War of the Worlds Pt. 1 is a tour de force of melodic, technical heavy metal. The album deftly mixes Romeo’s technical prowess as a guitar player with interesting, complex compositions and expands on his previous work with Symphony X by weaving film score-like orchestral work through the album as the connective tissue that holds it all together. The album is a loose concept which, rather than tell the story of an alien invasion or a war with killer robots, uses that sort of imagery to talk about our own wars and conflicts, including the little wars that happen between individuals every day.
Michael Romeo, for the uninitiated, is the guitarist and founder for the highly influential progressive metal band Symphony X. Romeo’s playing and composition is an evolution of the neoclassical styles of guitarists like Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen which bends aspects of classical composition into a more modern progressive style. Symphony X itself was formed out of the recording of Romeo’s first solo album, The Dark Chapter, in 1994.
The album opener – “Introduction” – establishes some of the orchestral themes of the album, and trained ears will also start to pick up on the bits of homage scattered throughout the orchestral work. Throughout the album, careful listening will uncover echoes of John Williams, James Horner, and Hans Zimmer, among others.
“Fear of the Unknown” and “Black” get the album moving with the heavy melodic style that you would expect from Romeo, but Black turns back to the orchestra towards its end which leads us into the sheer madness of “F****** Robots” – a track which blends, metal, dubstep, and film score elements to great effect.
“Djinn” and “Believe” follow with some of the more progressive songwriting on the album. The two longest tracks on the albums, both songs ebb and flow with some surprises in the composition and instrumentation (well, given the name “Djinn,” the more eastern inspired orchestration that takes over the second half of the song isn’t THAT much of a surprise).
“Differences” and “Oblivion” bring us back to the more straightforward metal from the start of the album, but sandwiched between them is “War Machine,” a symphonic, progressive metal instrumental track, which calls back more of the themes from throughout the album.
“Constellations”, the closing track, begins with the promise of a ballad, but did you really think this album was going to end with a ballad? After kicking up the volume, the song revisits melodies and themes from throughout the album before finishing strong with one last chorus.
War of the Worlds Pt. 1 is a surprising album. It’s surprising how close it is stylistically to Symphony X without sounding like Symphony X. It’s also surprising how cohesive the album is despite have so many elements which seem disparate on the surface. Also of note is how great the whole band is. You’re not going to find drum or bass solos anywhere on the album, but the playing is tight and technical throughout.
With War of the Worlds Pt. 1, Michael Romeo has created an album filled with incredible instrumental performances that has depth, variety, and nuance, and is just a ton of fun.