of Salvation era was a time of change for the band, in more ways than one – not only Dave Prichard would soon pass away, but also with the music industry taking a huge shift, right?
JB: Well, yeah, sure. The whole scene was changing dramatically. So you know, we were probably caught up in that change as well. For Armored Saint, you know, the conundrum always for us was that we weren't a thrash band and we weren't a hair metal band. We were from L.A. but we didn't sound like, you know, Poison or Warrant and those bands. We’re powerful and heavy, but we probably weren't as heavy as Metallica and Slayer. So we were always this kind of band that had some identity issues, believe it or not. Eventually we finally said “okay, let's just do what we do and that's it and that's all that matters”. But it took a while for us to figure that out. Especially in our twenties.
Lotsofmuzik: Would you have done anything different in your career from the time Symbol of Salvation came out and now?
JB: Well, no, because I felt like my life went the way it was supposed to go. I joined Anthrax and made some really great music with them and it was sad Armored Saint to end back then, but then we came back and we showed resilience and we’ve been together since then. And we've made some really incredible music, especially with “Win Hands Down”. We think it's amazing record and for us the key component is the family unit. That's the thing that drives us and we've known each other since we were eight, nine years old. So it's a long history of friendship.
Lotsofmuzik: It must be a bit of a strange dynamic having two brothers in the band. Did they ever gang up on you when it was time to make an important decision for the band?
JB: Not really, but one brother was fired at one point, so there’s that! [laughs]. That was weird, you know? I'm sure Gonzo [Sandoval, drummer, brother of Phil Sandoval, guitarist] was never really too happy with that decision. Of course Phil wasn’t! [laughs] But again, it was all part of the way the story goes, and Phil's great. He's such a mellow, easygoing guy, and he's a pivotal part of Armored Saint.
Lotsofmuzik: The last album “Win Hands Down” received a lot of praise, and for me, it’s surely one of the best in the band’s career – a huge step up from the previous one, “La Raza”. It’s been reported that you’re working on a follow up, with four or five songs already in progress – how’s that progressing?
JB: I think there wouldn't be a “Win Hands Down” if there wasn't ‘La Raza”. That was a step to get to “Win Hands Down”. That's my personal opinion. And to follow up “Win Hands Down” is not going to be an easy feat because we think it's really one of our best records. At the moment we're writing songs and we think they sound great. We just got to really, you know, without taking an eternity like Armored Saint does, we've got to make sure it's great before we say “here it is”.
Lotsofmuzik: And you're preparing a live DVD for this tour - any idea of where it's going to be recorded?
JB: We recorded in New York and Boston so far. We're going to do a little recording in LA, and we also recorded outside of Philly. We are capturing the audio every night and for the video we’re going to use those shows I mentioned. But I don't know, it’ll probably be a combination of things.
Lotsofmuzik: You in particular have been known for doing things at your own pace, especially since 2009, which was the last time you sang with Anthrax – do the other members travel at the same pace, or do they wish you guys were a bit more prolific?
JB: I'm sure everybody would probably rather work a little more than me. I have the most invested outside of the band because I have two kids. Phil has two kids now too. But you know, it's hard for me. I love touring and I love playing shows, but I hate being away from my family. I really loathe it. And I miss things and my kids are growing – I’m sure Joey [Vera, bassist] feels the same. It's a hard decision to make. So I think that in a perfect setting we’ll do things the way we've been doing: a couple of weeks here, three weeks there, and being more selective. I think it keeps the hunger for Armored Saint and makes people excited.
Lotsofmuzik: Fans have noticed that your voice has been much stronger and you're singing extremely well over the last several years. Have you changed anything in the way you take care of your voice, such as vocal training or different techniques?
JB: I have! I changed my diet a lot: I stopped drinking coffee, I haven’t been drinking any alcohol. It only gets harder! This shit's demanding, you know, so I'm just trying my hardest to sing as well as I can. I know at the end of the day that all that really matters is to sing good. So any extracurricular activities, I've done all that - I've done it all. So I'm a little raspy right now, but whatever. I'm just digging down deep and pulling it out of me and I think my voice sounds pretty good right now. So I try to keep it up.
Lotsofmuzik: After so many years in the music business, you must have many of stories to tell – would you consider writing an autobiography at some point?
JB: Well, we have an idea to do that with somebody. We have somebody that actually wants to do a documentary with us, so we'll see if that comes to fruition. We have a couple of guys in mind that we've done things with - a couple of guys from England who want to do it and they have a bunch of footage. So who knows. I mean maybe if it really happens, it'd be really cool to actually do a movie or a documentary of Armored Saint. Because the story is actually really cool and there's a lot of interesting aspects of it. So we'll see what happens.
