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Album Reviews : Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony

By on October 19, 2017

Apollo is the son Zeus and the Greek god of music. The aptly named band Sons of Apollo, is a new supergroup consisting of some of the most revered, veteran musicians in the business; Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, countless others), Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X), Billy Sheehan (Mr Big, ex-David Lee Roth ), Ron ‘Bumblefoot ‘ Thal (Solo, Guns N’ Roses) & Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, SOTO). Their debut album Psychotic Symphony is due for release on October 20 through Inside Out/Sony Music.

When a band of virtuoso musicians commit to making an album together it always promises to be a highly anticipated release. In the case of Sons of Apollo the focal point of this excitement (at least from my perspective), revolves around the collaboration between Dream Theater alumni Mike Portnoy & Derek Sherinian. Whilst Portnoy may have played some part in moving Sherinian out of Dream Theater many years ago, there’s no denying that seeing the two former bandmates back together has created some serious anticipation for a high-quality progressive metal release. But to assume Sons of Apollo will be ‘Dream Theater 2.0’ would be to neglect what the other members of Sons of Apollo bring to the fold – Bumblefoot, Sheehan and Soto have their own individual style to contribute to the melting pot of sounds, styles and influences that make up this band.

The album gets underway with arguably the strongest track on the release, God of the Sun. This is a 11+ minute epic track which has a lot of the elements that fans of Portnoy and Sherinian would have been hoping to hear in  Sons of Apollo. The first half of the track would feel at home on a recent Symphony X album, or perhaps even a classic Yngwie release (if it had modern production). The Introduction is founded on a strong middle eastern motif which is introduced by Sherinian on keys before developing into a heavy riff. The 2nd distinct section in the track is more subdued but is equally strong. Again Sherinian takes centre stage with a really tasteful solo which is a personal highlight. The band then go into an extended instrumental section; Unsurprisingly the band show their serious chops as they shred through plenty of different twists and turns in a section which is no doubt aimed to appease fans of Portnoy and Sherinian’s previous band.  Soto’s vocals are worthy of a special mention too – his parts are really good throughout this track; powerful and memorable at all times.

Coming Home was released as a video clip and it’s easy to see why – it’s a good track which has a classic flavour which gives it universal appeal.  Coming Home mixes elements from Van Halen, the Who and more modern heavy bands for memorable results. Where God of the Sun seems to have Sherinian’s fingerprints all over it, this track sounds like a good representation of the sum of the 5 parts that make up Sons of Apollo. Whilst the reception for this track was a little mixed when it was first released as a single (largely due to it not being a sprawling, complex prog epic that many had assumed it might be), it’s a strong track in the context of the album.

Signs of the Time was the first track released from the album and it was the right choice in my eyes. Sure it’s not the best track on the release, but it probably does the best job at representing the album as a whole. It’s got a heavy groove, a hooky chorus and some particularly head-turning solos from both Bumblefoot and Sherinian. I have no doubt that it is destined to go down a treat in the live setting.

At this point of the release, I’m pretty damn impressed. Sons of Apollo are seasoned pros so expectations are set sky high,  but even still its impressive to see the diversity and strength of what they have put together. At this point, my only question mark is why,  for potentially the first time in his career, Billy Sheehan has taken a back seat. His parts are uncharacteristically subtle to the point that it could be almost anyone playing the bass on this disk so far.  Bumblefoot, on the other hand, is standing out from the pack. He has been well known in shred-guitar circles for some time but his work on this album should see his stocks rise further. His solos are quick, unique and captivating. Importantly, they offer a change of flavour to Sherinian’s more traditional approach to lead melodies and structures –  It’s a formidable pairing.  Portnoy is providing exactly what you would expect – his drum parts always stand out and demand your focus. Jeff Scott Soto is providing strong, accessible vocals to each and every track.

Labyrinth sees the album continue to flow with impressive consistency. It is another contender for my favourite tracks on the release too; like God of The Sun it’s got a lot of elements which will appeal to Dream Theater fans and it is clearly one of the most overtly ‘progressive metal’ style tracks on the disk. Without a doubt, this track contains some of the most interesting and complex instrumental moments on the album and Portnoy in particular really shines. It would be fair to say that this sort of stuff is Portnoy’s bread and butter and he holds the madness together with power, precision and his trademark flair.

Alive is the weakest track on the release in my opinion; it’s a mid-paced, cheesy pop-rock track which is the closest thing to filler on the disk. Enough said!

Lost in Oblivion gets things back on track. It shares some similarities with Signs of the Time in as much that it is heavy, hook-laden and has some head-turning instrumental moments. It’s becoming clear that the combination of melody, groove and virtuoso-level playing is what Sons of Apollo is all about.

Fiagro’s Whore is a brief keyboard solo, which leads nicely into Divine Addiction.  The soon-to-be trademarks of groove and melody are on show yet again. This song has a bit of a Deep Purple vibe in parts and contains one of my favourite Bumblefoot solos on the release.

Opus Maximus is a really enjoyable, complex piece of music and is again a contender for the best tracks on the album. Opus Maximus is the best instrumental track I’ve heard for a number of years.  It starts with a dark, foreboding groove but quickly opens up like a treasure trove of complex and memorable instrumental sections. This song actually reminds me a lot of Portnoy’s work with Liquid Tension Experiment. I must admit the section which commences around the 3-minute mark is more than just a little reminiscent to the introduction of Tarkus by Emmerson Lake and Palmer, but Bumblefoot’s solo quickly draws attention away from this. Lightening fast unison shred sections come next before Billy Sheehan finally gets his moment in the sun continuing to hold down the shred in an impressive display of skill, speed and stamina. The back end of the piece is really melodic and memorable too – it is a fitting conclusion to both the song and the album.

Psychotic Symphony is everything you could have wished for in a debut album from Sons of Apollo. This album is really well written and the execution is elite. It’s a strong mix of heavy, virtuosic tracks with an underlying rock n’ roll soul. Importantly I feel they have got the balance just right in addressing the elephant in the room; They’ve allowed just enough obvious Dream Theater influence to satisfy the fans of Portnoy and Sherinian, whilst not preventing the band from forging its own sound and vibe. There is an accessibility to the bands sound which will see the band do well across the spectrum of rock and metal fans ranging from Van Halen to Symphony X.  The release is neither groundbreaking or overly original but I don’t think that was ever the intention. In fact,  the nods to the band member’s past endeavours and influences creates a comforting air of familiarity to the whole release. It’s rare for any bands debut to sound like a classic album, but in many respects, that’s what Sons of Apollo have achieved thanks to their pasts being allowed to shine through in this new band.

With the promise of Sons of Apollo touring far and wide in 2018 there is a lot to be excited about. The spectacle of seeing these 5 ‘gods’ on the stage together is appealing enough in itself, but even more so after hearing the music on Psychotic Symphony. If virtuosic guitar or progressive music is your thing you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this release.

Band: Sons of Apollo
Album: Psychotic Symphony
Year: 2017
Genre: Progressive Metal
Label:  Inside Out Music
Origin: USA

About

Chris is a long time metal enthusiast and advocate for Australian heavy music scene. Chris grew up in Perth, Western Australia and is a past member of modern melodeath act Let’s Kill Uncle. Currently residing in London, UK.