Back in 2017, prog metal supergroup Sons of Apollo dropped their first album, the highly-regarded Psychotic Symphony. That record made a lot of year-end lists, including our own, so it is safe to say this follow-up, MMXX, has been highly anticipated.
The band’s lineup remains the same, with the ex-Dream Theater duo of Derek Sherinian and Mike Portnoy on keyboards and drums, Jeff Scott Soto providing the voice, veteran rocker Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) holding down the low end, and Bumblefoot (Guns N’ Roses) shredding the guitar. Continuity should mean a more cohesive sophomore release, but the band’s debut was so tight that I’m not expecting a jump in quality here.
Luckily, though, there’s certainly no drop. The band picks up right where they left off, with progressive hard-rockers such as “Goodbye Divinity” and “Asphyxiation” showing us the same unpretentious mix of skill and songwriting that Psychotic Symphony produced. With an esteemed lineup it would be easy to reduce each song to exercises in wank, but Sons of Apollo completely avoid that throughout the album, instead relying on simply writing great songs.
This also makes it impossible to pick out one artist as the standout. Portnoy might be the biggest name in the band to progressive metal fans, and he humbly flaunts his well-known skills throughout the album, but so does Sherinian, with some fantastic licks and solos (including the bizarre, magnetic, and overall fabulous “King of Delusion”) and Bumblefoot with some very aggressive riffs. Sheehan continues his stellar play as well, and Soto, after a rather tepid solo outing last year, shows us what he is capable of when working with great songs. His hard rock stylings lend the songs a certain welcome accessibility.
While most songs fit into the fast-paced world of progressive metal, “Desolate July” is a slow burner, almost a progressive ballad, and gives Soto a chance to stretch his vocal cords a bit. And there are a couple of songs where Sherinian’s keyboard sample choices make me think of the olden days, notably Rainbow’s “Babylon” on “Resurrection Day” and just a hint of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” on “Wither to Black,” which is kind of a neat thing this week.
I might be giving MMXX a half-star less than Psychotic Symphony received, but don’t let that scare you off. This is another high-quality progressive metal outing from Sons of Apollo, and one that makes them one of my favorite modern prog bands. This album is yet another great example of how to craft a stellar progressive metal album without going instrumentally overboard, and I highly recommend it.
(released January 17, 2020 on InsideOut Music)
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Watch Sons Of Apollo – “Goodbye Divinity” Video