Amid the startlingly overpopulated realm of Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and Prog ‘Super Groups’, the veritable wealth of pre-release expectations and/or hype often greatly exceeds the end result(s) of their collective efforts. Examples of such arguable failures, far too numerous to be discussed within the confines of such an admittedly limited forum, invariably surround us all, with each new decade providing garish new specimens. Fortunately, this is most definitely not the case with Sons Of Apollo. Rising from the ashes of The Winery Dogs, drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Billy Sheehan joined forces with vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. Now, with the successes of their full-length debut Psychotic Symphony (2017) and the exhaustive in-concert testament Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony (2019) behind them, the quintet is poised to unleash their latest–and greatest–studio offering MMXX. The question is, are you ready?
On the brilliant Sons Of Apollo (2017), an expertly assembled eight song collection of Progressive Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the maddeningly infectious first single “Goodbye Divinity” (the official video can be viewed here) and the relentlessly pummeling tirade “Wither To Black”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of all parties involved, myself most definitely included. Wisely attempting to improve upon the previously mentioned Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony and Psychotic Symphony, the groups wastes little–if any–time engulfing the proverbial average listener amid a seamless blend of soaring vocals, blistering fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms. Flexing their more-than-considerable creative muscles early and often, the group effortlessly intertwines their various Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and Prog backgrounds into a single genre-defying unit, the group easily distances themselves from their few legitimate contemporaries.
Continuing with the somber, quasi-Power Ballad “Desolate July” and the piano-driven, emotionally-charged “King Of Delusion”, the all-star combination of vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (Journey, Yngwie Malmsteen), guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (Art Of Anarchy, Guns ‘N’ Roses), keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Joe Bonamassa), bassist Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, The Winery Dogs) steamroll ahead with a sickening ease. Deftly showcasing their ability to deliver the proverbial goods, the group’s fervor is tempered with a new trademark complexity that showcase each member’s strengths. With Soto delivering what must only be described as a commanding, career-defining performance reminiscent of his tenures with Yngwie Malmsteen (Rising Force and Marching Out) and Thal effectively anchoring them via the tonalities that have defined his prolific solo career, allowing Sherinian, Sheehan and Portnoy to shine on.
Produced and Mixed by a ‘dream team’ tandem of The Del Fuvio Brothers (i.e. Sherinian and Portnoy) and the acclaimed Jay Ruston (Anthrax, Steel Panther, Stone Sour), other standouts, including the delightfully time signature change-laden lamentation “Resurrection Day” and the and the uniquely exhaustive closer “New World Today” only further reinforce the group’s still burgeoning yet entirely well-deserved reputation as a true creative and commercial force not to be ignored. Easily Sherinian and Portnoy’s most musically challenging joint effort to date, the compositional ingenuities at the epicenter of the group’s combined forces are indeed nothing short of extraordinary and should be treated accordingly. Available in a variety of ear-pleasing configurations, including digital download, two disc Mediabook edition, standard issue jewel case CD and, most notably, black Gatefold 2LP + CD bundles, the group is again guaranteed to appease die-hard completists and clueless newcomers alike.
So what, exactly, are you waiting for? Although the majority–if not all–of the undeniably masterful (or, for that matter, outright ingenious) wares contained herein wares contained herein are most definitely not for the faint of heart or weak of constitution, what ultimately separates the undeniably stunning MMXX, and as a result, the group itself, from the veritable myriad of project-based groups is a much-welcomed emphasis on crafting lastingly memorable material. Easily the most highly-anticipated Prog Metal release of the rapidly waning year, Messrs Portnoy and Sheehan have delivered what may very well be their finest recorded moments, collective or otherwise, to date. Not surprisingly, if you’ve found yourself searching for a musically challenging and thought-provoking alternative to the puréed excrement that is so often the ‘crème de la crème’ of the genre, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane counterirritant for whatever ails you. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.