“It’s so nice having this youthful enthusiasm and energy. It isn’t just a bunch of grumpy old men – myself included!” How Derek Sherinian and Bumblefoot levelled up from Sons Of Apollo to Whom Gods Destroy

Whom Gods Destroy
(Image credit: Press)

Following the collapse of Sons Of Apollo, band members Derek Sherinian and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal  regrouped for new sonic adventures in Whom Gods Destroy. Keyboardist Sherinian tells Prog about their debut album, Insanium.

Derek Sherinian is more bashful and reserved than usual. The former Dream Theater and Sons Of Apollo keyboard player has been known to be somewhat scathing of his old bandmates. Indeed, there was a sense that the much-lauded Sons Of Apollo project – which also featured then-ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy – was motivated by a desire to overtake them in the progressive metal hierarchy.

That band released two impeccably-crafted albums and there were lofty expectations of a third release that could propel them into the genre’s higher echelons. By the tail end of 2020, Portnoy’s interest in the band seemingly cooled and it plummeted down his priority list. Fast-forward to 2023 and the drummer’s return to Dream Theater provided a public, non-verbal declaration that cemented the demise of Sons Of Apollo.

“Yeah, and you know what? Whatever,” says Sherinian, his voice genuinely lacking any signs of disgruntlement. “Basically, I think Covid was the brutal death knell for Sons Of Apollo. It simply came down to the fact that Mike had other obligations with his other bands, which was understandable. But who knew how long that was going to take?

“Ron [‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, guitarist] and I were didn’t just want to wait to see what was going to happen in the future. I’d wanted to move forward and start something fresh. So, that’s what we did, and it’s that simple. It ended up working out for everyone. Honestly, it all worked out great. I wish Mike and the guys in Dream Theater the best. I really hope that they make a great record.”

Thal and Sherinian’s enduring partnership proved to be fruitful, with the pair continuing the musical understanding at the core of the Sons Of Apollo sound. They were, of course, devoid of rhythm section or vocalist – but they already had a few tracks written, including the anthemic Find My Way Back, intended for the aborted Sons Of Apollo album.

“Bumblefoot and I wrote a large majority of the music, so for us it was just business as usual,” says Sherinian. “We were sending ideas back and forth online, which we would expand and develop. I think it was 2019 when the singer Dino Jelusick came onto my radar. Eric Singer of Kiss heard Dino do a cover of one of the songs from his old band, Badlands. He said, ‘Derek, you’ve got to check out this singer!’ I listened and knew that this guy was amazing. I started corresponding with him shortly after Covid and Ron and I sent him some of our ideas, which he would sing on top of it.

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“I remember saying to Ron, ‘Dude, this is the future right here.’ So we demoed up our song ...War and a couple of others, and sent them to Thomas Waber at InsideOutMusic. We said, ‘Thomas, this is the future, are you in?’ He wanted to sign us immediately. We were ready to launch this thing in 2021, but Dino was tangled in a record contract, which took a while to get through. So our thing was on ice for almost two years. But once he was free and clear, we had the record contract waiting for us.”

With a deal signed, Sherinian, Thal and Jelusick sought a drummer and bass player for the unnamed project. Rather than selecting predictable candidates, there was a desire to involve a younger generation to add fresh dynamism. “This new breed of musicians are just incredible at a technical level,” enthuses Sherinian. “We recruited Yas Nomura on bass and he’s amazing. He can double anything that Ron can play. I saw Yas on Instagram – for some reason, he kept popping up in my feed. I was watching him play and I immediately had the vision of him doubling Ron on some of these crazy lines.

Ron and I have such signature styles on our instruments that you can’t really put labels on us

“But the real wildcard here is Bruno Valverde on drums, who is just incredible. Bruno is in a band called Angra. He has the technical ability of a great prog drummer like Virgil Donati or Simon Phillips, but he’s a metal drummer and he hits super-hard. What he’s done for this band is totally awesome. These are young players who are around 30 years old, which makes Ron and I the old wise men. It’s so nice having this youthful enthusiasm and energy. It isn’t just a bunch of grumpy old men – myself included!”

