REVIEW: SONS OF APOLLO – “MMXX”
With 2019 winding down to its final days, another year of excellent progressive releases is in the books. So we will be looking forward to 2020, and start with the aptly named ‘MMXX’ by prog-metal supergroup Sons of Apollo. This comes only a few months after their live release with the Plovdiv orchestra. Of course, the best-known member of the group is Mike Portnoy, and Mike is never one to sit idle, so another new album coming out should surprise no one.
I will be upfront and honest, as much as I love Mike and the bands he’s a part of, SoA’s first album and live DVD didn’t really do much for me from a musical standpoint. This new album doesn’t either. The musicianship is, of course, top-notch, which is only to be expected given the members of the band. I shall endeavor to be as objective as possible while writing this review, but fans of the band can undoubtedly take it all with a grain of salt.
The album starts off with “Goodbye Divinity” and the heavy guitar riffs of Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, and the signature playing of Portnoy, who is immediately recognizable to anyone who’s spent any time listening to his many many bands. This melds into some truly nasty heavier riffs which get things off to a good start before the vocals of Jeff Scott Soto begin. He has a lower registered voice than a lot in prog metal, and he clearly is impassioned while he sings, but I think his voice is more suited for live performances and in the studio falls a bit flat. The song is solidly anchored by Billy Sheehan’s bass work. The latter half of this 7-minute track is full of the keywork of Derek Sherinian, who while technically skilled creates key parts as dull as when he first worked with Portnoy on ‘Falling Into Infinity’ twenty-two years ago.
The majority of the songs are shorter in nature and start with large heavy riffs, which is well and good, but doesn’t give a ton of variety, and is why in many ways this feels like a fairly straightforward metal album with flashes of progressive influences. The great playing of course, but nothing we haven’t heard before. They break things up a bit with the quiet starting “Desolate July” which starts with bells and quiet piano. This is perhaps the most emotionally stirring song on the album, and for my money has Soto’s best vocal work as well. The song deals with the death of someone, and those who were left behind. It seems to me that it was through suicide, but it is unclear. It also has one of Sherinian’s more interesting and effective key passages towards the end of the song, and of course, the drums are subtle or thunderous when appropriate.
The final track I’ll mention is the 16-minute closer “New World Today.” I love good mini-epic and songs that give the band room to stretch a bit. It’s one of the better songs on the album, particularly the instrumental sections. However, it also sums up everything about this album that I don’t like. From the first listen, to this final one while I write it (and musically most of the rest of the album) I think to myself, “this sounds like a leftover song from ‘Falling Into Infinity’ but with a different vocalist.” This is not a flattering comparison, as that album is even worse than DT’s ‘The Astonishing.’ Regardless, like the rest of the album, the playing is still stellar, the band is tight, it will undoubtedly be a live highlight.
With the release of ‘MMXX’, Sons of Apollo have delivered a perhaps heavier follow up to their debut, but one that doesn’t do anything that their first one didn’t do. While the technical skill of all involved cannot be denied, it remains a musically safe album, and likely won’t sway many who didn’t care for the first one. For current fans, you’ll likely love it, for everyone else, I suggest listening to the singles that will come out and decide from there.