Lotsofmuzik: And there’s been talk of a tour where you sing the Anthrax material from your era, or even a joint tour with Anthrax and Armored Saint, which would be amazing to see. Since you mentioned this in the press, there are probably many calls from promoters already to discuss this, right?
JB: Well, there aren’t too many calls, which is funny…but one day it’ll happen. I don't want to do a ton of shows. I would like to do just maybe a handful of shows where that happens, but I’m not sure with whom or how that goes down. I don't know. I'm not too concerned about it. Really, it'll happen when it's supposed to happen, is the way I look at it.
Lotsofmuzik: Do you have a song or two from your time in Anthrax that you really miss performing?
JB: Well, I always loved “Catharsis”. I always thought that was a rad song and we didn't play it that much live. It's probably with the one record from my time in Anthrax that people think of the least, but I think there's some really great songs – “Inside Out” is another one too.
Lotsofmuzik: Thanks so much for your time, and have a great show tonight, man!
JB: Cool, thanks buddy!
Part II: Concert Review
The night started with Act of Defiance, the band formed by ex-Megadeth members Chris Broderick (guitar) and Shawn Drover (drums) after they quit Dave Mustaine’s band on the same day. In true do-it-yourself form, vocalist Henry Derek and bass player Matt Bachand fixed their setlist on the stage floor and helped roadies put together their gear. Their show kicked off with “M.I.A.”, and Henry instantly won the crowd. Chris seemed way more relaxed than during his time with Megadeth, and looked genuinely happy to be on stage, fist-bumping many excited fans. The brutal assault of “Overexposure”, from their most recent effort “Old Scars, New Wounds” came next, with great drumming from Shawn. “Lullaby of Vengeance” followed, with Henry putting his vocal chords through an extreme workout, with incredible growls. Chris’ arpeggios were impressive throughout, and on songs such as "Birth and the Burial" and “Legion of Lies”, they proved to be a force to be reckoned with. By the time that the last note of set closer “Reborn” was played, one could tell a lot of people in the crowd were won over, and willing to check out their catalogue.
Armored Saint hit the stage with the classic and summoning chords of “March of the Saint”, followed by “Long Before I Die” and a blistering version of “Chemical Euphoria”. They soon kicked into “Symbol of Salvation” in full. One would think that playing the songs in the same sequence as they appear on the album would take out the spontaneity, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. And as mentioned by John Bush in his interview, they seemed really excited to revisit the not-so-obvious songs from that album. The funky rhythm session of “Dropping Like Flies”, for example, gained a completely new lease of life on this tour. And after being absent from Toronto for eighteen years, it’s no surprise that the crowd was hungry for them. The almost AOR classic “Last Train Home” was sung in unison, as well as the syncopated chorus of the latin-tinged “Tribal Dance”, where Gonzo showed all his percussion prowess.
On the bluesy groove of “The Truth Always Hurts” they proved their versatility, and before the duo of “Half Drawn Bridge” and “Another Day”, John mentioned the absence of Dave Prichard, who passed away of leukemia during the writing sessions of the album. And if anyone needed evidence that John’s voice is at its peak, his performance on the title track more than proved that he’s still got it and then some.
After the heavy title track, two deep cuts from the album were played: “Hanging Judge”, with an almost hard rock vibe, and the Gulf War-inspired “Warzone”, where Phil and Jeff’s fretwork cut the air like a knife. The dynamic bass lines of “Tainted Past” and the thrashy “Spineless” closed the revival of Symbol of Salvation, to unanimous acclaim from the raucous Toronto crowd. And without leaving the stage, the band went straight into the encore, comprised of “Left Hook From Right Field”, one of the best songs off “La Raza”, the title track of “Win Hands Down” and “Can U Deliver”. Some of the fans looked puzzled at the omission of “Madhouse”, but other than that, no complains. Here’s hoping the band really takes advantage of the momentum now gathered, and doesn’t take too long between albums and tours like they did in the past.
