The supergroup return with a first-rate album that lays down the gauntlet.
Mike Portnoy's fans have been spoiled recently, with The Winery Dogs doing a US tour, Flying Colours releasing their latest album at the end of last year and now a sophomore release from Sons of Apollo.
MMXX has all the hallmarks of a metal album: heavyweight vocals, thunderous drums, lightning bolt guitars and earth-shattering bass – it's so aggressively metal that the nomenclature 'Sons of Mars' might have been more apt.
Despite the heavy artillery of percussion and melodious rumbles on tracks like Asphyxiation and Fall to Ascend, it's the storm of technical brilliance that makes this album stand apart from your average mosh fest.
Stylistically the album is similar to their debut Psychotic Symphony, but they are clearly more comfortable with each other after touring. They also had longer to put the album together, which helps the overall production and feel of the work. It's slick and polished with just the right amount of pomp; and if they seem too clever for their own good at times, it's because they've have earned the right to be.
There's a futuristic vibe to the tracks with many of the instrumental moments resembling a quartet of musicians attempting to take down the Death Star. The sparkling guitar work on Wither to Black is simply incendiary. Then you add to the mix the band's 'third guitarist' – keyboard player Derek Sherinian who plays those black and whites so aggressively he's practically a shredder. The piano work on King of Delusion channels Jon Lord in the way it dives into neo-classical. How can you compete with that? Simple, by adding Mike Portnoy. His drum work weaves in a flavour of the late, great Neil Peart, that produces a supercharged drum style. The final opus, New World Today, runs at nearly 16 minutes, which is still pretty short in prog terms. The experimental track lets rip and gives the MMXX saga an edgy finale, replete with an unexpected minor flourish that is expertly resolved by Sherinian in the albums dying moments.
It may be early days into the new decade, but SOA already feel like they have laid claim to 2020 and laid down the gauntlet for musicianship and production standards, but then they do have the God of music on their side. Carpe Annum!