Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Album Review: Sons Of Apollo - Psychotic Symphony

Over the last few years, Mike Portnoy has been a busy man, releasing albums with more projects than I can probably count. Some of them have been great (the first Winery Dogs album, Transatlantic's latest resurrection), some have been good, and a couple have definitely not been my thing. He has traversed everything from prog, to thrash, to pop, with plenty of rock thrown in between. The one thing he hadn't done is go back to the music that made him renowned. Sons Of Apollo is his first foray back into the world of progressive metal since he ventured out into his creative rumspringa, which means it's something to take note of. Having Derek Sherinian, Billy Sheehan, Bumblefoot, and Jeff Scott Soto on board also means that this is a band that will get its share of attention, and should have the talent to back up their proclamations of greatness.

Like any prog band would, Sons Of Apollo open their album with an eleven minute mini-eipc, this one borrowing the themes and feelings of eastern music. What we get are heavy, low-tuned riffs, Portnoy pounding away at his drums like only he can, and plenty of melodic sensibility that is more derived from hard rock than normal progressive metal.

In fact, the label of progressive metal is where Sons Of Apollo might have done themselves a disservice. Yes, there are lengthy songs and plenty of intricate playing, but the focus of their music isn't intently on those aspects. There are plenty of occasions where its clear the band is just as inclined to be a modern heavy metal band, just with virtuoso players at every position. The singles "Coming Home" and "Signs Of The Time" gave us that indication before the album's release, and a couple of other tracks are in that same style. There's a clear bifurcation of the band's prog and melodic sides.

It's actually refreshing that Sons Of Apollo aren't committed to making progressive metal that needs to be progressive at all times. They have their moments where they stretch things out and showcase their skill, but there is a focus on writing more memorable songs than you often get from this kind of music. As far as prog metal goes, the band's guitar sound is heavier and more modern than the traditionalists, and Soto's voice matches the lower tones, which gives the entire album a heft that really works. They often find a groove and let that carry through large portions of the songs, a move I find both smart and effective.

The band is best summed up by "Alive". That song has the dark guitar tones, moments of softer reflection, and a killer hook. It's just the right blend of what Sons Of Apollo are, and it also makes clear what they aren't (which is a copy of what the members have done before).

In fact, my only real complaint with the album is the curious decision to finish with a ten minute instrumental. I'm not a fan of instrumental music to begin with, especially from a band that has a singer in the ranks, but to end the album with it doesn't make much sense to me. You want to end an album with a statement, and it's hard to see the message in finishing with a song that omits one member of the band for the entire running time. If I was the producer, I would have shortened the track, and switched it out with the similarly proggy "Labyrinth", but what do I know?

Other than that one nit I picked, I'm coming away from "Psychotic Symphony" rather pleased. There were worries that the band was going to try to compete too directly with Portnoy and Sherinian's past, but those turned out to be for naught. Sons Of Apollo are indeed an entity unto themselves, and whether they're strictly prog metal or not can be debated, but it doesn't matter. What it all comes down to is whether or not the music is good, and I can say that "Psychotic Symphony" is. In the pantheon of Portnoy, this isn't up there with his very best work (mostly his Transatlantic and Neal Morse - solo, not Band - albums), but it's far above Adrenaline Mob or Metal Allegiance.

Sons Of Apollo has a bit of buzz, and "Psychotic Symphony" lives up to most of it. I wasn't sure quite what to expect, but the result is pretty darn good.

No comments:

Post a Comment