Put it on the short list for Album of the Year
Released on Inside Out Records on 20 October 2017 and reviewed by Paul Quinton
It’s fair to say there was a bit of a stir when the Sons of Apollo project was announced, the quality of the musicians alone being enough to get the pulse quickening. From the progressive side, we have Derek Sherinian on keyboards, formerly of Dream Theater and now part of Black Country Communion, and Mike Portnoy also ex Dream Theater, as well as a list of bands that would probably use up a large part of my word count. From the rockier side, on bass there’s Billy Sheehan of Mr Big, Talas and lately working with Portnoy in The Winery Dogs, and on guitar, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, once of Guns’n’Roses and Art of Anarchy. The choice of a singer was intriguing to say the least, as while Jeff Scott Soto has a great reputation in the melodic rock community, through his solo work, his time with the legendary Talisman, his all too brief spell in Journey, and his continuing role in the Trans Siberian Orchestra, he’s never really made any mark on the Prog or even Prog Metal scene before now, but regardless of that, he is a huge talent who should be much more widely known than he is.
There are nine tracks on the album, although one, ‘Picasso’s Whore’ is ‘only’ a minute-long keyboard solo. The proceedings commence with ‘God Of The Sun’, an eleven minute monster, that begins with a sprinkling of atmospheric sound, mixed with Sherinian’s synthesiser, before the band steam into the song proper. It’s a terrific beginning, laced with an instrumental break midway that has the kind of time signatures that look like a mathematical formula and will have some Prog fans breathless with excitement, and, overall, an epic feel that reminded me of Rising–era Rainbow. Yes, it is that good. It’s followed by ‘Coming Home’, which has a thunderous riff joined with a terrific hook in the chorus that stays with you long after it’s finished, as does ‘Signs of the Time’, which has a heavy, almost industrial feel, until it hits you with another fine chorus.
If there’s a doubt in your mind at this point as to whether the band can keep up this standard, when the band shift direction slightly for the nine minute ‘Labyrinth’, which has a symphonic, Royal Hunt-like touch, and then follow it with the absolutely majestic ‘Alive’, all doubts should be dust in the wind by now. One thing I did wonder was how the band would reconcile their various backgrounds, but in amongst all the Prog Metal wondrousness of the rest of the record, they unveil ‘Alive’ a jewel of a melodic hard rock track, with JSS singing his socks off. If Planet Rock aren’t putting this track on heavy rotation, there is no justice and questions should be asked.
One other thing I like about this album is that while it is recognisably a prog Metal album throughout, it’s not an album that stays fixed on one particular road, the band are always looking to add something or take the journey in a different way. After ‘Alive’, ‘Lost In Oblivion’ is a faster, heavier track, with a complicated instrumental break, that finally overcame my resistance to making comparisons to Dream Theater, because it is very much in that style, and it also would also make a terrific set opener. After ‘Picasso’s Whore’, the focus shifts again as Sherinian’s Hammond Organ sound drives ‘Divine Addiction’ along, the organ sound, bringing to mind Deep Purple with the interplay between keys and guitar, before Soto steps aside for the rest of the band to polish off the album with ‘Opus Maximus’, a nine-minute instrumental tour de force, that moves through so many moods and tempos, you have no idea where it intends going next. The band seem to be having a whale of a time playing together and it reminds me of Rush’s ‘La Villa Strangiatto’, having the same sort of ‘What the hell, let’s just play’ feel about it.
As I said before, I was interested to see how the hard rock and progressive rock backgrounds of the various musicians would blend, and to be frank, there are a couple of times where the instrumental solos seem to go to a completely different place to the rest of the song, but in the end the quality of the songwriting wins through. There have been some terrific records released this year that you could file under the ‘progressive’ heading, and Psychotic Symphony is right up there with the best of them. In fact, I’d rank this alongside Steven Wilson’s To The Bone and Anathema’s The Optimist as amongst the very, very best of 2017. A belter of a record.
- God Of The Sun
- Coming Home
- Signs Of The Time
- Lost In Oblivion
- Figaro’s Whore
- Divine Addiction
- Opus Maximus