Act of Defiance Setlist:
Lullaby of Vengeance
Legion of Lies
Birth and the Burial
Rise Of Rebellion
Armored Saint Setlist:
March of the Saint
Long Before I Die
Reign of Fire
Dropping Like Flies
Last Train Home
The Truth Always Hurts
Half Drawn Bridge
Symbol of Salvation
Left Hook from Right Field
Win Hands Down
Can U Deliver
Act of Defiance gallery:
Armored Saint gallery:
“I wanted the orchestral parts to be overblown, with a lot of guitars” – Symphony X’s Michael Romeo talks to Lotsofmuzik about his solo album “War of the Worlds Part I”
One of the most influential guitar players of the last fifteen years, Michael Romeo is back with a new release. While his band Symphony X Is in hiatus, he took time to record his first solo album, entitled “War of the Worlds Part I”. It’s a concept album, which uses the famous H.G. Wells novel of the same name as a starting point, but expands on the story and addresses all kinds of conflicts that humanity is going through right now: religion politics, differences of opinion etc. As the title indicates, there will be a sequel to this release, which is partially recorded already. Lotsofmuzik’s collaborator Rodrigo Altaf had a chance to discuss the new album with Michael Romeo, and talk about the current state of the music business, the idea of touring in support of the new album, future plans for Symphony X and much more. Check it out below:
Lotsofmuzik: First of all, congratulations on the new album “War of the Worlds” (notorious H.G. Wells novel), which for me has a mesmerizing effect – I can’t stop listening to it since I got it!
Michael Romeo: Thanks so much, that does mean a lot!
Lotsofmuzik: This is not exactly a sequence to your first solo effort, “The Dark Chapter”, right? It’s a completely different beast!
MR: Yeah the Dark Chapter was just a demo, really. I did it in 1991 or something like that, and I did it at home! I didn’t have any gear, and just did it for fun. But when Symphony X got the first deal with a Japanese label I had sent them that demo, and they said “can we put it out?” and I said “sure, go ahead”. But I didn’t have a nice studio or good equipment or anything like that. So to me, “War of the Worlds Part I” really is my first solo record. The production is professional, we have real guys playing on the album, and some good equipment nowadays, and guitars that stay in tune [laughs], so it’s “the real deal” now.
Lotsofmuzik: In this record you have also of John “JD” DeServio (bass) and John Macaluso (drums), and Rick Castellano on vocals. How did each piece of the puzzle in the lineup came into the band?
MR.: I just wanted guys I knew, and friends. Guys I hang out with and that I know are great musicians. I’ve known John Macaluso for years, and when I thought of doing a solo record, it made sense to invite him, nad I called him as soon as I decided to record this album. With JD, I went to high school with him, so we’ve known each other forever. He lives nearby and we’ve always thought about doing something. And Rick, again, we’re friends. We’ve known each other for six years or something like that, and I met him just jamming with some friends one day. Every once in a while I catch up with old high school friends to jam and have a few beers, and Rick came down one day. I remembered him being really good and we got along well. As soon as I thought of doing a solo record, I thought of inviting him to sing. So it was pretty mcuch dudes I’m friends with. It was all about having a good environment during the recording and having fun.
Lotsofmuzik: The starting point for the album were the choice of title and the general musical direction. To what extent were the other musicians allowed to contribute to the writing of the album?
MR.: Mostly recording. When I write my material I usually use a drum machine and some bass here and there, but it’s kinda rough, like a sketch. But the song will be the song. I sent the stuff over to Macaluso and told him “add your own thing. Don’t change the song totally, but if you have a cool fill or a beat, just do it!”. And the same with JD, “if you have a little something, go for it, and add your own thing – maybe at the end of the song, do a big finale riff or something”. But with the lyrics and the melodies, me Rick and I collaborated. We sat down here in the studio for a little bit, went through every song, and tried all kinds of different stuff. So yeah, when it came to lyrics and melodies, Rick and I worked together.
Lotsofmuzik: Regarding the lyrics, you mentioned that the "War of the Worlds” is not necessarily Earth versus aliens, but also war in religions, politics etc. It seems to be the appropriate time to talk about how divisive our society has become, right?
MR.: Wow, yeah, it is, dude…everything’s all fucked up right now!!! [laughs]. With the music, I knew I wanted to have this big cinematic thing, a little it of the Star Wars thing going on. And with the lyrics, I didn’t want to retell the novel exactly, or sing about flying saucers in the lyrics, and ray-guns etc. It would get to be too much of the same thing over and over. Me and Rick were just talking and we said “what else can we do”. And we thought, what if the “words” meant all these other things and wars and conflicts that are going on. Like you said, everything is so divided now, there’s so much conflict going on with the littlest things…so we could still keep the War of the Worlds and keep the backdrop of the sci-fi thing, but maybe throw a couple of lines here and there that kind of put a little bit of light on some of this other stuff. I’m not a political or religious dude, I’m just making an observation, I’m not preaching anything.