Debut album Insanium was constructed remotely, which isn’t surprising when you consider the geographic distance between members. While this modern method of writing may prove practical, there are those who miss the spontaneity of hiring a rehearsal room and band jams. Is Sherinian conscious of that? “Well, Ron is in New Jersey and I’m in Los Angeles, so everything is remote,” he explains. “We both have studios and we’re both pretty adept, so if we have ideas or are inspired, we put it out and send the session over. He’ll add to it or expand or vice versa and that’s how the whole record has been done. Then we would add Dino into the mix and get his vocals on top of it.

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“The new Black Country Communion record was all of us in the same room, learning the songs in the control room, then going into the live room and playing it – one or two takes a recording and then move to the next song. We would never be able to do that in a band like Whom Gods Destroy. It’s just too technical and there’s too much shit going on. It would take weeks of rehearsal; we don’t have the luxury of that because we’re scattered all over the globe.”

Progressive metal is a crowded genre, overpopulated by bands satisfied with merely repeating the past and adopting a template of contrived musical chaos. Whom Gods Destroy retain a uniqueness that’s lacking in the competition, possessing an identifiable edge that makes them an endearing proposition. There’s a care that’s been taken when constructing the songs. “That has to do with the fact that Ron and I have such signature styles on our instruments that you can’t really put labels on us,” he argues. 

Ron and I were thinking, ‘Everyone had done outer space, everyone has done Greek mythology… Let’s go Star Trek!’

“We’re chameleons and can morph into any genre – whether that’s hippie rock, instrumental, jazz passages, neoclassical, full metal or prog or whatever. It’s going to sound like us. So that’s an advantage that we have over a lot of these other bands. A lot of it comes down to the singers. The vocals can really make a good band great; a crummy singer can make a great band not so great. Dino wrote the lion’s share of the lyrics and Ron contributed on Over Again, but it’s mostly Dino. He did a fantastic job.”

Although he avoids negative commentary on his former bandmates, the name Whom Gods Destroy could be interpreted as a mission statement. It’s taken from the title of a Star Trek episode, which deals with a former captain who seeks vengeance against his former crewmates. Is there perhaps a subtle message there to Portnoy and Dream Theater? “No, honestly there isn’t,” insists Sherinian, moving uncomfortably in his chair at the suggestion. “One of the most excruciating things is trying to come up with a band name. We were coming down to the wire. Ron and I were on FaceTime thinking, ‘OK, everyone had done outer space, everyone has done Greek mythology. What do we have? Let’s go Star Trek!’ We were both reading down the list and saw ‘Whom Gods Destroy.’ 

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“There’s really no competition, man. They do what they do, we do what we do and we’re both in our own lanes. We’re just trying to make the best stuff possible, and I think it’s pretty adventurous. We’re getting pretty heavy and going into new territory. The general reception we’re getting is that Whom Gods Destroy is heavier, more progressive and more melodic than the old act. We just want to have a successful band that can make great records, go out on tour and take it to the world. It’s a fresh new vibe and we are very excited to see how the world responds to the album.”

Given the extended gestation period for the first album, Sherinian and Thal have already amassed substantial material in anticipation of a second release. There’s also the potential for some live appearances over the coming months. “We have ideas and I would love to have another album out this time next year,” says the keyboardist. “Certainly before next summer, so we can go out and play shows.

I’ve been doing this so long that I just want a smooth and easy ride

“As for touring, that’s something that you’ll see off the back of the second record. There may be sporadic dates – maybe some festivals this year – but as far as hardcore touring where we’re out for weeks at a time, the smart move is to let this build so that there’s an actual demand. We don’t go out there and get hurt on our first time out.

“I’m in no hurry. I’ve been doing this so long that I just want a smooth and easy ride. I’ll take my time on everything and there’s no reason to rush anything. We’re just waiting for the right opportunity – and it’s a challenge in terms of scheduling because of our prior commitments. But it is going to happen, and when it does, it’s going to be totally awesome.”