WHOM GODS DESTROY – Insanium (Album Review)

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

We need to get something established upfront. Sonic Perspectives is blessed with an insightful and well-informed readership. Yes, that means you, the best and the brightest of the music scene. As such, you are already aware of prog-metal supergroup Sons of Apollo.

Active 2017 to 2023, they had two studio albums and did quite a bit of international touring. Made up of Mike Portnoy on drums (Dream Theater and a dozen others), Billy Sheehan on bass (Mr. Big and all-around hired gun to the stars), Derek Sherinian on keys (ex-Dream Theater, Black Country Communion and also a top-shelf hired gun), Jeff Scott Soto on vocals (Yngwie, Talisman, WET, and a ton of others) and last but certainly not least Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal on guitars (ex-Guns N’ Roses, Lita Ford, solo work).

Upon the conclusion of Sons of Apollo (one probable reason being Portnoy’s return to Dream Theater with great fanfare) Sherinian and Bumblefoot wasted no time in activating the Failsafe Plan, a little something they’d been slow-cooking for a couple of years, a sequel supergroup which would come to be called Whom Gods Destroy. Given the very direct lineage in play, even if it was possible to perform a deep analysis of the new band and their new album without mention of Sons of Apollo, it would be tone-deaf, irresponsible, and frankly a bit silly to ignore the obvious heritage.

So, here we are. The Sons of Apollo are dead (Long Live the Sons) and Whom Gods Destroy would seem to be heir apparent in this rather specialized game of Musical Thrones. The first obvious question would be who is in the band? Well, the core remains somewhat unchanged, with Derek and Ron doing the heavy lifting in keys and guitars, respectively. The biggest news would be Dino Jelusick on vocals. Dino, a solo multi-instrumentalist also recently employed by Michael Romeo, is also a former touring mate of Soto with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Dino may be one of the top rising stars in rock and metal vocals, and one of the few who could fill the role arguably held by Soto. Bruno Valverde of Angra is more than capable of drumming at a world-class level, and Japanese guitarist-bassist Yas Nomura has been a virtuosic mercenary since going pro about ten years ago, seeming to make him an ideal fit for bass duties on this record.

“This record,” of course, would be this week’s release of the debut album “Insanium.” Clearly the album title is tied to the titular finale track, but it would also seem to dovetail with the album’s interwoven thematic elements dealing with strife, confusion, rage, and grief. The album opens with the first track to receive music video treatment, “In the Name of War.” Upon hitting “play,” (or putting down the needle if that’s your waxy jam) the song begins with Derek banging out a dark, minor, syncopated jazzy bit on a grand piano. The root chords move up and down a couple of times before the piano is joined by hi-hat setting time for the band. This is immediately followed by the entire band ensemble exploding into life with all instruments cranked to 11. Derek continues the same piano part from the beginning, but in his signature lead distortion tone with which we’re all familiar as a calling card. The keys dip out to let the band chug along for a couple of bars before Dino steps to the mic and lays waste to everything in sight. It’s a good thing he has vocal fry down to a fine science or he would wreck his voice with what sounds like throat-rending delivery. You probably know Dino’s other work, but if you haven’t heard him, it’s like Ronnie James but with the power of Jorn Lande and Russell Allen. One noteworthy thing with this track is that even aside from the pointed lyrics about the futility of human lives being fed to statism through the mindless maw of war, the track has some of the best chorus hooks of the album. Also, halfway in, we are treated to some quality fretless guitar noodling from Ron while the band dials things back a little bit. He even seems to dial back his gain to medium-well, which makes his technique all the more impressive without reliance on searing distortion for every lick. In the later parts of the track, Derek also gets his licks in, with some quality keyboard parts. The track ends the way it began, with Derek bringing back the original riff on the grand piano.