Lotsofmuzik: I guess from a lyrical standpoint, the songs that addresses that headfirst on the album is the aptly called “Differences”, right?
M.R.: Oh yeah! I mean, they all have a little bit. Djinn has a little bit of that as well – religion and politics primarily, between all of us there’s always differences of opinion and problems with someone else all the time.
Lotsofmuzik: “Believe” for me is the song where you get closer to the prog metal soundscape – but did you feel conscious during the writing process to distance yourself from the Symphony X sound?
M.R.: Yeah, I didn’t want it to sound exactly like Symphony X. Some of the riffs and other things I do kind of sound like Symphony X obviously, but I didn’t want it to be exactly the same. I didn’t really want keyboard solos on the album, but wanted the guitar and the orchestra to be playing a lot. Even in “Believe”, there’s that prog and melodic thing going on, but right in the middle I thought “I’m gonna break into the orchestra here with the guitar and go off on a tangent”. And there’s some electronic stuff with the robots’ thing and even some dubstep! I though Symphony X would never do such a thing, so I said “I’m gonna do that!”. I did want it to be different.
Lotsofmuzik: You just touched on the song I was going to address now, so let’s talk about probably the most controversial song in this release – from the title to the dubstep sounds – “Fucking Robots”. Do you think fans will have a hard time understanding that track?
M.R.: [laughs] I think it’s a cool song, we all had fun with it. It’s just a different thing, and a mix of different stuff. There is a little bit of dubstep, but also some heavy guitars, the orchestra is there too, and it’s just something different than usual. I think that at first people will might think it’s really weird, but if you listen to it, it sounds really cool. But that’s what you gotta do – be creative, try different stuff, or else, it’s just the same old shit. I love that track, I sit and listen to it these days and it makes me laugh, because it’s so different and so ridiculous, but it’s fucking fun, man, it’s just music!
Lotsofmuzik: What was the inspiration behind the three skulls on the cover, and who drew it?
M.R.: I was working with this artist I know, his name is Drake Mefestta, and he’s done some covers for other bands too. I told him what the album was and that I wanted a sci-fi vibe, a little dark and kind of alien-ish and maybe a little Geiger. When I said Geiger he brought the skulls and the alien texture thing in the sketches, and what he came up with really fits.
Lotsofmuzik: Just like many of the Symphony X albums, there’s a lot of orchestration and film score sounds, but here it’s blown out of proportion really – have you ever considered doing an actual movie soundtrack?
M.R.: Oh yeah, I’ve done a couple! And I’m just kind of getting it going right now, I did a horror film back in September, a TV show and another film, and had lots of fun doing that! It’s hard to make money with music these days, so I’m just trying to do whatever I can. Eventually these things will be released, and I can talk about it a little more. The horror movie was really fun, it’s an old school horror film with an 80’s vibe, kinda like Jaws or Friday the 13th. I grew up with that type of movie, so I was really excited to do that! That’s fun to do as well.
Lotsofmuzik: And have you had a chance to sit down with your hero John Williams yet?
M.R.: That will never happen man! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Maybe it will, who knows?
M.R.: I would never waste his time man…he’s gotta keep writing and keep it going man! There’s a lot of dudes that really inspired me growing up: Randy Rhoads of course, Van Halen and Yngwie, Sabbath and Priest...that was a big part of my life, and with the classical music too, I was into Stravinski and guys like that. But even since I was a kid, I loved film music: Star Wars, Superman, E.T., Indiana Jones and Jaws…those are classics ingrained in everybody’s brains. So he’s a genius! I totally respect him, just like all my guys, it doesn’t matter if they’re shredders, metal guys, prog guys or film guys…if it’s good shit, it’s good shit!!! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: And t bring back he subject of “War of the Worlds” again, apparently Part II is almost halfway through, right?
M.R.: Yeah. When I started to write, I was writing every day, and I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to have like you said, I wanted a little more orchestra, and the orchestration to be overblown, and with the guitar a lot too. Everyday I had a new idea, and things were moving. And after five months or so, I went back and looked at everything, it was like, more than two hours. And I said “what the hell man, let’s start recording everything”. We did the drums for everything, bass and rhythm guitars and some of the vocals. But when it came to the lyrics, it was kind of getting tough – there was so much stuff! So we said maybe let’s just work on the first bunch of songs, and then at some point we’ll come back and finish. Let’s just try to make this first half as good as we can. So yeah, most of it is done, and if this album does well and people dig it, then the other one really wouldn’t require too much time to be done. But part II is in the same vein – obviously the songs are different, but everything was written at the same time, so a lot of of the themes come back, or the theme is backward, and there’s some kind of variation on something, an all our musical tricks are there, so it’s the same vibe.
