Sons of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony

Sons of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony

(Inside Out Music – October 20th 2017)

Rumors started after Mike Portnoy began hinting of a new prog metal project he was involved in late 2016. He would not give away details, but there would soon be given some big hints in twitter messages:

It was apparent to anyone with knowledge of Dream Theater history that this meant Derek Sherinian (the keyboardist appearing on A Change of Seasons, Falling Into Infinity and Once in a LIVEtime) was involved in the project. Soon thereafter, behind the scenes footage was leaked from the studio sessions confirming that also Ron Thal was involved in the project, but this was not fully confirmed.

In the summer, the full lineup and name of the new project was finally revealed. The name was to be Sons of Apollo, and featuring Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian reuniting in a new prog metal band that would record original music.

Bringing in Billy Sheehan, who had worked with Portnoy and Sherinian before in the PSMS project (alongside Tony MacAlpine), touring in 2012 but never recording any original music. Billy Sheehan has also worked with Mike Portnoy in the Winery Dogs, a project that is now currently on hiatus following Richie Kotzens decision to focus on his solo career. Billy Sheehan is maybe more known as the bassist for the early solo albums of David Lee Roth, and also as the bassist of the band Mr. Big.

On guitar, they needed a monster player. Somebody with the chops to pull of complex guitar works, heavy metal riffs and also be a player with some regard in the music business. They picked Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, a guitar player who’s main claim to fame was being the guitarist for Guns n’ Roses from 2006 to 2014, appearing on the Chinese Democracy album and touring extensively. Before that, he was mostly known for his solo work under the Bumblefoot name, releasing several albums that are well worth a listen. Although not particularly known for his progressive metal work, his solo albums are known for being heavy metal with some Frank Zappa-esque “silliness” introduced within, mixing it up with some jazz and avant garde influences in between hard rocking riffs.

The vocalist they picked is no small fry either. Jeff Scott Soto, vocalist for the first two albums of Yngwie Malmsteen, front man for the band Talisman, a touring member of Journey and a very active solo career as well as a vocalist for Trans Siberian Orchestra should be known for most of you.

This is very much Mike and Dereks project. They produced the album together, under the moniker seen earlier – “The Del Fuvio Brothers”. The album is called “Psychotic Symphony”, a title which does seem to be a bit familiar to us by employing a familiar “adjective noun” oppositional structure, with seemingly incompatible settings. You might be familiar with another album title using this same formula; “Systematic Chaos”.

Now, there’s been some drama involved in the run up to the release of this album. Generally, the two singles released so far (Signs of the Time and Coming Home) have been fairly well received. But at the same time, Derek Sherinian has been having some fun in social media, tossing around thinly veiled putdowns. “Keyboardists – This is what feel sounds like. #noipad #noapps #NOCHEESE” – “No asshole puckering high vocal shreiks in Sons of Apollo!! We Promise!” – “There is also no cheesy breathy vocals or “fake anger” vocals on Sons of Apollo – we promise!”. Also claiming that Sons of Apollo would be hailed as the new kings of prog metal, making some fans react poorly. Combined with the release of the two songs which apparently did not meet expectations, and the perceived arrogance and disrespect from Sons of Apollo members caused people to start bickering on Mike Portnoy’s personal forum, which in turn made Mike Portnoy close it down after 18 years of service. Unfortunately, the drama has already colored some potential fans expectations of the album… I hope you can look past the silly drama and judge the music on its own.

I got the album from Inside Out to review a few weeks ago. I’ve been listening to it extensively, able to make up my mind about it without the input of the aforementioned drama. So let’s get through my review then. Let’s start with a TL;DR-version. Should you buy Sons of Apollo? You should at least give it a chance. It’s a good album. There are great, strong riffs here, and some insane instrumental sections that boggles the mind.

My main complaint would be that it does feel a bit too safe and familiar at times. Even though we’re here with a new constellation of musicians we’ve not seen any output from, their heritage in where they come from, and the presumption of how they would sound together does lead to an album that sounds exactly as you would think it would sound. It’s a heavy progressive metal album, with emphasis on the metal part of the genre description. This is as expected, seeing as neither Billy Sheehan, Ron Thal nor Jeff Scott Soto are well known progressive metal musicians. This is not  a negative thing at all, but will certainly draw some ire from people who expected a more progressive album after Mike Portnoy’s foray into the metal/hard rock side of things with both Adrenaline Mob and Winery Dogs. But given the want/need to keep it heavy has left the album feeling a bit one-dimensional. It’s an hour of sonic onslaught broken up with a few more quiet sections here and there.

