Sons of Apollo – MMXX
Sons Of Apollo – MMXX
InsideOut Music – January 17th 2020.
Sons Of Apollo is releasing their second album January 17th 2020. The first album, Psychotic Symphony was well recieved by fans of the members of the band, and this album is a good continunation of the style they cemented in the first album.
MMXX, the roman numeral representation for 2020, has seen the band find their groove and sticking to a formula that works. For the first album, the expectation from the fans was that Sons of Apollo would deliver a progressive metal masterpiece. And the album was suffering slightly from this kind of split personality – it couldn’t decide if it was a progressive metal album or a hard rock/heavy metal album with progressive infusions here and there.
I’m glad to tell you that Sons of Apollo to a much greater degree has decided to firmly root their style in the hard rock genre. It’s clear that Deep Purple, Rainbow and Van Halen are the types of bands that Sons of Apollo are looking at for inspiration, and in my view this is a much better fit for the overall qualities of the band members.
Speaking of band members, even though I think most of you already know who they are, let’s go through the list. First off we have our good friend Mike Portnoy, ex-Dream Theater member and founder, and member of countless bands and projects – maybe most importantly: Transatlantic, Flying Colors, Winery Dogs and Neal Morse Band. His drumming is recognizable at once, and it’s clear he loves playing this type of music. It’s solid, it’s groovy, and it’s (I dare say) much more inspired than the first album.
Derek Sherinian, the second ex-Dream Theater alumnus of the group, is probably best known for his solo work and his work with Planet X as well as being part of the super group Black Country Communion, but he’s also been a prolific session musician, playing countless of keyboard parts for bands as a keyboardist for hire, and acting as a live musician for such artists as Billy Idol and Yngwie Malmsteen. His fondness of classic rock organ sounds, and snarling keyboard leads is well known, and it’s used to great effect on this album.
Billy Sheehan has been a collaborator for Mike Portnoy for a long time, playing with him in the band Winery Dogs. But he’s probably most known as the founder of the band Mr. Big, which he started after he left the David Lee Roth band. He’s a monster on the bass, easily recognizable as one of the best rock bassists around today.
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal first came to prominence in the music scene under his stagename Bumblefoot, under which he released several solo albums. He became a member of the band Guns N’ Roses, and played with them during the tumultous period when Chinese Democracy was being recorded and released. Currently he’s a part of the band Asia, as the lead vocalist and guitarist. In Sons of Apollo, he delivers heavy as heavy can be guitar riffs, and insane shredding guitar solos.
Last, but far from least, we find Jeff Scott Soto. Maybe best known for being the vocalist for the first two Yngwie Malmsteen albums, he’s currently active with his band SOTO, and has also been seen on stage with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Journey and more. He’s had a thriving solo career as well, and has been part of the band Talisman and several other bands over the years. His vocals on this album is firmly suited in the style of hard rock, being gruff and mid range. Fits very well in with the rest of the guys.
So how do you follow up an album like Psychotic Symphony? Well, it does getting to know the strengths (and weaknesses) of your band members. The first album was very much a vehicle for Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian, and it seemed the other three were struggling to find their place in the band. And as they themselves say in interviews, it did cause some friction once they started touring. There was a need for them to adjust to eachother personalities and ambitions, and it shows. Whereas the first album was driven by the keys, it’s a much more guitar oriented album this time around. That’s not to say that the keys aren’t an important factor, but it is clear that Bumblefoot is more confident of his place in the band on this album. And it’s better for it!
And by deciding on fixating the album in the hard rock style rather than trying to be something for everyone, they’re also clearing some misconceptions of what Sons of Apollo is supposed to be. Some people (including Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian, I would wager) saw Sons of Apollo as an answer to “what would Dream Theater have sounded like if they hadn’t fired Derek Sherinian”, so they expected Dream Theater-like music. And whereas some of it clearly could fit that mold, some people were disappointed in the more pure hard rock style they ended up in. Now, they’ve basically gone all out and firmly stated “this is us”, and created much purer hard rock album with rocking organs, pulsating rhythm sections and dirty, nasty guitar riffs.
