Michael Romero - The arch Iconoclast

The Symphony X axeman is getting excited about the release of the band's new album. He's not so happy about other matters, though...

Its four years since Symphony X graced our ears with their epic, pompous brand of heavy metal bombast via the gift of the excellent Paradise Lost album; That’s a lot of water flowing underneath the musical bridge. I asked guitarist Michael Romero what’s gone down with the band since they disappeared from our view.
“Well, it didn’t take four years to write the album! We’re toured for nearly two years after Paradise Lost came out, then when the album was done you wait around for the record company ti fit it into their release schedule.”

So how long does it take then, once you’ve decided it’s time to go for it and start work on a new album?

“For Symphony X, I guess around eight months, this one took a year, I guess that’s a little long but it’s a double album, you know? There’s eighty five minutes of music on the record so that’s going to take a little longer I suppose.”

And that period is solid writing and recording?

“I guess I do the first work on my own; We never write on the road as we get nothing done, so when we came back off the Paradise Lost tour I sat down for maybe a couple of months, coming up with riffs and ideas which I’ll present to the guys; then maybe me and Russ (Russell Allen, the band’s incendiary vocalist) will sit down and go through ideas for lyrics”

You’ve recorded the whole thing at your home studio The Dungeon again. It’s obviously an arrangement that works for the band, but do you foresee a time when you might just fancy shifting the operation elsewhere and recording somewhere else?”

“I think the situation with The Dungeon is good for us. We don’t have any time constraints or worries when we use it, We can just get together as and when and it works.”

I’m interested that you touched on the writing process a little earlier, in the way that an album evolves from your early idea, to bringing the band in to work on the songs. Your albums, whilst not concept albums in the accepted sense, are always conceptually linked sets of songs. When you sit down to write a record, how do those concepts evolve? You don’t set out to write conceptually, so do certain riffs set off a chain of events in your mind?

‘You’ve hit the nail on the head. Our albums aren’t concept albums; for Paradise Lost we felt it would be great to write some songs around the whole heaven and hell idea; for Iconoclastic, we didn’t really have anything. I wrote some stuff and the whole man-machine thing sort of happened, so I started to write some different keyboard parts, some edgier riffs… even some dirty, distorted percussion came in there, and you have a theme.”

You mentioned that you work closely with Russell Allen on lyrics and melodies. I recently saw a tweet from Fozzy vocalist Chris Jericho after he’d seen you performing on your last run of shows that simply read “Russell Allen’s voice is a weapon”. How much of a boon is it for you as a songwriter to know that whatever you bring in to the band Russell will be able to handle? Romero laughs at Jericho’s tweet whilst considering his answer.

“Russell can handle anything. If I give him a song that’s you know, just relentless riffs he ups the intensity, but if I give him a ballad he can get down into that too. He has an amazing ear for what’s required.”

That’s a precious gift for a singer to possess.

‘It is!’

After recording was finished at the end of last year the band headed out on the road, first in Europe and then for a run of shows in their homeland – how did the new material go down in the live arena?

‘Well, those shows in Europe were like indoor festivals; they weren’t our shows as such, and we knew that the record was still six months away from being released… but we felt that we could maybe throw in a couple of songs, so we went with Dehumanized and The End of Innocence and they went down really, really well.”

Why did you choose those two? Would you say they were quintessential Symphony X songs?

“Not really. I don’t want to call them simple songs, but they are a little more direct, they’ve got cool riffs, there’s certainly material on the album that’s far more complex that’s also very ‘us’. We just felt they would work best. When we got to America we felt they’d worked well so we basically kept much the same set.”

When MaF and Michael Romero hooked up for this little chat the interweb was still holding a raging debate about the appearance of metal Gods Judas Priest on the finale of American Idol. All punter talk of course, but I was keen to hear what Michael – a bona fide, fully paid up metalhead as well as being the guitarist in one of the finest expositors of the genre in the modern day - felt about the whole thing.

“I don’t watch American Idol. Has the feedback been negative?”

The feedback I’ve seen, even on Priest’s own facebook page, has been overwhelmingly negative.

“I don’t know, from what I understand, the guy (James Durbin, the Idol contestant that Priest was enlisted to perform with) wanted to bring metal to the mainstream, and I guess that’s good. I’m a metalhead, I’m a Priest fan – to me they can do no wrong – but American Idol? I don’t know if I’m down with that.”

Anxious not to end our chat on a sour note, I move the conversation back to touring. As ever at Metal as Fuck, we’re keen to know if the band will be heading down under in support of their excellent new album?

“I think so – we’ve been speaking to people to make it happen. We’ll be heading back to Europe first, then back to America, but then hopefully we can come after that,We haven’t been to Japan for a long time either, so hopefully we’ll make it happen.”