Progressive metal super group debuts promising album Psychotic Symphony
Sons of Apollo, an all-star group aimed at changing the progressive metal scene, unleashed their first album, Psychotic Symphony, on Oct. 20. At first glance, the band seems like yet another supergroup. But after listening to the album, it is very evident that this lineup stands on its own as a cohesive creative unit.
The band is primarily the brainchild of keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Mike Portnoy, who call themselves “The Del Fuvio Brothers.” Both musicians were former members of progressive metal legend Dream Theater. After Sherinian and Portnoy left the band in 1999 and 2010, respectively, they eventually reconnected for a brief world tour as part of the instrumental supergroup PSMS in 2012. The success of that tour spurred them to create a new full-time progressive metal band with some of the biggest virtuosos in rock and metal.
On bass guitar is Billy Sheehan, best known for performing in the bands Talas and Mr. Big, as well as being part of Van Halen singer David Lee Roth’s original solo band. In addition to being the other “S” in PSMS, Sheehan also collaborated with Portnoy as both a member of the hard rock supergroup The Winery Dogs and his all-star The Who tribute band, Amazing Journey. Jeff Scott Soto takes the lead vocals for the band, a singer with an impressive résumé that includes acts like Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey and Talisman, among many others. Finally, there is Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal on guitar.
Going into Psychotic Symphony, comparisons between Sons of Apollo and Dream Theater were not only expected, but were also completely justified. In fact, Sherinian and Portnoy have admitted in interviews that they deliberately channeled their previous band when writing and recording as Sons of Apollo. That is not to say that progressive metal is the only genre they lean on, though. Throughout the album, the band plays with elements of other types of rock like doom metal, hard rock and even blues rock. Add the past experience of the talented individuals and the end result is a band that mixes together all the best elements of its members’ respective musical pasts into a hybrid experience.
This is very evident in the opening track, “God of the Sun.” At 11 minutes, it is the longest song of the album, a standard trope for any progressive rock band. All throughout the song, each member is given a chance to show off their respective talents. Thal, Sheehan and Sherinian all deliver flashy solos on their respective instruments. Portnoy’s drum parts are just as relentless as they were in Dream Theater. Soto’s vocals add an element of power metal to an already anthemic song. The band dabbles with two more lengthy songs on the album, “Labyrinth” and the closing song “Opus Maximus.”
The bulk of the songs are of average length. While fairly short by progressive rock standards, it is expected that this new band would start out slowly when it comes to writing.
Unfortunately, it is in this department that the band seems to struggle a lot. Most of the time, it seems that Sons of Apollo are trying to craft a breakout single that could very well be their own equivalent to Dream Theater’s breakthrough hit, “Pull Me Under.” The lyrics all throughout the album also leave a lot to be desired. While not the worst ever written, the lyrics fall short compared to the mysticism and thought-provoking tone of Dream Theater’s words.
Preceded by the short instrumental “Figaro’s Whore,” which sees Sherinian play around with his supercharged Hammond B3 electric organ, the song goes into Deep Purple territory. Musically and vocally, it sounds like it came straight out of that band’s 1984 reunion album, Perfect Strangers, specifically both the title track and “Knocking at Your Back Door.”
As mentioned earlier, Psychotic Symphony is bookended by another lengthy song, “Opus Maximus.” This time around however, it is a full-blown instrumental piece. Once again, the band is given a chance to shine, this time without Soto on vocals. But aside from this song and “Figaro’s Whore,” the album lacks dedicated instrumentals. It would have been nice if Thal and Sheehan were also given their own solo interludes like Sherinian.
While not the greatest debut album by any means, Psychotic Symphony shows the makings of a great band. Hopefully, Sons of Apollo will improve their sound in future albums by expanding on the elements that worked, while fixing those that did not. The band is slated to announce their debut tour soon.