Review by Special Guest Contributor, Jerry Deschler
As a fan of Sons of Apollo’s debut album, Psychotic Symphony, I eagerly anticipated their 2019 follow-up, MMXX (pronounced “Twenty-Twenty,” according to keyboardist, Derek Sherinian). But although I enjoyed Psychotic Symphony and the show I attended supporting that album, I was a bit concerned that the band’s second album might be a let-down. Any doubts I had were quickly dispelled. MMXX absolutely lives up to the standard Sons of Apollo set for themselves. The album is a fine collection of melodic, progressive hard rock.
Sons of Apollo was formed in 2017 by drummer Mike Portnoy (who names Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, The Winery Dogs, and The Neal Morse Band among his many current and former bands), keyboardist Sherinian (ex-Alice Cooper, ex-Dream Theater, Black Country Communion), guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (ex-Guns N’ Roses, ex-Asia), bassist Billy Sheehan (ex-David Lee Roth, ex-Mr. Big), and vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, ex-Journey, Trans-Siberian Orchestra). Given the diverse musical background of these players, and the chops each member brought to the table, fans initially wondered whether this musical collaboration would be extreme, technical progressive metal, classic hard rock, or something else entirely. The debut album can perhaps best be described as a little bit of all of that. At times, they sounded like Deep Purple. At others, like Queen. At still others, like Dream Theater. The songs tended to have a strong classic hard rock feel. But some longer song lengths, odd time signatures, and complex instrumental passages gave the songs a bit more of a “progressive” feel. And while none of that may be groundbreaking, the band’s melding of these styles gave them a unique identity.
To me, the word that best describes MMXX is “consistent.” It does not bring anything to the table that sounds new or different from Psychotic Symphony. Rather, it takes the signature sound the band established on their first album, and continues that direction with a bit more tightness and focus that one would expect after a band has written and toured together. Some fans may be disappointed that the band is not covering any new territory with MMXX. But those who, like myself, enjoyed the first album will likely find MMXX right up their alley as well. MMXX takes what worked on Psychotic Symphony and simply continues in that direction. They know what works for them musically and do not see any reason to change the formula.
MMXX opens with its first single, Goodbye Divinity. Those familiar with Dream Theater, and specifically the Sherinian-era album Falling Into Infinity, will likely immediately recognize a note progression at the beginning of the song that bears a strong resemblance to parts of New Millennium, as well as an overall feel and vibe similar to Lines in the Sand. Goodbye Divinitysounds like it could easily have been a cover of something composed by Dream Theater during this era.
The album also has its fair share of upbeat rockers, such as the next two tracks, Wither To Black and Asphyxiation. Both feature catchy, interesting drum beats that sound complex, yet groovy, great hard rock riffs, and catchy vocal melodies. MMXX continues in the same hard rock vein with the amazing drum beats and heavy riffs of Fall To Ascend and Resurrection Day, the latter of which features a very nice intro section with some guitar and keyboard riffing that may be my favorite on the entire album.
To me, MMXX really shines with the two mid-album, mid-tempo songs Desolate July and King of Delusion. Both are dark, anthemic, and “epic”-sounding. Desolate July begins with a haunting piano line by Sherinian, along with some ambient keyboard and guitar sounds that help build the atmosphere. Soto then comes in with soft vocals until the song shortly explodes into an emotional chorus that has all musicians firing on all cylinders. King of Delusion, the longer of the two songs, begins similarly by featuring Derek on piano. But the introduction, while being fairly soft, is also frantic and filled with foreboding. After just over a minute, Bumblefoot bursts onto the scene with some very tasty riffing. Sherinian’s organ patches, Soto’s raspy vocals, and Sheehan’s signature fuzzy bass tone then kick the song up a notch.
MMXX concludes with the nearly-sixteen minute epic, New World Today. As to be expected simply by the length of the song, New World Today combines a lot of different sounds, tempos, and moods. It also contains some long instrumental passages, which are expected signature elements of any album with Portnoy and Sherinian.
Overall, MMXX is a winner. As stated above, it does not tread much new ground or deviate significantly from what the band did on Psychotic Symphony. But it does not need to. The album takes what the band does well and delivers more of the same. Those who hoped that the band would cover new territory will likely be disappointed. Those who liked the first album will likely be thoroughly satisfied. Count me as a happy customer.Follow us on Social Media