SONS OF APOLLO
Sons of Apollo - the rather tasty lineup of Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, Billy Sheehan, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Jeff Scott Soto - are back with their sophomore full length studio offering, ‘MMXX’. But, of course, an ensemble of virtuosos doesn't automatically make a great band. I can think of examples where, on paper, a lineup of musicians engenders high expectations but the resulting music has been compositionally bland. However, in the case of Sons of Apollo, this bunch of rock/metal luminaries have combined to create sonic gold. Their debut album, 2017's 'Psychotic Symphony', was fantastic. Flawed but fantastic. And last year's double live album and DVD/BD, 'Live with the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony', saw the songs transformed into even greater wedges of progressively swayed rock/metal majesty on the stage. In fact, I caught the band in live action back in 2018, and it's on a stage where the material from their debut truly came to life in even more exhilarating ways than it did recorded. And it's perhaps fair to say that their touring over the past couple of years has helped forge a greater creative and free-flowing chemistry between them, as 'MMXX', is even more spectacular than the first.
Whereas their debut album was an amalgam of their combined musical histories, with an overriding retro feeling - kind of a sonic diachrony of their previous ventures - this new one has seen them build on and progress those solid foundations to create something more of the here and now. Sure, there are many retro flavours throughout, but it feels very current on this new outing. Rather apt it’s been titled ‘MMXX’, in that sense. The progressions within each of the songs feel natural rather than forced, with the familiar transformed into the unfamiliar and unexpected in the most organic of ways. 'Wither to Black' is a great example of this, which opens with groove-heavy classic rock/metal idioms, but transitions with compositional ease into its own beast. There’s a timeless feel to everything, where old meets new in explosions of ageless and enduring musical prowess. Dare I say, the material’s also a little more edgy and darker this time around.
As with ‘Psychotic Symphony, there’s still a proclivity within some of the tracks towards the generic rather than genuine side of prog, where many passages within the songs switch between challenging time signatures, and a ton of widdle, but it all feels natural rather than contrived. And the grooves still seem to be present on ‘MMXX’, perhaps more emphatically than on its predecessor. So much so, the album’s such an infectiously groovy fucker at times, which helps with the natural flow of everything.
Production-wise, Portnoy and Sherinian are once again responsible and, eschewing the overly polished, sterile sound that seems to plague all too many records these days, they’ve achieved a very nice organic feeling to the material - music that sounds alive, performed by human beings. And, as with ‘Psychotic Symphony’, Jay Ruston mixed everything (with suggested adjustments by Portnoy and Sherinian), which has resulted in a blissful clarity, with all instruments perfectly balanced and audible in the whole.
Whereas the band were originally marketed around the reunion of The Del Fuvio Brothers, Sons of Apollo have now transcended that novelty USP. I mean, there'll certainly be people out there who'll still be revelling in the repairing of Portnoy and Sherinian, the two ex-Dream Theater alumni, but the Sons are (and, marketing blurb aside, arguably always were) all about the serious amount of talent within the whole. And the fruits of their collective creativity and indubitable virtuosity has resulted in an indubitable masterpiece. The first great work of the new decade. Well, one of the first albums of the new decade, but it just so happens to be a bloody great one!
Review by Mark Holmes
17th January 2020
1) Goodbye Divinity
2) Wither to Black
4) Desolate July
5) King of Delusion
6) Fall to Ascend
7) Resurrection Day
8) New World Today
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"There’s a timeless feel to everything, where old meets new in explosions of ageless and enduring musical prowess."