There’s still blazing fast guitar solos, and wickedly sharp keyboard solos. Shred-fest galore, but more like Van Halen, less like Dream Theater. And this does help root the band and the album. It’s a better album for it, and it’s a better album than the debut for that reason. Most songs clock in around 4-8 minutes long, with the exception of the nearly 16 minute long album ending epic “New World Today”. The music here sounds like it’s constructed to be played to an energetic crowd, and I think this album will provide for a damn good concert experience.
I do think they are at times staying a bit too much on the path of familiarity and cliches, even to the point of repeating stuff you’ve heard before on Dereks solo albums, and even on Falling Into Infinity. And by staying true to an established genre such as it is, they’re also riding some of the same cliches that this genre are well known for using, and that can become a tad monotenous after a while. For that reason, it took me a while to get to know the album intimately, because I did not instantly grasp the differences between the tracks.
Still, a very good second effort from these men, and I’m sure it will be played a lot for people who liked the first album. If you didn’t like the first album, it might be slightly harder to digest this one. But give it a spin anyhow.
Kim Arthur Sakariassen
Ltd. 2CD Mediabook, Standard CD Jewelcase, Gatefold black 2LP+CD, Digital album
Sons Of Apollo have certainly enriched the music sphere since their formation in 2017. It says much that the huge talent involved immediately combined with a cohesive and recognisable individual stance on debut album ‘Psychotic Symphony’, acknowledged as one of the finest releases in ’17. And in 2019, the band put out the glorious ‘Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony’.
Now, though, Mike Portnoy (drums & vocals), Derek Sherinian (keyboards), Jeff Scott Soto (vocals), Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (guitar & vocals) and Billy Sheehan (bass) are ready to take everything to a new level with second studio album ‘MMXX’.
“Stylistically, we have followed the same path as the debut,” outlines Portnoy. “But we feel that it has come out stronger, simply because we know one another better. ‘Psychotic Symphony’ was the first time the five of us had worked together, so there was bound to be an air of experimentation happening. Now, we can draw on having the experience not only of recording that album, but also of touring together a lot. And now there is clearly a lot more obvious chemistry going on.”
“We did 83 shows on the last tour,” adds Sherinian. “And it was so worthwhile, because we came out of it with a stronger bond, and that is certainly reflected in what we wrote.”
The writing process began at the start of the year, as Portnoy, Sherinian and Bumblefoot got together.
“The three of us were at my home studio in Pennsylvania,” explains Portnoy. “And it took about three weeks to get all the music written. That was a very smooth process. The last time, it certainly must have felt a little weird for Bumblefoot to be writing with Derek and me, because we were strangers to him. Now, we know one another better and that helped things push along.”
Sherinian reveals that at least two of the songs began to take shape even earlier than January ’19.
“I am always writing, and started to come up with ideas straight after we finished work on the previous album. The tracks ‘Asphyxiation’ and ‘Desolate July’ definitely date back to that period.
“I agree with Mike on the way things were smoother this time around when writing with Bumblefoot. The first time I ever met him was when we started getting the songs together for the debut. He walked in, we shook hands, then he put on his guitar and we got right to work!”
Once this part of the equation had been successfully resolved, things quickly went to the next stage.
“We demoed everything and then did the pre-production process,” continues Portnoy. “Once this had been worked through, Derek and I went back to Ocean Studios in Burbank for me to do my drum tracks. It’s also where I did them in 2017.”
As with that debut, ‘MMXX’ was produced by The Del Fuvio Brothers, who are…
“That’s Derek and me, using the same pseudonym as we did first time around,” laughs Portnoy. “I got my drum parts done by the end of January, because I had a lot of other commitments coming up. Then the rest of the guys fitted in what they had to do as they had time available in their busy schedules.”