Lotsofmuzik: I think it’s a great strategy to release part I and then part II because it’s not too demanding on the listener. It’s a concept and a story but it’s not difficult for the listener to absorb.
M.R.: I think that doing a double record is just too much, even for me. That’s a lot to take in, so yeah, we decided to split it. I want people to absorb the first one for a while, and then we’ll put out the second record. They’ll complement each other, but they’ll also be a bit different
Lotsofmuzik: And you also said that initially you didn’t really have expectations to play this material live, but now you’re considering doing a tour or a few shows here and there.
M.R.: Yeah, it depends on a lot. When I started the record, I thought of having fun and invite some buddies. And even recording, it was ok to put the orchestra everywhere, and all these extra guitars, and the synths everywhere, because we didn’t know if we were ever doing this live. We said “let’s just make it sound good now, and if we do it live, we’ll worry about that later”. But it’s not written in stone. We’re waiting to see what’s going on with Symphony X. We’ve been talking about what our next move is going to be, so there are a lot of pieces being moved around the board, so to say. So we’re taking it day by day, and figuring out what the plan is going to be.
Lotsofmuzik: I can only imagine the headaches you’re going to have while trying to make the material work on a live setting, right?
M.R.: I mean, it would be hard to do, because I kinda like to have an orchestra live, even if it’s a small one, because so much of it IS the orchestra. I would hate to have four dudes playing along with a tape recorder. I’d rather have more human beings on stage. But then we get into money and other aspects, so it’s really impossible to say right now. A lot of it depends on what Symphony X’s next move is gonna be. I mean I just got this thing done, it didn’t even come out yet! [laughs]. So let’s take it day by day.
Lotsofmuzik: You’re regarded as one of the main guitar players of our generation - to what extent do you care or listen to those compliments, and who do you measure yourself against these days?
M.R.: I don’t go looking for compliments, I’m just doing my thing! I’m a chill guy who likes to write and play, and try to be creative and challenge myself when I’m writing or playing. I’m probably my toughest critic. When I’m tracking or playing or even just writing – I’m constantly asking myself “how can I make it the best I can make it”. I’m pretty tough on myself all the freaking time. But you gotta be, or else the stuff you write or play will just be tired-sounding and not exciting. I still get excited from writing – thank God! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: What fascinates me in your playing is how gritty you sound when you're riffing, and how clear you sound doing solos. What's your secret to achieve that, especially in a live setting?
M.R.: I don’t know, I just play! [laughs]. I really don't know. Usually the sound is basically one sound dialed in and obviously it's a little heavy but it's not too dirty where there's no clarity. So yeah, if I'm setting up my amp or whatever, it's just finding that balance. With the rhythm stuff I can dig in a little, make it heavy, but the solo stuff I can kind of move around and it's kind of fluid sounding and, and the notes are popping out. So yeah man, no crazy trick just, and even on the rhythms, like I said, maybe playing a little harder digging in to get it a little more of that aggressive sound and on the solos a different approach. Yeah, no magic tricks man! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Do you find that your career path is exactly what you envisioned when you first started or not? And would you consider playing other styles of music?
M.R.: Man, that's a good question. I think kind of. When I was young I just wanted to be in a band and play music and so it's like, oh, I guess I'm doing that now. So no, I didn't know that, you know, none of us knew that the whole music industry was going to get turned upside down and financially now for a lot of guys I know and myself and everybody, it's just like, it's really hard to be musician now and make money and do it. It's just a different time. So yeah, I didn't see that coming [laughs].
Lotsofmuzik: I don't think anybody saw that coming to be honest. It is a complete shift in the music industry like 10 years ago or 15 years ago, right?
M.R.: Over the last ten years I would say is when I really noticed it. And the thing that sucks is I don't see a lot of new metal bands, like the big army of metal bands that…when Symphony x was getting going, every time you turned around there was a new band. And it was just an exciting time. But a lot of the kids now like their phones and their video game and they like electronic music and DJs, and everybody wants to be a DJ. And guitar shops are in financial trouble because these kids just aren't buying music instruments. That's scary. But I get it because it would be really hard, with the way that the business is now for bands to start fresh and really go through the normal way that it was years ago, when all the bands were doing that kind of thing. Now it's, just different.
