Sony Music Japan - Out now

Sons of Apollo’s debut album two years ago was one of the best releases of 2017. It’s fair to say that the follow-up was eagerly anticipated but it’s also fair to say that nobody expected this; a live album, with an orchestra, doing a selection of Rock classics but not just any old Rock classics either. For this, they have chosen some iconic songs, ones that will be picked over by fanatics, scrutinized, analyzed and criticized to the nth degree. It takes a lot of guts to do all. Their musicianship is unquestionable so the big question is ‘Did they get it right?’


Yes they did and they couldn’t have done it better. Opening with the first track on their debut album, the first half of the show consists of the majority of that debut with a couple of solo spots. This I might add is the band only and it’s clear they are having fun and enjoying the show but it’s really the second half where they really kick into gear being joined by the orchestra for the aforementioned classics. They have stuck to the original arrangements and are faithful to the recordings, only embellishing their own characteristics where it suits. It’s a fine balance to be able to do that not only within a band but with an orchestra thrown in as well but done it they have. The whole mix is beautifully executed and quite frankly, one of the most enjoyable live albums I have heard for a long time. For the encore, we are back to just the guys. Having come through with flying colours, the pressure is off and they let rip.


There are a dozen highlights on this 3CD set and I’m not going to name one of them because it’s only fair you take this journey yourself and make your own discoveries. Released in Japan in two versions – a three CD set or a three CD + DVD – it is well worth shelling out the extra for the DVD set which is delightfully filmed and edited and really captures the unusual Bulgarian amphitheatre atmosphere.


I mentioned earlier that this could have been risky but it is so well thought out and executed it minimizes that risk. They have come up with an entirely different way to approach a gig and the real beauty lies in their impeccable musicianship because they can use this format again and again, changing the orchestral classics every tour, paying homage to their own influences. It is a show without boundaries, a limitless expression of Rock music and I can’t think of a finer Rock ensemble to do it.


Track List

CD 1
1. God Of The Sun
2. Signs Of The Time
3. Divine Addiction
4. That Metal Show Theme 
5. Just Let Me Breathe
6. Billy Sheehan Solo
7. Lost In Oblivion
8. Jeff Scott Soto Solo (The Prophet’s Song / Save Me)
9. Alive
10. The Pink Panther Theme
11. Opus Maximus


CD 2
1. Kashmir
2. Gates Of Babylon
3. Labyrinth
4. Dream On
5. Diary Of A Madman
6. Comfortably Numb
7. The Show Must Go On
8. Hell’s Kitchen
9. Derek Sherinian Solo
10. Lines In The Sand


CD 3
1. Bumblefoot Solo
2. And The Cradle Will Rock
3. Coming Home



Sony Music Japan - Out now

Ten years ago Rob Halford released his Winter Songs album, reworking some traditional Christmas and winter songs into a Metal frame and adding some new ones written by him. The initial announcement had Priest fans worried and the critics were ready to scribe a negative review but he surprised all by delivering a fine and fun record that some said was actually better than Nostradamus, his last outing with Priest in 2008. Celestial carries on where Winter Songs ended and although the mid-paced overindulgent Priest of Nostradamus has been confined to the history books by 2018’s stunning Firepower, this solo from Rob should not be overlooked or ignored. In fact, it could be the best Christmas album to be released this year and certainly the most original.


There are four new songs on the album and the first two set the tone for the record at the start. The title track is an a beautiful string quartet instrumental beneath some Christmas sound effects which dives straight into a guitar riff straight out of the Priest catalogue (how do they keep coming up with all these glorious riffs?). The album continues with all the interpretations of the yuletide carols as out and out Metal or floating ballad, each one carefully selected and arranged musically, retaining the charm of the more traditional versions we know. Rob is obviously enjoying himself as he vocally gives God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen a stage musical approach whilst Deck The Halls is given a full Priest makeover with twin solos and tempo changes. Of the two other new ones, Morning Star is an obvious attempt at a single with simple arrangement and chord structure topped with a sing-along vocalize. In truth, it’s a bit cheesy and probably belongs in a 1970s British chart but it does give another texture to the album - you’ll either love it or hate it.


This being an album for the festive season, traditionally in the UK a time to be with your family, Rob has called on a few family members to help out. His younger brother, Nigel, is on drums; his sister, Sue, shakes some jingle Bells and Sue’s son, Alex, (from her marriage to Priest bassist Ian Hill) is on bass. The rest of the band is made up of friends Robert Jones and Jon Blakey on the aforementioned twin guitars, Phil Ridden on percussion and Priest associate Mike Exeter on keyboards who also handle all of the production and mixing.


Celestial (or Metal Christmas as it is titled in Japan), is far from a classic but it is a seasonal album you will return to every year when the nights draw in, the cold weather starts to bite your bones and the Christmas lights are going on everywhere. Throw it on your player, pour yourself a large  Glühwein and join the fun.


Track List

Donner and Blitzen*
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Away in a Manger
Morning Star*
Deck the Halls

Joy to the World
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
The First Noel
Good King Wenceslas
Protected By the Light*


*New song