There’s also a lot of familiarity to the way the songs are structured and composed – in fact my description of it would be “mix the heavier parts of Falling into Infinity, Systematic Chaos and Black Clouds with some Adrenaline Mob and Winery Dogs, except feature Derek’s growly organs extensively throughout, and keep the vocals deep and “rusty””. But I don’t expect musicians in their 50s to be perfectly original at every turn, creating something new and unique. It’s good for what it is, and it doesn’t have to pretend – let the new crop of progressive bands take on new ideas, they’re better equipped to do so.  Sons of Apollo keeps it well into a nostalgic groove, which will scratch an itch for many fans of the participating musicians.

Opening up the album is “God of the Sun”, starting with an two minute long intro with a very Egyptian/middle eastern-inspired theme. Going from that it’s into some heavy, fast riffs which will lead us into the verse/chorus structure of the song (slow and heavy riff to give room for the vocals). Jeff Scott Soto sings with power, and sounds awesome. Forgiving them for some cheesy lyrics choices, the song at this point could very well be seen as a distant cousin of some of Ayreons stuff, or Symphony X. Interspersed in the singing, there’s also some Egyptian flavoring by Derek. This rocks, I like this section a lot. So, after five minutes or so, the song goes almost silent, leading into a section driven only by the keyboards and vocals. Still feeling the Ayreon vibe.

But the transition into it feels a bit weird, and this doesnt feel like the same song as we heard the first five minutes. It feels a bit like the same problems I had with the last few albums Mike Portnoy did with Dream Theater – unrelated sections cut and pasted together to make a slightly incoherent whole. And the transition from the slow section into an instrumental solo section is also a bit awkward. It’s a minor quibble that surely won’t detract much from enjoying the songs.

But that instrumental section – wow. It’s not “insane soloing” like we’re used to with Dream Theater, it’s more that there’s several different riffs moving into each other. Time signature changes, fast moving notes, layering and twisting, sometimes done as unison runs, sometimes done as answer and reply. Pretty cool section! This keeps going for a few minutes, before we return to the verse/chorus structure of the beginning of the song, which finishes the song. A good start, one that will please a lot of the “metal” fans of prog metal fandom. Probably the most stand out song of the album.

Moving from that song into “Coming Home”, we start with Derek riffing away on the keyboard. The band kicks in, and we’re off into a fairly straight forward metal song. Jeff Scott Soto screams his way into the song, and we’re off with a driving riff. The song itself is pretty cool. Lot’s of great chorusing from the other members of the band, and Ron Thal shows of his insane guitar flourishes in the verses. And delivers a blazing solo. It’s no wonder why they chose this song to be the video of the album, it’s catchy and accessible. Although because of that, it does feel a bit safe. It’s “heavy metal” by the numbers, and borrows heavily from the giants that all “shredding guitarist” bands stand on the shoulders of.

Next is the first song released from the album, “Signs of the Time”. Billy Sheehan’s deep bass and Ron Thals heavy guitars opens the track, with a grinding riff that oozes metal. Jeff Scott Soto sound as good as ever. Also a pretty straight forward rocker, with a verse chorus verse structure. What stands out on this track is the drum fills from Portnoy, almost providing all the flourishes in the verse/chorus structure (where the bass and guitar is busy driving the riffs and rhythms, and Derek is busy doing some strange ghost like synth sound). Going into a nice Derek based solo, with the signature sound he’s become famous for. Fun stuff. Moving from there, we go to a slower section that is almost a bit Allan Holdsworth-esque. Now, this might sound a bit familiar to Dream Theater fans, as this was also a trick Dream Theater used on Falling into Infinity, on the track Trial of Tears where they did a solo-section that was highly inspired by Allan Holdsworth’s performance from the song “In The Dead of Night” by the band U.K. But whereas Petrucci tried to emulate Holdsworth as much as possible, Ron Thal does his own twist on it, making it feel as much as a tribute to Holdsworth as a Ron Thal solo done in a similar style. Pretty cool. And the song ends soon after.

