ALBUM REVIEW: Sons of Apollo – MMXX
Back in 2017, the metal world saw the birth of what seemed as yet another progressive metal “supergroup” – Sons of Apollo. What made it different was the sheer amount of talent and virtuosity possessed by its members. Everyone should have known that when you get Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Billy Sheehan and Jeff Scott Soto in the same band, you are bound to have extraordinary results. That was precisely what happened with their first album, Psychotic Symphony, which was heavily influenced by various mythological aspects in its lyrics and sound. Now, over two years later, this progressive metal juggernaut has returned with MMXX, more futuristic material for a new year and a new decade.
The first track to be heard on this one-hour package was also the first single released to announce the album, Goodbye Divinity. Sporting a spacey keyboard intro, this is as solid an album opener as it gets: it grips you right from start to finish. Bumblefoot’s fretless/thimble guitar playing also makes its debut here, giving off some strong theremin vibes in the process.
Next is Wither to Black, which sees the band lean into a more groove-oriented side, especially with Portnoy‘s drum intro, the strong opening guitar riff and catchy chorus. Sheehan’s bass playing is given one of many moments to shine, offering some harmonics towards the latter half of the song.
Asphyxiation is next to follow, and it is immediately apparent why the song is called as such: that staccato intro does give a feeling of tension. It is quite similar to a pre-solo section from God of the Sun, one of the “epics” from their past album. Bumblefoot had said in previous interviews that he “would have loved for the album to be a little more Meshuggah“ – some of his wishes clearly manifested here, as there’s plenty of chugging and heaviness to go around. Soto’s vocal performance is strong on this one too, gripping the listener immediately, especially on the verses – good stuff.
Desolate July is the band’s latest single, released one week before the release of this album. A different song than one that usually comes out under the Sons of Apollo moniker, this prog-rock ballad was written in memory of David Z, a good friend of the band (being especially close to Portnoy and Soto) and bassist of Adrenaline Mob and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, where the two members had met and got close to him. He untimely passed away in July of 2017, when the debut album had already been completed, hence the title. Replete with Portnoy joining Soto for some vocal harmonies, this is a touching, mournful goodbye for their fallen friend.
King of Delusion starts immediately after the previous track, with a very sinister and quite classical piano performance from Sherinian, which goes to show his mastery of the instrument. Then the heaviness begins! Some whispered vocals in the instrumental breaks are perfect for furthering the sinister and eerie sound of the song, while a drums and keyboard battle towards the end shows the strong bond between Portnoy and Sherinian.
Portnoy kicks off the energetic Fall to Ascend with a drum intro which hearkens back to his old Train of Thought days in Dream Theater, then Resurrection Day starts with a great oriental riff, going into an instrumental section replete with solos from all of the band members. Sheehan‘s rumbling bass and Sherinian‘s Hammond organ have never sounded better.
One cannot talk about MMXX and avoid the 16-minute long mammoth of a song closer: New World Today. Being a “spiritual successor” of sorts to the 10-minute instrumental Opus Maximus, it’s got it all: from an aetherial intro courtesy of Bumblefoot, to some synthesisers that weirdly sound like something out of a Super Mario Galaxy game, to an almost thrash/speed metal section, and even lyrics this time.
Overall, MMXX feels like a much more focused and cohesive offering than their debut album. Having had 83 shows’ worth of experience, including one in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, where they were joined by an orchestra, you can clearly tell that the chemistry between the five members is stronger now. There are less “filler”/”weaker” tracks and stronger, more stand-out moments across the board. Where the first album seemed more like a “collection of songs and epics”, this second record is much more of a complete listening experience, meant to be listened to from the beginning until the end. The only “disappointment” on MMXX is the seeming lack of Bumblefoot‘s backing vocals, as heard on previous hits Signs of the Time or Coming Home, but even then it remains a masterpiece.
Good job, lads, we’ll see you on March 25th in Budapest.
Standout Tracks: Goodbye Divinity, Resurrection Day, New World Today, Fall to Ascend, Desolate July
For Fans Of: Dream Theater, Bumblefoot, Metal Allegiance, Adrenaline Mob, Haken
Written by: Florin Petrut