Sons of Apollo – MMXX Review

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Progressive metal is my genre. If there is any musical style I know like the back of my hand, it’s this one. I grew up with prog-rock, courtesy of my uncle, and this love has so cleanly translated into groups that I still listen to today. ToolCaligula’s Horse, and Haken are some of my favorite bands, and I continue to spin thier discography even to this day. But something about the noodly, virtuosic side of progressive metal has always left something to be desired. Dream Theater is the emblematic band that strikes these chords too often, and it is fitting that two of the members of Sons of Apollo are ex-members of that band.

A supergroup if I have ever seen one, Sons of Apollo is a US five-piece whose members have been a part of too many projects for me to care to count. The group consists of:

Billy Sheehan (Devil’s SlingshotMiwaMr. BigNiacin, TalasThe Winery Dogs, ex-David Lee Roth, ex-G3, ex-Michael Schenker Group, ex-Steve Vai, ex-Thrasher) on bass,

Bumblefoot (Art of AnarchyAsia, ex-Awol, ex-Guns N’ Roses, ex-Legend, ex-Leonard Nimoy) on guitars,

Jeff Scott Soto (BakteriaTalismanTrans-Siberian OrchestraW.E.T., ex-Axel Rudi Pell, ex-Eyes, ex-Humanimal, ex-M.A.R.S., ex-Panther, ex-Skrapp Metal, ex-Soul SirkUS, ex-Takara, ex-Yngwie J. Malmsteen) on vocals,

Derek Sherinian (Black Country CommunionJoe BonamassaPentakillPlanet XTheodore Ziras, ex-Alice Cooper, ex-All Too Human, ex-Dream Theater, ex-Jughead, ex-Platypus, ex-Yngwie J. Malmsteen) on keyboards,

and Mike Portnoy (Flying ColorsJohn ArchLiquid Tension ExperimentMetal AllegianceThe Winery DogsTransatlanticYellow Matter Custard, ex-Adrenaline Mob, ex-Amazing Journey, ex-Cygnus and the Sea Monsters, ex-Dream Theater, ex-Hammer of the Gods, ex-Inner Sanctum, ex-Liquid Trio Experiment, ex-Majesty, ex-OSI, ex-Rising Power, ex-S. A. Adams, ex-Twisted Sister) on drums.

This enormously large list of projects shows that the members of this group have immense versatility, virtuosity, and skill at their instruments. Yet, often groups like this have major issues in their songwriting, and therefore what is released is a collection of uninventive solo-filled jam-fests. Dream Theater is notorious for this and is why MMXX is unfortunately reflective of that.

Each of the eight songs on the LP has its benefits, but for the most part, what Sons of Apollo presents on this record is an hour of bland riffs, cliche tones and compressed production that completely turn me off from future listening. While the wonky riff on “Goodbye Divinity” is somewhat interesting on repeated listen, its timbre is so off-putting that at first, I actually checked to make sure my headphones were plugged in all the way. Along with that track, “Wither To Black” and “Asphyxiation” utilize prog’s worst trope; the downtuned chug. While Soto’s hard rock vocals pollute the maybe interesting instrumentation or a virtuosic solo flies over the track with about 10,000 different pedal effects, a soup of guitars and bass play the same notes over again with the distorted tone you’d gain from that decade-old Line 6 amp you found in your uncle’s basement.

Fortunately, after these three tracks, things start to look up for the group. While I mostly despise Dream Theater-esque prog ballads, “Desolate July” is somewhat of a change of pace from before (even though our favorite chug returns once again) and suits the band’s talents well. The song is certainly better than any the prior, as well as the entirety of The Astonishing (Dream Thater‘s 2016 release). “King of Delusion” is extremely reminiscent of many of the highlights on Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory (also by Dream Theater), with many keyboard leads, climactic builds, dynamic switches left and right, and everyone’s favorite prog influences: jazz and classical. This showcases the band at their songwriting peak on this record, and it doesn’t get much better from here.

“Fall to Ascend” is a prog ‘banger,’ and while not nearly as infectious as a song like Dream Theater‘s “Pull Me Under,” it fits the bill for a nice short single that shows just enough prog campiness while maintaining a semblance of riff-chorus-riff that many groups in the genre struggle with. I should also add that all of the performances on this track are stellar. Bumblefoot’s solos in the middle of the track are showboating but engaging, Portnoy’s drums are arguably the most technical they have been on the whole album, Sherinian’s synth lines fill the mix with a buzzy extra-terrestrial tonality, and Soto’s vocals are the least James LaBrie-esque they have been so far (and he gives a pretty nice shriek about halfway through the song that comes out of nowhere). Sheehan’s bass is unfortunately too buried to really be appreciated, but the moments it does stick out are memorable. The following track, “Ressurection Day” is similar in quality to “Fall to Ascend,” but the allure of the band’s songwriting has faltered somewhat, as the structure is exactly the same as the last song.

The nearly 16-minute closer “New World Today” is a culmination of everything else on this album. Some of its bad, some of its good, but its mostly mediocre. As far as prog closers go, this is far from the worst, but also much worse than the best. This sentiment can ring true for the whole album. MMXX is not bad by any means, and if you greatly enjoy Dream Theater or any of Mike Portnoy’s other projects, you will probably like this new release. But in a time where HakenNe ObliviscarisEnslavedThy CatafalqueIhsahn, and Leprous hold up the tenants of modern prog with an iron fist, it is extremely difficult to reinvent the wheel that Portnoy and Sherinian’s previous project solidified almost thirty years ago. But in 2020, the mix of AOR, heavy metal, and traditional progressive metal doesn’t hit the hearts of metalheads as much as it used to.

Final Verdict: “We can’t undo yesterday’s tomorrow”

Favorite Tracks: “Fall to Ascend,” “Ressurection Day,” “King of Delusion”

FFO: Dream TheaterLiquid Tension ExperimentHaken

Track List

1. “Goodbye Divinity”

2. “Wither to Black”

3. “Asphyxiation”

4. “Desolate July”

5. “King of Delusion”

6. “Fall to Ascend”

7. “Ressurection Day”

8. “New World Today”

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Communication Studies/Theater Student from Seabrook, NH. Musician, Actor, Writer.
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