‘Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony’ by Sons Of Apollo

It’s not every day that a rock band plays a concert with a full-blown symphony.  There was Deep Purple, who played with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969; Metallica, who played with the San Francisco Symphony in 1999; and now Sons Of Apollo, who are set to release Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony at the end of this month, recorded while they were on tour last year in Bulgaria.  While I know there are others I’m missing, I’m here to speak with you about the last of these epic endeavors.

Recorded on a beautiful September evening before a thrilled Bulgarian audience at Plovdiv’s Roman Amphitheatre, Sons Of Apollo pulled together a special set.  The first part largely mirrored the set list they had been performing throughout the tour, based firmly around their debut album, Psychotic Symphony, which I witnessed and spoke about here.  The second part, joined by the Plovdiv Symphony Orchestra and Choir – lovingly nicknamed the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony for this night – consisted of a set of cover songs tailored by Portnoy to both the band’s musical tastes, as well as to take full advantage of the symphony’s presence.  More than once I had goosebumps along my neck from how everything fell into place just right.  Running the gamut from Queen to Ozzy Osbourne, there’s a great deal at which to marvel.

 

Being able to not only hear what’s going on, but to see the chemistry and synchronized efforts of this band, really convinces me that getting one of the releases which include the blu-ray or DVD are the way to go.  Being able to see how well Sherinian’s keystrokes fall in line with Sheehan’s tremendously heavy bass notes help me understand how the group were able to create some of the remarkable lows on their debut album.  It’s all the little things that really add up here, such as Soto holding Bumblefoot’s guitar while the latter plays it in lap-steel fashion, or Bumblefoot playing Portnoy’s symbols with the headstock of his guitar, or watching Sherinian perform Van Halen’s “Eruption” guitar solo while making his way around the keyboard – all these little touches really add to the experience.  And the mix is beautifully balanced, allowing each instrument to come across clearly and boldly.

Of course, there is a version which contains the 3-CD collection as well, including a few songs – Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” – that aren’t part of the video releases due to being unable to secure clearance.  While I’ve been typing this, I’ll admit to having gotten lost in their rendition of of the latter.  Portnoy and Soto do a great job alternating vocals duties, Sherinian and Sheehan provide swelling accompaniment alongside the symphony, and Bumblefoot’s guitar solo just goes on and on, building in waves of emotion.  I think this is the seventh time the song has played on repeat.  I would have loved to see their expressions.

Some might find it weird, or even presumptuous, that a band with only one album under its belt would opt for not only a live album as its second release, but one with a symphony orchestra at that.  Perhaps it’s the nature of this band that makes it work so well; five extremely talented individuals, each with a storied history to draw on.  This isn’t their first, or even second, rodeo, and they certainly don’t seem to be slowing down now.  Their original works are inspired and precise, and they have a hell of a lot of fun regardless of the tune they’re playing, to the point that it’s infectious.  I’d highly suggest everyone check this release out; I know I’d already have pre-ordered it if my wife hadn’t wanted gift ideas.

 

To pre-order Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony in its various formats, click here.

For more on Sons Of Apollo, visit:
Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

CD Review: ‘Tales From The Deadside’ by A Sound Of Thunder

Better B# - TAM Logo 2

I was given very specific instructions: resist the temptation to listen to A Sound Of Thunder’s new album, Tales From The Deadside, on computer speakers or sample parts of the album.  Instead, I was told to acquire a good sound system and strap myself in for a full hour-long ride of audial adventure.  So I sat myself down (admittedly in front of a computer), stuck in the physical CD to avoid losing any audio quality, and plugged in my Samson SR850 semi-open headphones, preparing myself for what was to come.  I made an additional, unprecedented move: I decided to take notes and construct this review based entirely off of one listen alone.  So, with this in mind, let us begin!

As I was reviewing the band’s last album, The Lesser Key Of Solomon, I noted how the album didn’t consist of a single story, as I had originally thought, but rather a handful of stories.  By contrast, Tales From The Deadside, actually does follow one story arc, based around the Shadowman comics by Valiant Entertainment.  So, unlike the idea of playing Pink Floyd’s Darkside Of The Moon in time with The Wizard Of Oz, or even partaking of quintessential concept albums like Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime, we are experiencing an audio-version of a graphic novel.  This is certainly a new one for me!

I was well aware of the quality I could expect coming into this LP, as A Sound Of Thunder never does anything with less than 100% effort.  Some of the notes I wrote to myself consisted of ideas such as “Nina’s voice is like silk,” “Josh, stop being so awesome,” and “Is that a saxophone?” Maybe there’s a reason I don’t usually take notes while listening.  But regardless, vocalist Nina Osegueda performs from start to finish with a finesse and fiery passion that continues to marvel the mind; guitarist Josh Schwartz is a monster player in terms of both rhythm and solo guitar, able to summon notes from the bowels of Hell; while the rhythm section of bassist Jesse Keen and drummer Chris Haren provides a solid foundation for such a bold effort.  I felt, upon this first listen, that Keen and Haren didn’t get to shine as much as was the case in some past releases, though I did notice the bass break away from the guitar’s lead on the final track, “End Times,” bringing a smile to my face. [Edit 10/31/15: After repeated listens to this album, I take back this last statement about a lack of shine.  These two are absolute beasts on this release.  My apologies!]

So, if the album follows the story of the Shadowman comic books, is it worth it?  Well, as someone who’s had the lyric sheet pressed to his nose throughout the entire process, this is a yes and a no. On the one hand, I was completely enthralled by the story, wondering what was going to happen and how it could possibly end.  Nina is really the storyteller on this release, progressing us forward with verse upon verse, though she has some help from a narrator that appears between each song to set up the following scene.  A word of caution to newcomers to the band, while the overall product is fantastic, there are only a few tracks present, which, at first glance, feel like they could stand alone without being enjoyed as part of the bigger picture.  “Tower Of Souls,” “Punk Mambo,” and “Tremble” were among these, and are some of the shorter songs on the album.  In addition to this, without spoiling anything, the ending to the album feels almost like a “To Be Continued…” moment.  As this isn’t their story, but one they’re relating to us, I wonder if A Sound Of Thunder will be making a follow-up to this release as the comic progresses.

A Sound Of Thunder’s Tales From The Deadside is a unique and wonderful release.  As an album that consists of Spanish-influenced acoustic guitars, saxophone solos, addictively evil 70s guitar riffs, and just a bit of voodoo…well, needless to say, that’s an odd mix.  The group has taken up an immense challenge in telling someone else’s story with detail and energy of their own. For those who are interested in an audible comic book journey, this is your destination!  For those that are interested in getting into the group, I’d recommend exploring their earlier releases such as Out Of The Darkness and Time’s Arrow first, as these consist of good stand-alone tunes that will give you a taste of what’s found here.  Despite my concerns about the accessibility of this release, I have no doubt that current fans of the band will fall in love with it.  Tales From The Deadside is a monumental effort and A Sound Of Thunder has executed it with precision.

Buy Tales From The Deadside at: From The Band | iTunes | Amazon

For more on A Sound Of Thunder, visit:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Youtube