So, former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy – also in The Winery Dogs, Flying Colors, Transatlantic and Liquid Tension and an ex- member of like a million other bands – has a new project. By those news, everybody looks widely surprised and goes “whaaaaaat???”. Or not. Mike Portnoy gives an impression of being a guy that just can’t sit idle and do nothing for more than five minutes. Vacation anyone? So what to do when the members of Portnoy’s other side projects are busy? Start another project, of course. This time the call went to Portnoy’s Winery Dogs band-mate, bassist Billy Sheehan, also in Mr Big and his ex- band-mate in Dream Theater, keysman Derek Sherinian, also in Black Country Communion who both wanted to participate. Also, ex- Guns N’Roses guitar player Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal wanted to take part in this. As the new band’s singer, Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman, Eyes, Axel Rudi Pell, Joel Hoeckstra’s 13, W.E.T.) was chosen and accepted and viola – the Sons Of Apollo were born. This means that Soto will be on two new albums within two months – his new solo record Retribution will be released on Frontiers records on Nov. 10. Even though being in several bands today is more common than uncommon and all these projects sometimes goes a bit overkill, it’s a very interesting bunch of musicians that have gathered to participate on this album – and I have been looking forward to this record since I got the news of this band.
The fact that the album opens with an epic, 11-minute opus kinda gives away in what genre this band works – progressive hard rock / metal, of course. “God Of The Sun” opens with a middle-eastern theme over something that could almost be mistaken for a cacophony, but soon turns into a big, progressive hard rocker. A soft middle-break turns into a Dream Theater-like jam of sorts before returning to the song’s origin. It’s a highly progressive tune but it’s also very melodic and Soto’s melodies makes the tune some kind of Dream Theater meets Talisman mixture. The refrain is very catchy without being the least radio friendly – great stuff. “Coming Home”, the first internet-teaser from this album, is more straight forward hard rock/metal but it do sports some prog elements, of course. It’s heavy, ballsy and in-your-face but it holds a really hot groove and a brilliant melody that, especially in the chorus, comes out as very catchy and even easy listening – for a prog song that is. A real killer.
“Signs Of The Time” is super-heavy, dark and tuned down and Sheehan’s bass is hard and punchy and reminds me of the loose strings thing that bands like Korn are known for. The rhythm of the song is pounding and steady and the main melody is very distinct and direct. For contrasts, the tune also contains a very atmospheric middle-break that leaves us with some breathing room. A robust metal tune that comes off as a real jawbreaker. Very good. “Labyrinth”, another eight minute progressive metal stomper comes along here. It starts out pretty plain and even ballad-like but it goes for heaviness soon. The metal groove goes side by side with a regular hard rock vibe and even a more regular melodic rock feel before it goes into more progressive Dream Theater like sound scapes. The big, catchy refrain is still intact throughout the song. The melody and some arrangements even sounds like it could have been used for a Jeff Scott Soto album. Awesome!
“Alive” is a ballad – well, at least as close to a ballad we can get on this record. It’s a slow tune and even it’s a bit softer, it’s still dark, heavy and a bit proggy but also sports a big melody arrangement and a very, very memorable refrain. It’s pretty plain and straight-forward for a prog tune even though Thal breaks out a brilliant, jazzy guitar solo. Great tune. “Lost In Oblivion”, the album’s leading single, is rough and aggressive – and it strikes hard. The tune is a heavy metal riff-fest with a steady rhythm where Portnoy goes bananas on his bass drums. All the changes in tempo and structure – and the significant vocal melody makes the tune come off as Dream Theater with Jeff Scott Soto at the mike. And let me tell you, he wouldn’t be out of place as the voice in that band at all. The short instrumental “Figaro’s Whore” is just an intermission, no more, less. It’s forgettable and I’d rather had seen the band given us a proper song instead.
“Divine Addiction” comes across as pretty rough which suits the somewhat classic rock vibe of the tune. Think Deep Purple / Rainbow in a blender with Dream Theater and your pretty close. The straight-forward rhythm, the memorable arrangements and the catchy chorus makes this more of a regular hard rock tune more than a prog-rocker even though there are progressive passages here. The fade-out ending of the song also makes me wonder whether this tune is thought of as a future single. It sure would be a great choice as such. A great song that stands out some on this album with its more accessable arrangements. Awesome! So when it’s time to say goodbye for this time, they do it with “Opus Maximus”, a grandiose, epic and over-blown instrumental piece of work, 10 minutes long. It starts out slow and heavy where Black Sabbath seems to be the big influence, but soon enough it transfers into a prog-metal monster with lots of passages, tempo changes, breaks and musical gymnastics deluxe. This is a tune that wouldn’t make a fool of itself on any Dream Theater album out there and while I can appreciate the song – and I think it’s pretty good – this is a bit of an overkill for me. I’m sorry but I tend to lose interest while listening to a 10-minute, instrumental prog-rock tune.
If anyone have any doubts that this supergroup is a prog-band then just take a listen for a few seconds on the opening track. A prog band they are. Very much so. So, if progressive hard rock and metal isn’t your bag, then I’m afraid this band just isn’t for you. But, I will easily admit any time that I’m very selective when it comes to progressive rock. There are bands and projects I do love – Dream Theater, Ayreon, Shadow Gallery and Flying Colors to name a few – but there are lots more that I’m not that fond of. See, in most cases, I have a tendency to get bored by it. But I think the Sons Of Apollo are great – this is a great album. Because in all its prog prime, this album isn’t as technically challenging – for the listener – as many of the bands out there. Not that these can’t play because they sure can – and they play lots and lots here – but the fact that this album is very big on melodies. Portnoy’s Dream Theater past is all over the record but with a singer like Soto in the band, there are shitloads of catchy melodies on top of that, melodies that goes into melodic rock and even AOR territory and they marries brilliantly with the prog. It feels like they have put the focus on the songs instead of millions of tempo shifting and rhythm changes even though these, of course, are present. I’d love it if these guys made Sons Of Apollo their top priority because with tunes – and musicianship – like this, they have every chance at making it big, just as big as their other – and former – bands are.
1. God Of The Sun
2. Coming Home
3. Signs Of The Time
6. Lost In Oblivion
7. Figaro’s Whore
8. Divine Addiction
9. Opus Maximus