“Because we all have our home studios, it meant everyone could record there as and when they had opportunity,” continues Sherinian. “We all had the luxury of being able to take our time to get all the parts done, which was a huge help in the way the album’s come out. I suppose in all, it took about eight months to record everything.”The mixing stage has once more been handled by Jay Ruston, who also oversaw the mix for the first album. “We leave Jay to get on with the mix at his home studio in Sherman Oaks,” explains Sherinian. “He then sends wav files through to us, and we come up with tweaks when necessary. It doesn’t take long for it all to be agreed.”
There are eight tracks on the album, with variations in length. “The final song is ‘New World Today, which is 16 minutes long,” says Portnoy. “This one has elements similar to ‘Opus Maximus’ and ‘Labyrinth’ on the previous album. It has some insane, brilliant instrumental moments, which I am sure the fans will love.” “We wanted to do something epic here, as we did with ‘Opus Maximus’ last time around,” adds Sherinian. “You have to remember that Mike and I come from Dream Theater, where we never bothered about how long a song was. So, for us doing a 16 minute track is not a problem.”
There’s also ‘King of Delusion’, which clocks in at nine minutes in length. “This opens up with a piano solo,” explains Portnoy. “And it also has a middle section where Derek and I do a piano & drum duet.” “I have actually played more piano on this album than I have ever done before,” delights Sherinian. “This fitted nicely with what we were aiming for. I am also so pleased that I get to play a lot of Hammond organ this time.”
The first single will be ‘Goodbye Divinity’… “This is seven minutes long,” says Portnoy. “And we have also shot a video for it.” The album title was inspired by a chronological fact. “This will be released in mid-January 2020,” outlines Portnoy. “That means it will be one of the first releases in what is a new decade. So I came up with the idea of calling it ‘2020’, except having it written in the Latin form of ‘MMXX’.”
The artwork, which has been done by Thomas Ewerhard (who was responsible for the cover design last time out), inevitably reflects the title.
“For the first record, we had a mythological feel,” explains Portnoy. “This time around, though, there’s a much more futuristic style to what we’ve got. It has a very 21st century appeal. And the band crest is more polished, cleaned up and a lot more modern than last time, when it had an old fashioned look.”
Portnoy and Sherinian are very happy with the way everything sounds. “I have never thought we were a progressive band as such,” insists Portnoy. “I would define Sons Of Apollo as a hard rock band, with occasional prog moments. I would compare us to Rainbow, Van Halen and Aerosmith with some crazy shredding musicianship on occasion and touches of progression. “There’s a very balanced and good mix of material here. It’s a 60 minute album, which I think works nicely when you have eight tracks. And we will certainly aim to do much of this live. The last time out we had to put in covers for our live set list. But when we tour again, we won’t have to do that at all. All the material we play onstage will be original. That’s a very positive thing.”
“Each member of this band has their own signature sound on their instrument,” adds Sherinian. “And when you put all of this together what you get is a wonderful five-headed beast. It makes this a sonically special band, which is definitely what comes across on ‘MMXX’.
“You can hear odd time signatures and amazingly crazy performances here. And I feel that personally I have gone deeper musically than I have ever done before. For instance, you’ll find some great harmonies. Overall, we’ve been satisfyingly more adventurous this time than we were before, and I know people are sure to love what we’ve done. ‘MMXX’ is an album I am proud of.”
London, October 2019
Sons of Apollo – MMXX
1 – Goodbye Divinity (07:15)
2 – Wither To Black (04:44)
3 – Asphyxiation (05:07)
4 – Desolate July (05:58)
5 – King Of Delusion (08:48)
6 – Fall To Ascend (05:06)
7 – Resurrection Day (05:51)
8 – New World Today (15:50)
Mike Portnoy – drums and vocals
Derek Sherinian – keyboards
Billy Sheehan – bass
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – guitar and vocals
Jeff Scott Soto – vocals
2017 – Psychotic Symphony
2019 – Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony
2020 – MMXX