It’s never easy for a band to find its own identity, but when your members have been in some amazingly popular groups, it can complicate things even further. Sons of Apollo, the supergroup formed of Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Billy Sheehan and Jeff Scott Soto never seemed to have this problem. In 2017, they released their first album, the excellent ‘Psychotic Symphony’, and followed with a successful worldwide tour. It’s now 2020, and the guys are back with their second album appropriately called ‘MMXX’. The album sees the quintet pushing their sound further and there’s an obvious chemistry that has built over the course of that first album cycle. ‘MMXX’ is a unique mix of hard rock, metal and progressive music that confirms that the band has something truly unique.
The album opens with the excellent ‘Goodbye Divinity’. Lyrically, it explores the struggle the band faced when first going on tour, thinking they would automatically get the support of their old fans. It was a humbling experience for them to realize they would still have to establish themselves as this new entity they had become. The slow and melodic guitar riff builds into a technical drum beat that merges with the other instruments perfectly. The first minute and half feels like a prologue to the rest of the album, and owes a lot to ‘Falling Into Infinity’-era Dream Theater, but that’s it for the comparisons. The tempo changes quickly into something closer to metal with lots of guitar chugging. That’s when Jeff Scott Soto makes his entrance with an excellent verse and a super catchy chorus. Despite its seven minute running time, the track never stops a second and it delivers hook after hook. Another thing that impresses me a lot is the ability for each member to have his time to shine without never feeling like someone is showing off. Derek Sherinian’s keyboard solo is intertwined with Bumblefoot’s guitar solo, and it just feels like the two of them are taking control of the song and driving it home. When Soto comes back for one final chorus, you just want to yell a good old; hell yeah!
‘Wither to Black’ is closer to hard rock and I simply love it. It feels like aggressive Aerosmith music; it definitely has a bluesy vibe to its vocals, but the instruments sound so mean that it creates a dissonance between the two. The chorus changes the vibe a bit, and brings the song closer to classic metal. I was very impressed by Mike Portnoy’s drumming, on this song, and th ealbum overall. It’s heavy and powerful, but it never overshadows the subtleties of the other instruments. Soto uses his range an dpower to make the vocals feel as memorable as possible.
‘Desolate July’ is my favorite track on the record. The song feels different from the rest of the album without straying from the vibe the band is going for. I wouldn’t call it a ballad but it exudes a beautiful melancholy, and the guitar parts are some of Bumblefoot’s strongest work to date in my opinion. It’s one of the tracks that makes me hit the repeat button often. The vocals are very catchy and they are perfectly balanced with the rest of the instruments. They are also evolving as the song goes on making sure you are never listening to the same hook over and over. Once again, Sherinian’s solo is a highlight on a track that seems to be full of them. I am not surprised that this one was picked as a single. In fact, it’s probably a track that could have radio potential as well.
‘King of Delusion’ opens with a beautiful piano introduction that takes its time setting up different expectations with a near classical feel. And then, when the guitar and drums come in, you are taken into a total direction. This is definitely closer to metal territory than the previous tracks and it’s awesome. The guitar riffs are heavy, fast and of course expertly played: it’s almost impossible not to bang your head to it. Mid-song, they bring back the piano, but this time Soto gets to add vocals to it. They slowly bring back the heavier vibe but expertly combining both atmospheres. Bumblefoot’s guitar solo is another highlight, and it just keeps getting better and better, right until the end.
Next up is ‘Fall to Ascend’ and it’s a bit more classic in its sound and approach. However, when you are in the presence of such talented musicians that’s never a bad thing. The verses and choruses are very strong and you can see that Soto has a lot of fun delivering the lines with panache and emotion. Passed the mid point, they go into multiple guitar and keyboard solos that are all more excellent than the one that came before. They close it with one last chorus making sure that it sticks in your head for days to come.
‘New World Today’ is a behemoth of song. At almost sixteen minutes you feel that you are joining the band on a musical odyssey that seems to go in whatever direction the guys wanted to explore. From cosmic sounds to old school keyboard riffs and perfectly executed drum beats, this song is an all-you-can-hear buffet of the highest quality. It’s also so much fun. There is a guitar solo at the 14 minute mark that is simply goosebumps inducing. I really hope they close their upcoming concerts with this track.
If you like any of these musicians or if you enjoyed their previous album, ‘MMXX’ is going to be a treat for you. Sons of Apollo is one of the rare supergroups that successfully forged their own identity and I’m sure that their fan base will continue to grow. The word I would use to describe this album is grandiose: it’s an hour of musical prowess that never forgets that music also needs to be fun.
Sons of Apollo will play in Montreal at Theatre Corona on February 3rd 2020. Guitar virtuoso Tony Macalpine and Ethan Weissman’s Mass Extinction Event will open the evening. Tickets are on sale here.