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Sons of Apollo - MMXX (Album Review)

Friday, 17 January 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

For fans of music that dwarfs the very notion of epic, there won’t be many better ways to start this decade than by listening to Sons of Apollo’s ‘MMXX’, a subtlety-be-damned feast of high calibre progressive metal that doesn’t skimp on jaw-dropping excess. Having perfected what keyboard player Derek Sherinian referred to as ‘the art of strategic wankery’ on their 2017 debut ‘Psychotic Symphony’, the quintet have produced a very confident and cohesive follow up that’s notable for its ferocious levels of chemistry and exhilarating instrumental chops.

Featuring members past and present of Guns N’ Roses, Dream Theater, Mr Big and Journey,  Sons of Apollo epitomise the term supergroup. Possessing an innate feel for constructing technically complex, intensely tuneful and emotionally visceral music, ‘MMXX’ finds Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Sherinian unleashing an inferno of swaggering riffs and rhythms beneath Jeff Scott Soto’s dexterous vocal blend of rough-hewn aggressive grit and soaring melodic grace.

On colossal opener Goodbye Divinity the band slowly introduce themselves one by one, conjuring a gathering storm of otherworldly menace as swirling, mythical atmospherics patiently bleed into a stampeding charge of full blooded metal riffery and blitzkrieg drumming.

All the while, Soto’s grounded delivery anchors the track in reality, acting as the perfect foil for his bandmates’ unrestrained imaginations.  

Drawing from every quadrant of the hard rock, prog and metal landscapes, Wither To Black’s spinning riff and bluesy dynamics dovetail into a spacey bridge and gripping, dramatic chorus. Asphyxiation, meanwhile, vomits out a sludgy hardcore attack until swirling keys usher in a vengeful refrain, and New World Today is 16 dizzying minutes of monster hooks and dazzling instrumental ‘wankery’. 

It would be easy to wax lyrical about every performance on this record, but Portnoy’s contribution is particularly noteworthy. Having played a variety of styles with various acts since leaving Dream Theater, Sons of Apollo allows him to break the leash and launch a relentless sonic assault, treating us to the kind of breathtaking fills, power, propulsion and exceptional tempo changes that he was known for with his old band.

Although treading a similar path to ‘Psychotic Symphony’ there’s more of a proper group feel to ‘MMXX’, no doubt born of the five piece having become better acquainted while touring. Some of the hooks are a little less arena rock too, with the likes of Fall To Ascend going for brute power rather than vintage singalong uplift. Although that approach works splendidly in most instances, a couple of choruses do fall strangely flat. 

Resurrection Day revolves around a stunningly exotic Sherinian motif and features outstanding solo work from Sheeehan, while King of Delusion collates lovely classical piano passages with the atmosphere of Queensrÿche’s ‘Operation Mindcrime’ and a bludgeoning groove that recalls Ozzy Osbourne’s Perry Mason. Unfortunately, both crave stronger, old school anthemic pay offs than the lumbering hooks they receive.

That said, the thing about progressive music is that there are so many moving parts within each composition that some sections will often be less effective than others. Such moments don’t necessarily hamper the final product, though, because more thrilling ideas will always come thick and fast. If one part doesn’t float your boat, another will swiftly arrive to stun your senses into submission.

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