“Labyrinth” is my personal favorite from the album. Starting with song string synths, Jeff Scott Soto sings a verse while guitars provide some flavoring. And a wild ghost synth appears. Drums and bass, verse continues. This is pretty simple, but effective, and rocking. Chorus is driven by open string chords, and sounds awesome. Rince and repeat, before we suddenly go into … wait, 1985? 80’s inspired synth sounds and chord structures reminiscent of Vince DiCola. And we transition away from that part of the song into a riff driven rocking tune. Instrumental madness. Effects laden vocals over drums and bass. This does sound great. More instrumental madness, going to a new chorus, and more instrumental madness. And then all of a sudden, as though the instrumental madness we already had wasn’t enough, they kick it off into an even wilder section. This is complex and insane. Every instrumentalist in the band is allowed to shine – every instrument gets to show off. Derek with his Hammond organ. Billy with a very distinct bass riff. Ron with his insane soloing skills going up and down the neck in blazing speeds with cool dissonant combinations that just sound awesome – this is the version of Bumblefoot I’d hoped we see more off on this album. And Mike just shines throughout with perfectly placed fills. Then we do a very familiar-sounding transition back into the song, mirroring a trick Dream Theater does often to transition (playing a fast repeating scale riff up and down before returning to an earlier part of the song), while also bringing in a vocal part that kinda sounds like Transatlantic. Going back into the main part of the song, finishing up with a chorus, returning to the 80’s inspired synth chords and exiting the song. This song has been played more than all of the other songs on the album combined for me.

Then we go into “Alive”. This is a strong power ballad. Driving hard rock riffs with a clear ballad structure. Dark and heavy, with a driving riff sectioning the verses and choruses from each other. The star of this track is definitively Jeff Scott Soto – the rest of the instruments are just there to back him up. As it should be when you do a song like this. And of course, there’s a magnificent jazzy guitar solo from Ron Thal. The chorus is catchy and is gonna be stuck as a ear worm in your head for a while after hearing this song a couple of time’s. You’re definitively gonna be singing “I am alive”…

So we venture on into the journey through the album and come to be “Lost in Oblivion”. Air sirens kick off the track. Fast and heavy drums, bass and guitars drive the song. We’re back into pure metal area again. Jeff Scott Soto sings with conviction, in a monotone and menacing way. This is as close to the style that Adrenaline Mob had that you’ll get. Going into the chorus it’s much more melodic, but still going lightning speed. A great sounding track, with Ron Thal providing some awesome licks in between the vocals. Rince and repeat the chorus and verse before we go into a solo section where Derek can shine. Great sounding stuff. Before we go into an extended bridge section with air sirens and some misplaced instrumental madness breaking the flow a bit, before returning to the chorus one last time and leaving the song with an outro. Good track, but unfortunately it does not stick with me. It’ll be one that we don’t skip when we play the entire album, but it won’t be included as a random track on a playlist.

“Figaro’s Whore”. What can we say about this song? Basically it’s a Derek solo piece, one minute long, with Derek wanking his organ. Masturbatory as it does sound, it’s nothing but a interlude between two songs. You won’t be returning to this. While Derek is a great keyboard player, a shredding solo on a keyboard does nothing for me. It’s almost as boring as any drum solo is. And the title is an obvious play on classical music (The Marriage of Figaro being a famous Mozart opera). An obvious transition piece, it also works as an intro to the next song.

“Divine Addiction” is the next track on the playlist, and this one wears its inspirations very clear on the sleeves. This is Deep Purple from the Burn area. A mid-tempo track with a strong Jon Lord-inspired Hammond organ driving the piece, and a Jeff Scott Soto doing his very best David Coverdale impression. Using all the best tropes lyrically and musically, this is a good pastiche of the old Deep Purple style tracks done in a modern sound. A good classic rock inspired track with some cool riffs, and a great guitar solo. But all in all it doesn’t really feel like it fits in with the rest of the album. It’d be a great “b-side” to a single in the era this song is hearkening to, but as the second to last track it falls a bit flat, even with the excellent Hammond solo towards the end. Great song as a standalone, though.

