Sons of Apollo: ‘MMXX’ Review
Sons of Apollo have come out with their second studio album ‘MMXX’ to start off 2020, a followup to 2017’s ‘Psychotic Symphony’. The prog supergroup includes Mike Portnoy, Bumblefoot, Billy Sheehan, Derek Sherinian, and Jeff Scott Soto. All of whom have a deep history inside of the progressive music scene.
I hate to use the phrase “all killer, no filler”, but it’s simply right for ‘MMXX’. The only thing I’m disappointed in is the name of the album. Could they really have been a bit more creative than… the year the album was released in roman numerals? I think the answer is yes given the amount of talent this record oozes, but thankfully this is the only faux pas I can find with the record.
The album was mixed and mastered by Jay Ruston, who also worked on the ‘Psychotic Symphony’. He has some astonishing credits doing mixes for Stone Sour, Anthrax, Black Star Riders, Steel Panther, and Meat Loaf; as well as other Portnoy projects like The Winery Dogs, and Metal Allegiance. I’m glad to see his name on yet another record as everything he has added his magic touch to in the past has turned out brilliantly.
The first track ‘Goodbye Divinity’ reflects the structure of the first track on Sons of Apollo’s debut album. A grandiose instrumental buildup before exploding into a symphonic overture with Jeff Scott Soto leading the song all the way through to an instrumental reprise with a monstrous solo section where the lead parts get bounced around between Bumblefoot and Sherinian. This was the first song from ‘MMXX’ to be released by the band as a single, and it really shows how the group have evolved and defined their sound in this album.
Something that jumps out, and what made the first album so enjoyable for me too, are the tones that come out of Sherinian’s keyboards and organs. In every track his signature sound floods your ears with his virtuosic sound design, expressive solos, infused with Van Halen influenced riffs. The filthy distortion that he adds onto Hammond organs, Nords, Moogs, and more bring new life to these classic sounds that we’re so very used to from older records inside of this genre.
‘Desolate July’ was written in memorial of the late David Z who tragically died in a road accident whilst on tour with Adrenaline Mob. Starting with a sombre bell chime, it’s clear that David Z was an important role model and friend for many of the band members. This is the one emotional ballad on the record that doesn’t sway into the direction of rock pop, but keeps up the Sons of Apollo sound that we are now coming to know and love.
And beautifully blended from ‘Desolate July’, ‘King of Delusion’ starts with a dramatic and mystical piano introduction before the track progresses into something far heavier. Towards the end there is an excellent solo from Bumblefoot. His fretless guitar brings the familiar sound of other fretless instruments into the forefront of our ears. I’ve always enjoyed a fretless bass, but rarely see or hear fretless guitars. I’m glad that Bumblefoot has chosen to incorporate this into his sound as it gives new interest to the instrument where some may start to get tired of traditional electric guitar solos.
We then move on to ‘Resurrection Day’ which again has some wonderfully crafted synth leads, a pounding rhythm section, and fantastic vocals from Soto. This is also the first track on the album where there’s a lovely exposed bass lick from Sheehan. As he wasn’t directly involved in the writing process for this album, it’s understandable that his artistic flourishes are somewhat hidden behind the instrumental egos of the other members of the band.
‘New World Today’ is the greatest highlight of this album for me. Coming in at nearly 16 minutes, it brings back the classically structured epics of Dream Theater songs that Portnoy used to have a very close hand in moulding. In fact, the start reminds me of the beginning of Dream Theater’s ‘Octavarium’. And upon reflecting on that comparison, the wider album feels familiar when compared to ‘Octavarium’, but this time around the sound and direction are far more focused and consistent.
I also enjoyed the callback in the synth part to the first album in this track which is something Haken did on their latest record ‘Vector’. It’s a little easter egg for engaged fans to spot, without being too blatantly obvious.
Hopefully now with the release of ‘MMXX’ people will stop telling Portnoy to “be more prog” because Sons of Apollo clearly shows that his influence in the progressive music scene hasn’t gone anywhere, and this his songwriting skills are stronger than ever; especially when supported by his bandmates Bumblefoot and Sherinian. His rhythm playing throughout the record needs no introduction. His drumming is so perfectly placed to support the song arrangements without taking the spotlight away from the other musicians, and still his incredible hard work and dedication to the instrument shines through like a beacon of rhythmic light.
I’m not sure what else to say about this album other than it’s the first new album I’ve listened to for 2020, and it’s already an incredibly strong contender for album of the year. There are some magical moments on this album that I’ve not felt since discovering bands like Opeth and Haken for the first time. It’s just absurdly aurally satisfying in every single way.
Go on then, what are you waiting for! Give it a listen.