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Sons of Apollo

MMXX (Deluxe Edition)

Review by Gary Hill

It is still pretty early in the year, but I'll be surprised if this release doesn't make my "best of 2020" list. The mix of sounds here includes metal, good solid hard rock and plenty of progressive rock. When you look at the lineup here, it seems obvious that it would be great. Dream Theater alums Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian provide the drums and keys. Billy Sheehan (who is arguably one of the greatest living bassists) completes the rhythm section. Jeff Scott Soto handles the vocals. Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, who is probably best known for his time in Guns 'N Roses is the guitarist. I'd probably land this under progressive rock just for the presence of Portnoy, Sheehan and Sherinian because they've all done plenty of prog, but this fits anyway. Sure, it's on the metal side of prog, but it is just as prog as Dream Theater is. There is some amazing music here. This is the deluxe edition with a bonus disc of instrumental and a capella versions of the tracks included. Those aren't really suited for track by track reviews, but I've included them here because that's how we do reviews. Honestly, while that disc is interesting, I doubt people will listen to it all that often. The real treasure here is the main disc.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Main Album
                         
Goodbye Divinity

Coming in hard-edged and dramatic, there is a real electronic turned rocking texture to the introduction. The drums enter and the cut starts to move toward more of a pure prog rock thing. Then some serious metal joins as it drives forward. It shifts after the minute-and-a-half mark to more pure metal with a driving kind of arrangement. As it gets into the song proper it takes on a real AOR prog meets hard rock sound. This is a real screamer that has plenty of meat on its bones. There are enough changes here to keep it interesting. The instrumental break brings some killer prog meets metal sounds. I love the texture of the keyboard parts, and the guitar alternates between screaming metal and the more melodic. There are some shifts and changes here that are decidedly Dream Theater like. We get a reprise of the opening section to end it.

Wither to Black
Portnoy's drums bring this into being. As the arrangement fills out the hard rocking guitar is decidedly metal. This thing has hints of Living Colour, Metallica and King's X all rolled into an arrangement that is trademark Sons of Apollo. The changes bring the proggier aspects here, but this is overall a powerhouse hard rocker. Of course, the extended instrumental section with its incendiary jamming and twists and turns reinforces that progressive rock angle.
Asphyxiation
Furious, heavy and so cool, this one is fierce. While the early parts of this are more pure hard rocker, when it makes its way out from there it becomes one of the most purely progressive rock based cuts here. There are some sections that feel so much like Dream Theater that it's scary. It's still heavy, hard-edged and powerful. It's edgy and shifts and twists like crazy. This is such a powerful number.
Desolate July
A tolling bell starts this number. Piano rises up in a movement that feels suitably desolate and forlorn. Some other elements create icing on that cake for a bit, but they drop away before the vocals join. Some of them show up as the singing continues, though. The cut fires out as the vocals scream with a metallic jam ensuing. The song evolves as it moves forward with both metal and prog tendencies at play. The cut makes good use of the balance between more rocking and mellower sounds.
King of Delusion
An unusual keyboard based arrangement brings this into being. Sherinian lays down some piano work that is at times pretty crazed. The cut beings to build outward from there. It eventually makes its way to some seriously metallic sounds as it continues. A rather twisted section emerges as a drop back later. The piano takes over from there, and the cut begins to build upward as vocals come over the top. The number continues to evolve from there, eventually making its way toward seriously heavy stuff. The instrumental movement brings a real metal meets progressive rock element to play. This is another winner on a disc that's full of winners.
Fall to Ascend
This pounds in heavy. A lot of the cut is similarly heavy, but the number has some cool changes and works well as screaming hot metallic prog piece. Sure, the emphasis is probably on the metal side here, but there are enough prog aspects to keep it meaty. There is some pretty amazing guitar work, too. It even wanders into metallic fusion zones at points. The instrumental movement really brings the prog aspects to the fore.
Resurrection Day
In a lot of ways this makes me think of a more metallic and proggier version of some of the Dio-era Rainbow. The guitar solo around the half-way mark really reinforces that for me. As Sherinian solos after that, though, it turns more toward fusion. I love the killer bass jam that ensues. It brings some funky fusion to the table. Some technical metal meets prog takes over for a time from there, but this thing just keeps shifting and turning as it drives onward. This is such a powerhouse.
New World Today
This number begins with some serious guitar hero styled work. Of course, this being the epic of the set at nearly 16-minutes long, there is plenty of room to explore. When the number explodes out from its origins I'm very much reminded of the band UK. That's not a big surprise as a lot of Sherinian's solo work has shown that kind of a vibe. This drives onward with a decidedly prog angle based on that sound. Around the three-minute it twists into some definite metal styled jamming. The vocals enter over the top of that arrangement. The cut drives forward with style by building on that musical zone. Around the six-minute mark it screams out into a new movement. It's fast paced and still quite metallic. They take it out into some ever-changing instrumental movements. Each musician gets a chance to shine on this thing, and they really create some amazing stuff as it continues.
Bonus Disc
             
Instrumental Mixes
               
Goodbye Divinity

The titles of the song and section kind of tell you what you get here. It works well in this format, too.

Wither to Black
Again, truth in advertising is on display. This mix lets the instruments really shine.
Asphyxiation
This powerhouse gets an instrumental treatment here.
Desolate July
You know what to expect here, right? This is really powerful in this instruments-only take.
King of Delusion
This alternate take is exactly what it says it is. It's also a cool version. Some of the trippier aspects of this piece almost seem to work better here. The powerful jamming late in the piece really seems to shine on this alternate version, as well.
Fall to Ascend
I like this instrumental take a lot, too. It's a screamer.
Resurrection Day
Another scorching hot instrumental take, this rocks.
New World Today
Here we get a shortened instrumental take on the album's epic. This is a powerhouse in any form.
A Cappella Excerpts
           
Goodbye Divinity

Here we get precisely what you'd expect. The vocals are even more rock and roll without the instrumental mix.

Wither to Black
Again, this isn't any big surprise. I don't think this one works as well in this format as the previous piece did. Still, there are some charms to it.
Asphyxiation
Here is another that perhaps doesn't work as well without the instruments. Still, it's interesting.
Desolate July
There are some intriguing vibes in this version of the piece. The subtleties of the vocal performance are able to shine through better in this mix. That makes this one of the better of these pieces.
King of Delusion
No surprises here, this works pretty well stripped to the vocals only.
Fall to Ascend
I think this is one of the better sans-instrument takes. I like the way the vocals work here.
Resurrection Day
Here we get another a capella take.
New World Today
The final vocal-only version, this is pretty effective in this format.
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