“Insanium” Album Artwork

The second track “Over Again” opens with the gritty heavy version of the Hammond organ we know from everything from Deep Purple to Ayreon to Dream Theater “Awake” (think “Erotomania.”) Instrumentally, the band launches straight into a heavy jam of the chorus, before shifting over into a grunting, angry, miserable wreckage of a verse structure before bringing back the chorus, but this time with Dino sounding legitimately pissed off about being forsaken, lied to, and betrayed in some capacity. It’s a shorter track (as prog metal goes) but it lets Bumblefoot flex some dropped tunings and trade some sick solos with Sherinian. While the middle section is a fun little jaunt to Planet X, the chorus section is so full of piss and vinegar, it is what makes this a memorable track from the album, albeit after a few listens.

“The Decision” launches straight into some ridiculous staccato bass riffage, for which we do not envy Nomura-san at all. After a moment, the heaviness dials back a bit, which is a refreshing change so Dino can sing in Coverdale Junior mode (this is meant as the highest compliment) and give everyone a breather from the onslaught of Yngwie-sized fire and fury. We get some more masterclass in technique from Sherinian and Ron in this one (some cool pick tapping on the upper frets in this one) but as a whole the track is noteworthy for its rhythm section and variability in terms of heaviness and power. When Dino soars (“I think I’m gonna stay”) he really soars to new heights.

The fourth track, “Crawl,” might make you think your car stereo or your phone’s data plan is glitching out, but this weirdly alien-sounding arpeggio is just Sherinian finding new ways to sound weird and different, but hey, if he’s trying to get attention it worked this time. Revisiting some of the lyrical themes found in “Over Again,” the narrative voice bemoans a situation of being made to suffer, grovel, and “crawl.” Of course, the narrator seems to come to terms that a certain element of crawling through the pain and suffering is an inescapable part of life. Derek’s computerized alien riffs come back a few times just to drive the feeling of discomfort home before Ron delivers some equally alien leads which would cause some head-scratching at a Berklee guitar theory class.

Speaking of Coverdale, “Find My Way Back” is absolutely drenched in the vibes of Coverdale-era Purple, and some of the early-to-middle era Whitesnake. We’ll definitely need to ask the boys in Whom Gods Destroy which tracks are most attributed to which members, but at first listen, this one seems to have Dino’s fingerprints all over it. We know he covered “Judgment Day” with Animal Drive, and just got off the Coverdale farewell tour, but wow, if he had any Whitesnake blues ballad juice left in the tank, he used it all on this one. Lyrically, it is actually about trying to return home and finding home is not home anymore. A poignant sentiment for Dino, as well as the other world-touring veterans in the band. In short summary, everyone involved did an A+ job delivering an homage to a half-of-fame element of rock and roll history with this one.

Right back down to business, “Crucifier” is a heavy, gnarly juggernaut. With references to Judas, divinity, and thrones, it’s unclear if the lyrical references to a “Crucifier” are literally direct in the New Testament sense, or some other metaphor, but this track is an unapologetic prog metal banger with tons of grunt and growl. It’s kind of cool that it almost sounds like the track ends with the same keyboard riff used in “New Millennium.” This is followed by “Keeper of the Gate,” which opens with a guitar riff that’s already sludgy enough, except it sounds like Bumblefoot goes through some kind of octave pedal or post effect to make it even more basement of doom-dwelling. Another nifty technique here is picking notes while bent and then letting them drop down to a less-bent pitch so it sounds like they are melting. A bit like what Vai dabbles with on “Gravity Storm.” This track also exists in that weird Eastern sort of zone like Ritchie Blackmore’s “Gates of Babylon” or just about anything from Myrath’s earlier catalog. Speaking of the 70s, Sherinian busts out the Hammond tone again to good effect, before Bumblefoot delivers a tastefully traditional lead section.

For those of us musical types who go to live shows and like to stand over near some pillar with our arms crossed studying every single note and drum fill, looking bored while simultaneously being overjoyed on the inside, we have the instrumental track “Hypernova 158.” A three-and-a-half minute demonstration of musical chops, we have Bruno blasting us though some of the most complex beats and rhythms of the album, while Nomura is probably sweating like a murder suspect while trying to keep up with the frantic pace, all the while with Sherinian and Bumblefoot trading absurd solo bits back and forth. It does not reinvent the wheel, but it gives us a vigorous palate-cleanser before the three-part title track and brings us to the bombastic ending.

