Sons of Apollo - MMXX
InsideOut Music
Progressive Metal
8 songs (53:29)
Release year: 2020
InsideOut Music
Reviewed by Goat

Describing Sons of Apollo as a supergroup feels like an understatement! Comprised of former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan (also of Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Mr Big), guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (Guns N' Roses, Asia), and vocalist Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Axel Rudi Pell, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), the group seem ready-made for success. And indeed, two albums in, the group show themselves more than capable of writing decent if not transcendental material that sounds somewhere between prog metal and classic rock. The temptation is to describe it as an alternate dimension Dream Theater and although there are plenty of shades of Portnoy and Sherinian's band around the Falling into Infinity era here, not least on the groovy opener Goodbye Divinity thanks to those infectious keyboard lines, Sons of Apollo are their own project, for better or worse. For better, because we really don't need yet another Dream Theater worship act. For worse, because at their least Dream Theater-esque the band sound utterly uninventive and even generic at points, the stock groovy churning of Wither to Black interesting only for the solo-trade-offs between Bumblefoot and Sherinian, and Soto's fairly bland hard rock voice doesn't have the charm or individuality of a Labrie that could push otherwise dull material into orbit.

Even so, MMXX mostly manages to hit an average level of quality but with musicians of this calibre, it's not unfair to expect more. Asphyxiation's chuggy heaviness is enjoyable enough as a radio-friendly prog metal single but it again sounds painfully generic with repetitive vocal lines and, again, is rescued by a lengthy solo fest, those echoing vocals and the overall vibe more mid-MMs than MMXX! Each and every song could benefit from a little judicious editing, but some are more deserving than others; although groovy ballad Desolate July is especially forgettable, the eight-minute King of Delusion works far better thanks to superior writing, the alternating piano-driven melodies and guitar aggressiveness actually fitting the song and subsequent proggy change-ups like the jazzy piano-drum interplay and guitar/keyboard soloing towards the end very enjoyable. It's also rare in feeling shorter than its length, something Sons of Apollo could do with working on. Otherwise, the nu-metal tinged Fall to Ascend is a little cringy at first in an ok-boomer sort of way but proves itself one of the catchier pieces on the album, Portnoy showing traces of his super-technical best and Soto even managing a rare scream to spice his vocal performance up!

Ultimately how much you love Dream Theater will measure how much you like pieces like Resurrection Day, a fairly decent Just Let Me Breathe-aping rocker that shows the band's individual skills off well, while fifteen-minute finale New World Today is pure self-indulgence on Sons of Apollo's part, from that opening atmospheric synth section that bursts into groovy Deep Purple-esque rocking and then into a speedier classic Theater-y gallop, plenty more instrumental wankery (here used as a compliment, since it is well-incorporated into the song!) making itself known before the song comes to a close, again feeling much shorter than its length. It's easy to come away from MMXX thinking that the alt-Dream Theater vision wouldn't be an altogether horrific one if the band committed fully, and indeed Sons of Apollo's primary appeal seems destined to be to 'Dad progger' types who are convinced that Portnoy's former band died with his departure, even though last year's Distance Over Time is easily better than this. So this has limited appeal, perhaps, as with all supergroups that fail to live up to the sum of their individual parts, but MMXX manages to be entertaining if you do like your prog metal of a very specific vintage. More originality would improve the taste, however, as would a better production that doesn't bury the bass so badly as this does (no prizes given for guesses as to which duo produced it...!)

Killing Songs :
King of Delusion, New World Today
Goat quoted 60 / 100
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