Lotsofmuzik: And with Symphony X, these days you’re the torchbearers of the more traditional side of prog metal – which bands of the new batch of prog metal you listen to?
M.R.: I mean over the last couple of years, I can't think of too many that I've heard that are new. Honest to god. I mean I can't, and I don't even know what we would consider prog these days - there's just so many sub genres of that! So that's a tough one to answer. Even if you asked me whatever new bands I heard in the last year or two? I don't know if I can name any. I'm serious. I mean there's a few out there, but you know, it was just talking to my buddy about this yesterday: Slayer’s going to be gone, Sabbath and Rush are done, and eventually everyone's going to start to dip out and then where's the next Slayer? Where’s the next Rush, you know? I don't really see the whole new generations of kids carrying the torch for whatever, for metal and prog or whatever it is. It just seems like a different time, you know, things are kinda changed. A little scary.
Lotsofmuzik: I’m a long time fan, and saw Symphony X in Rio in 2016. The long time fans are wondering if/when we’re gonna have a live DVD release!
M.R.: Oh God, I don't even know man. I mean it's something that we had always talked about and it just never materialized. And then the whole last year was really a difficult time for the band because Russel [Allen, singer] said he wanted to spend a little time with his band Adrenaline Mob, and try to get that moving a little. And it's like, okay. And then our bassist [Mike] Lepond did a solo record. I decided to do this one and then this terrible tragedy happened with those guys and the accident [the Adrenaline Mob tourbus had an accident which ended up with the tour manager and the bass player passing away]. And I can't even imagine what they all went through. I talked to Russ a couple of weeks ago and when you go through something so awful, it kind of puts your life in perspective, in maybe changes your priorities a little bit, right? So we were talking, I said, “hey man, I get it dude”. You've been through a lot, so take some time to yourself and sort it out. Just sort out whatever you're thinking and then you just kind of let us know, you know what we're going to do. So right now we’re taking it easy and I'm kind of giving him some space to sort things out. But no definite thing. At some point we'll regroup and, and get everything back in.
Lotsofmuzik: That’s great to hear! And have you listened to the other endeavours of your bandmates in Symphony X? Silent Assassins, Adrenaline Mob, Pinella’s solo albums etc.?
M.R.: Yeah man, I hear all their stuff! When Russ finished their last album he played a little bit for me. And Lepond’s band, we did a lot of recording here - I helped them out a lot doing it. So yeah, I heard, I heard it a lot! [laughs]. And it's all good. Everybody's got their different things, Lepond likes old school metal and, Pinella, you know, he likes the keyboard stuff obviously, and I hear a little bit of Yes. And you can tell what I like – metal riffs, Stravinsky and John Williams stuff. Everybody in Symphony X has their own little thing, just trying to be creative. But yeah, like I said, at some point, we're going to regroup. I just talked to Lepond the day before yesterday, he was checking in. So we're all talking and they know that I just finished this new album too. So they've given me a little time just to do what I need to do. So it's a healthy thing, you know, after so many years of us together all the time, everybody just took a little break to do some other things that they've always wanted to do. So totally a normal thing.
Lotsofmuzik: Would you consider some sort of vehicle to pass your knowledge along – maybe Skype lessons, or more clinics?
M.R.: I might. I would rather try to put everything I know into some kind of master class series or something. Some could be about theory and some could be about guitar and picking or tapping and it could be about how to think about building a solo or a riff or putting a song together in harmony and theory. It would be cool to do that. It would take a shit ton of time to put it all together, but I’s one of those things I always think about. I'm always thinking about those things and again, it's like a time thing and I finally had time to do this solo record and at some point, you know, with Symphony X we're going to be moving ahead again. With Symphony X I just spent so much time writing and we're doing all the recording here at my place, so it's a full time job every day. But yeah, I consider anything.
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you so much for your time, and all the best with the new release! I hope to see you back on the road at some point, either with Symphony X or promoting your solo album!
M.R.: Yeah, at some point, either with Symphony X, or with the new album, it’s gonna happen.
Lotsofmuzik: I'll keep my fingers crossed. All the best, man!
M.R.: Yeah, nice talking to you, man, Take care!
Michael Romeo’s “War of the World’s Part I” comes out in July 27th, via Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group. The tracklisting and personnel is shown below:
02. Fear Of The Unknown
04. F*cking Robotos
08. War Machine
Michael Romeo - Guitars
Rick Castellano – Vocals
John Macaluso – Drums
John “JD” DeServio - Bass
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