By Daniel Levy
After an amazing decade of quality releases in the progressive rock/metal world, we finally turn the page and reach 2020. And with a new year, comes new albums too. Sons of Apollo released their first album ‘Psychotic Symphony’ in 2017 to loads of praise from fans and critics. With an all-star line-up of industry veterans, they’re back with their second outing, aptly named ‘MMXX’. Sometimes it’s hard to predict which direction a band goes after their first record. The band is known for mixing elements of hard rock and progressive metal in a unique way. The key to Sons of Apollo’s identity is in what each member can bring to the table. But, now it’s time to break down what Soto, Portnoy, Sherinian, Bumblefoot & Sheehan came up with this time.
They blast off with a great album opener, “Goodbye Divinity”, the first single released from the album and with good reason. All of the components that make the sound of the band what it is are here. It opens with Derek’s harmonic synths, Portnoy supporting the build-up, followed by a killer crunchy riff courtesy of Bumblefoot and Sheehan’s iconic bass sound. When Soto comes in for the first verse, you realize they really wanted to make a big first impression. It quickly gives the impression that in a short time, the band have already become more unified and upped their game.
Portnoy’s cymbals and double pedals introduce “Wither to Black,” the heavy-hitting second track in ‘MMXX’. With a groovy main riff that is easy to head bang along to, this song shows how Sons of Apollo can work with a basic theme and expand it multiple times while still making it interest. This same concept applies to the next song, “Asphyxiation.” This one is definitely on the proggier side; it’s got a bit of everything – a catchy chorus, badass riffs, insane solos. I also must mention the ending of this song as it is one of the highlights of the album. The band plays the main riff while Portnoy messes around with different drum patterns to screw with the listener’s mind.
The powerful “Desolate July” starts with Sherinian’s piano coupled with Soto’s beautiful vocals. This track is the closest we get to a ballad in the album but there are still plenty of Bumblefoot’s strong signature hits present here. This is also one of the tracks that will please the audiophiles – listening to this with headphones is a delight and it’s easy to hear the attention to detail that went into mixing and mastering.
Now, for my personal favorite of the album, “King of Delusion.” With a smooth transition from the previous song, we receive a superb piano intro by Derek Sherinian. There’s a darker mysterious tone and a clear inspiration from classical composition – a very inspired and unusual piece on its own but it’s then followed by the band in full force. Fast, aggressive riffs and heavy atmosphere lead to verses and chorus that sound simply amazing. The middle part is a throwback to the intro, but, this time with vocals. Next there’s a crazy instrumental section, featuring Bumblefoot’s incredible solo and Portnoy & Sherinian showing the real talent of the Del Fuvio Brothers with a killer drum & piano solo section. The ending, Soto’s trading screams with the keyboards just solidified King of Delusion as my #1 Sons of Apollo song ever.
Next on the album is “Fall to Ascend” – a fast-paced heavy metal track and second single lead by Portnoy’s blistering drums. Certainly one of those tracks that is sure to make any crowd go nuts. Most tracks on this album would serve well as singles, and I mean that in the best possible way. They seem like they would be well received by wider audiences, and that includes the following track, “Resurrection Day.” Another showcase of great musicianship, potent riffs and awesome solos – including a bass solo by Sheehan.
However, the biggest showcase of how the band has matured in such a short time is the epic “New World Today.” The longest song on the album, clocking in at almost 17 minutes, begins with smooth keyboards and bass laying the groundwork for some tasteful guitar work by Bumblefoot. When the 80s styled synthesizer finally comes in with the main riff, you know you are in for a treat. The song follows with that motif and develops its verses in a really interesting manner, mixing both aggression and melody. Fast forward to the middle section, it slows downs a bit only to then sound like a thrash metal classic for a while. When we get to the instrumental segment, with ridiculous odd time signatures, it is easy to see how these guys are doing what they’re comfortable with. If you are familiar with their classic Opus Maximus from the debut album, you should know what to expect here. One last chorus later takes us to a brilliant ending to the album – background vocals, strings, guitars soloing and all that good stuff.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe the band has grown its sound a lot since their first outing. Even though there has been a lot of crossover between members in the past, their experience as one unit definitely shaped their sound to become what it is in ‘MMXX’. Sons of Apollo may have been a band first known for their seasoned members and their pasts, but they should not stay known for just that. As their own entity, they have produced another quality release to start off the new year. For the band, more chemistry, more confidence and more emphasis in their identity is the theme of the album – and with that, they achieve an evolution of their own sound.
Released on January 17th, 2020 on InsideOutMusic
Key Tracks: Goodby Divinity, King of Delusion, New World Today
1. Goodbye Divinity (7:16)
2. Wither To Black (4:48)
3. Asphyxiation (5:09)
4. Desolate July (6:11)
5. King Of Delusion (8:49)
6. Fall To Ascend (5:07)
7. Resurrection Day (5:51)
8. New World Today (16:38)
Mike Portnoy: Drums, Vocals
Derek Sherinian: Keyboards
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal: Guitars, Vocals
Billy Sheehan: Bass
Jeff Scott Soto: Vocals