Sons of Apollo – MMXX Review

Super groups. We’ve railed against them since the start of AMG International Universal, Ltd. For every all star collaboration that does something worthwhile, there are countless others that simply don’t work, regardless of the pedigrees the members bring to the table. A common dilemma such projects face is too much musical ability and not enough songcraft acumen. And that brings us to Sons of Apollo, who may be the perfect case study of this scourge of the star studded assemblage. With a line up featuring Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater, ex-Adrenaline Mob), Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, ex-David Lee Roth, ex-MSG) and Jeff Scott Soto (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, ex-Journey, ex-Axel Rudi Pell), it’s hard to imagine bringing more sheer firepower to a recording session. On the project’s sophomore album MMXX, you’ll find them doing their very best Dream Theater impression, with all the extensive baggage that comes with such a risky endeavor. So can these über talented gents bring something new to the typically over-indulgent world of prog-metal? No, but man can they play their instruments!

Opener “Goodbye Divinity” wears its excesses on its glittery sleeve, with a long, drawn out intro that gives the various members time to showcase their flashy wares. It’s actually a cool run up and there are some slick musical touches as the song unspools. When Soto finally gets to join the fray about 2 minutes in, it becomes a gritty hard rocker. It’s a really good song with more edge than I expected for such a polished consortium, but does it need to be 7 minutes long? No, it certainly does not, but it’s an album high-point and shows what the band can do when the writing process fully clicks. Shorter, more restrained cuts like “Wither to Black” and “Asphyxiation” also work well because they’re essentially straight-up burly rockers with the wanking kept to a relative minimum.

The big problem is the longer cuts, like “King of Delusion” which wanders through the badlands of prog for nearly nine minutes while offering only generic, bland prog rock with tons of instrumental flair but little to make the song really stand out or stick. You can find all sorts of impressive guitar, bass and keyboard runs, and kit heroics, but the song is still a C despite the A-list players. These problems are doubled up on the nearly 16-minutes of closer “New World Today” where the crew seems to look to the worst moments of the Dream Theater catalog for misguided guidance. It’s the kind of song where you can imagine the band in the studio setting set aside blocks of time to showcase their chops, and after that they tried to figure out what to do with the unclaimed time to stitch everything together. There are moments that pop over the course of the quarter hour, like Soto’s emotive vocals around 5:20, and the crazy Voivodisms around 9:20, but as a song instead of an exercise in wank n’ roll, it doesn’t hold up so well.

At 58:39 this is definitely a restraint-adjacent kind of album. You’re left with no doubt these guys are masters of their respective instruments and can do virtually anything they desire musically, and to their credit, some of the material is surprisingly heavy, like the vaguely nu-metal meets djent rumble of “Fail to Ascend.” They also dabble regularly in unusual tones and sounds, which makes even the duller songs at least somewhat interesting. All the members perform stupendously and leave no doubts as to their chops, but I’m most impressed with the guitar work of Bumblefoot (ex-Guns n’ Roses). The man clearly has prodigious talent, and manages to put his unique stamp on the material with some odd and interesting playing which includes more than a little dissonance. Jeff Scott Solo was one of my favorite vocalists as a young teen thanks to his work on the one trve Yngwie Malmsteen album, Marching Out back in 19851, and all these years later he still has a huge voice, though he sounds almost nothing life he did back in the day. He provides a rough edge to the material while providing a useful anchor for the listener to cling to as the wank tides come rolling in.

MMXX can be a frustrating listen. The talent level will fuse your metal detector into a smoking lump o’ junk, but many of the songs just aren’t much to wank home about. It’s like the slick Italian sports car with a lawnmower engine under the hood. All hat, no cattle, and you just can’t help feeling cheated somehow. Hardcore prog fans may get more mileage. Super groups, man.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: InsideOut
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: January 17th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. If you want to hear some of the early elements of epic and power metal, go listen to this most excellent album.
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