“Insanium” is a heavy hitter with a nice chorus feel. Lyrically, it seems to be either about being checked in for mental healthcare, or resigning to insanity. As the first part, “Home for All,” segues into the second part, “Abandoned,” the unplugged guitars swirly eerily around in a minor key like something from Iced Earth’s “Night of the Stormrider” album allow for Dino to come back with a more melancholy approach than the fire of the first section. This part of the trilogy allows a canvas for Sherinian to paint a solo that really emulates lead guitar vibes very well. As the third part the reprise comes in, Bumblefoot throws out some searing leads before Dino resumes his parts with the fire once again fully in the belly. Once the final verse is complete, the sludgy core riff repeats into a fade. In theory, this is the end of the album as intended, but we have a bonus track literally entitled “Requiem,” which does some cool tricks to change up the vibe we find in most of the album. Aside from some dark gothic underpinnings, it occasionally has operatic uplifting Freddie Mercury feel, which really gives the album a better ending than with the title track.

This is the part in the program where we talk about Sons of Apollo. Insofar as Whom Gods Destroy is a successor, whether truly or spiritually, the question is whether it is the same, or better, or worse. Well, it would be hard to call it better, and there’s no shame in that. Bumblefoot and Sherinian and all the guys in Sons of Apollo set a high bar. When you deliver high-quality products, you can become your own enemy. It is tough to repeat that. Arguably, the second and final Sons of Apollo album lacked some of the imagination and ingenuity found in the first album. Thankfully, maybe if only via a blood transfusion of new warm bodies, the product seems to be somewhat refreshed since SoA’s “MMXX” album. Bruno and Yas are rock-solid as a rhythm section, and Dino is one of the most promising things to happen to metal in the last five years. Soto would probably not disagree.

So while we obviously miss seeing Billy and Portnoy in any project, the SoA lineage seems to still be in good hands. While it may not surpass the first Sons of Apollo album, it is easily equal to the second, and that in itself is an accomplishment. If there were to be any constructive criticism when this album is done playing, it’s that there could be less focus on the technical and more focus on the songwriting itself. If there were more tracks with melodic hooks and a compelling chorus, it could do more to aid this album with its ability to remain relevant and memorable. Think less “Peace Sells” and more “Youthanasia.” Another open question is how much Dino was utilized for his songwriting and musicianship. We just reviewed his solo album here, and it was a pretty big hit. Furthermore, where Sherinian is an A+ keyboard man, and Dino is probably more like an A- keyboard player by comparison, it’s a shame to not utilize him at all through the record, just for the sake of variety if nothing else. Apologies if he has any guest spots we did not identify, but it never hurts to get some different flavors going.

But do not let the constructive critique turn you off of this record. If you are a fan of Sons of Apollo, or Dream Theater, or Symphony X, or pretty much anything in the prog-metal sphere, you should at least check this album out. It’s strong, and full of great musicianship. It drops tomorrow (March 15), be sure to look for it.

Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: March 8th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Metal

Band Members:

  • Dino Jelusick / Vocals
  • Ron ‘Bumblefoot” Thal / Guitars
  • Derek Sherinian/ Keyboards
  • Yas Nomura/ Bass
  • Bruno Valverde / Drums

“Insanium” tracklist:

  1. In The Name Of War
  2. Over Again
  3. The Decision
  4. Crawl
  5. Find My Way Back
  6. Crucifier
  7. Keeper Of The Gate
  8. Hypernova
  9. Insanium
  10. Requiem (Bonus Track)

Order the album HERE

8.5 Excellent

Whom Gods Destroy is a force to be reckoned with. Derek Sherinian and Bumblefoot have teamed up with the new voice of metal Dino Jelusick to create something technically excellent and more interesting with every listen. Be sure to check it out

  • Songwriting 7.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 9
Share.

Comments are closed.

error: This content is copyrighted!
25,727Fans
2,046Followers
64,300Subscribers