So we venture on to the last track. “Opus Maximus”. Dark and heavy, slow and menacing. Guitars, synths and bass. This is not your fathers instrumental. This intro is scaring me. But it changes over to a more melodic section after that, with a nice complex rhythm behind it. Going over to a more epic prog rock style solo, melodic and calm. Calm before the storm. This sounds a bit like the calmer sections of Transatlantic. I enjoy it. But it is interrupted by a menacing keyboard riff. And we’re off to a wild instrumental madness ride. Melodic and complex guitar solos. Complex unison solos between guitars, keyboards and after a while bass enters into it. Bass and drums takes over for a while. Keyboards fills in with ambience. This is pretty cool right here. It flows together well. It transitions from one section to another with ease. Right here, is what I think most people were expecting from the album. Too bad it’s just one section of the entire album. Return back to a more frenzied riff based on a scale, before going to a slow bass driven rhythm again. It’s very clear who was the main driver for this song – this is Derek through and through. Only fitting then that he then does a long keyboard solo. Before the song ends with the epic epic ending structure that has been overused by now – it’s so familiar, and kinda breaks the song for me for that reason. Ending with the same riff the song started on. Overall, lots of interesting ideas in this song.

So for all that, how does the album stack up? To be honest, as a first attempt, it’s not bad! It’s not the revolution that Derek Sherinian claims it to be, and the hype has been a bit too much at times – but they’re trying to sell an album, so it’s not strange that they would be hyping it as much as they can. It’s a good progressive metal album that (quite naturally) displays its origins pretty clearly. The longer songs can feel a bit disjointed, and the shorter songs can feel a bit too “by the book”. But the riffs are strong, and there are some kick ass instrumental sections. It’s not a *great* album, but it’s an album that works well as the first album from a band that still needs to get to know each other and get comfortable, and it shows great promise of what can be achieved on the next album! My recommendation is that you check out the album and make up your own mind about it, because when all is said and done, this is but one persons opinion and I don’t claim to have the power to be the ultimate judge of quality.

I think maybe what’s missing a bit from this setup is a strong song writer. These guys are all good riff writers. But they’re not really known for writing full songs. And that does hurt a bit when it comes to composition, there are a bunch of good ideas but they seem hastily thrown together which causes them to feel disjointed. I don’t know if it’s because of the compositional style of the band, or if it’s due to the fact that they wrote quickly in the studio because of limited time, but the album could’ve used a bit of polish, just to push it into the zone of being a top class album.

The vocals and the lyrics are cool, although I wish Jeff Scott Soto was given a bit more lenience when it comes to using his full range. He’s kinda stuck in one “style”, but it works well in the songs as written as they’re all also pretty heavy which fits well with the gruff, harsher vocals. I do think he’s the member that didn’t get to show of his actual skill here, where every other member got their turn in the spotlight.

The album does have a sonic quality that sounds very heavy. Although I would say at times it’s a bit muddy in the lower register because bass, guitar and keyboards are all competing for the same frequency range, it packs a punch when played loud. This is a heavy album that deserves to be played loud, and the screaming keyboard solos and soaring guitar solos will give you much aural enjoyment. If you’re a fan of the heavier side of Dream Theater, this album will absolutely scratch an itch for you. If you’re more of a fan of the proggy or melodic side of Dream Theater, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this album as much.

One thing I’ll definitively say; these songs will be great to see performed live. I will definitively recommend anyone to see Sons of Apollo when they’re coming near you, cause this band will for sure turn out a performance you will be sorry to have missed.

7/10

 


Available as: Ltd. Edition 2 CD Media Book (incl. bonus disc with instrumental mixes of the album), Standard CD Jewel Case, 180g Gatefold 2 LP Edition with etching on side 4 (incl. the album on CD) and as Digital Download

APOLLO: The ancient Greek and Roman God of music and poetry.
SONS OF APOLLO: The new supergroup featuring members of Dream Theater, Mr. Big, Guns ‘N Roses, and Journey.

In early 2017, rumors began circulating about a new secret project including former Dream Theater members Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian. Finally, on August 1st, the duo revealed the details to the rest of the world, introducing their new band, SONS OF APOLLO.
Reuniting to form SONS OF APOLLO, Portnoy and Sherinian join forces with guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (ex-Guns N’ Roses), bassist Billy Sheehan (The Winery Dogs, Mr. Big, David Lee Roth) and vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (ex-Journey, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force). Their debut album, Psychotic Symphony, will be released October 20 on InsideOutMusic/Sony Music.

Psychotic Symphony was produced by the dynamic production duo of Portnoy and Sherinian, also affectionately known as “The Del Fuvio Brothers,” the nickname given to them over 20 years ago during their time together in Dream Theater.

SONS OF APOLLO formed very organically, its seeds planted with a predecessor group, as Portnoy explains: “Derek and I reunited shortly after I left Dream Theater in 2010 and we put together an all-instrumental touring band with Billy Sheehan and Tony MacAlpine. That was my first time working with Derek since the ‘90s when he was in Dream Theater, and it was just great to be working with him again. Ever since that tour, which was really just a one-off live thing, he has been nudging me to start a real, original, full-time band. The
timing just had never been right, because I had too many other things on my plate. Long story short, the time was finally right to take the bait and put together a band.”

“Mike and I work at a relentless pace in the studio,” continues Sherinian. “The music is modern, but we have an old-school soul. What is unique about SONS OF APOLLO is that we have true rock n’ roll swagger along with the virtuosity– a lethal combination!”

But what to call the next great supergroup? “Derek was mainly the one behind the name,” says Portnoy. “I have a list that I keep on my phone of about a hundred different band names, which I constantly have to refer to every time I have a new band every year (laughs). So I pulled up the list and Apollo was one of the names on the list. It was a word that both of us really liked. We started fiddling with different variations of the word. One of the original band names we were working with was Apollo Creed, the character from the Rocky movies,
but after lots of different discussions on different variations, Derek suggested SONS OF APOLLO and it seemed to stick. Apollo is the god of music, so with that in mind it seemed like a fitting name.”

With Portnoy, Sherinian and Sheehan having previously toured together in the aforementioned lineup that came to be known as PSMS, playing instrumental versions of various songs drawn from each member’s history, SONS OF APOLLO was the next logical step.
They kept that fire burning and stoked it higher by bringing in a different guitarist, adding a vocalist, and creating all original material. The nine songs comprising Psychotic Symphony incorporate the progressive style and individual technical prowess Portnoy and Sherinian
shared together in Dream Theater, combined with the swagger and groove of Van Halen, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.

“I have known Mike and Derek for a long time, so when they came to me with SONS OF APOLLO, I jumped on this straight away,” says Thomas Waber, Label Manager/A&R International of InsideOutMusic. “However, the album they ended up recording exceeded
my already high expectations by a long mile! We couldn’t be happier about it!” SONS OF APOLLO will hit the road in 2018 for their first worldwide tour.

“This is a real band,” Portnoy declares. “This is going to pick up for me and Billy where The Winery Dogs left off, in terms of this being the next logical full-time thing for us. I’m not saying The Winery Dogs have broken up, because we haven’t, we’re just on a break. SONS
OF APOLLO is absolutely going to be a full-time band and we plan on touring all over the world throughout 2018 and, honestly, it is the priority for all five of us.”

Sherinian agrees, “We will go on a worldwide crusade in 2018 to bring SONS OF APOLLO to as many people as possible. Apollo was the God of Music, and we are his mighty offspring!”

Track List

  1. God of The Sun 00:11:11
  2. Coming Home 00:04:23
  3. Signs of The Time 00:07:17
  4. Labyrinth 00:09:11
  5. Alive 00:05:10
  6. Lost In Oblivion 00:04:38
  7. Figaro’s Whore 00:01:00
  8. Divine Addiction 00:04:48
  9. Opus Maximus 00:10:37

SONS OF APOLLO ARE:
Mike Portnoy – drums and vocals
Derek Sherinian – keyboards
Billy Sheehan – bass
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – guitar and vocals
Jeff Scott Soto – vocals

Discography:
Psychotic Symphony (2017)

SONS OF APOLLO ONLINE:
www.sonsofapollo.com
www.facebook.com/SonsOfApollo1/
www.twitter.com/SonsOfApollo1

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