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Neal Morse - Sola Scriptura CD (album) cover

SOLA SCRIPTURA

Neal Morse

 

Symphonic Prog

4.18 | 448 ratings

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Shakespeare
2 stars Morse has shifted his sound from the previous symphonic efforts of One and ? to a more dynamic, more powerful, and generally more varied style. Sola Scriptura is Morse's 2007 release, and still has the brilliant playing of the great Randy George and the legendary Mike Portnoy. This time, he's got a new friend aboard, Paul Gilbert, who has a phenomenally speedy guitar style. He's certainly proved himself a virtuoso with his blazing solos, but is still only a guest on this album. Like One, this is filled with many instruments other than the basic guitar/keyboards/drums/bass that you'd expect to see on most basic prog albums. We've got a whole classical perspective (like One) to add a more diverse edge. But unlike One, this is a lot more edgy and exhilarating.

Compositionally, this is more complex, dense and grandiose than anything Morse has approached before. With a sprawling seventy-eight minute clock-in, there's only a staggering four songs (one of which is very short). As you can see, that leaves a whole lot of music to be spread across three songs. These insanely long epics may turn off even experience proggers, accustomed to long tunes, and sometimes they do seem a little too towering to approach. But, in reality, they are not at all tedious or repetitive, and constantly evolve, with only a few repeated segments. The sections that reappear are more like reoccurring themes, and their purpose is for the listener to become more emotionally, where the regal and moving melodies that we come to love pop up everywhere. Unfortunately, though, some of the melodies popping up here aren't quite as resonating, and although they are very good, they are not gorgeous.

However, despite that, the compositions are so staggeringly layered and so swiftly evolving that my interest never wanes. There are more things that will make you say "That's neat!" or "That's cool!" as opposed to things that will make you sigh "That's gorgeous." The reason for this may or may not be the fact that the symphonic flavour has been toned down, ever so slightly, taking on a heavier, nearly metal edge at times. It's more aggressive, more intricate, more musically-focused instead of emotionally-focused than before. One of the great things about Morse's music is the many styles he can capture in a single song. For example, The Conflict begins with a metal-like section, before taking on some Latin jazz, classical, gospel (and the list goes on) elements. My only complaint is the softer, gospel oriented sections of The Door. I am a Christian myself, and I find those segments to be daunting, and oddly church-appropriate, and I don't blame Atheists for thinking that Morse's music is strictly for us religious folk (which is not actually the case!).

Musicianship is bafflingly off-the-top. Of course, we all know Portnoy's masterful speed for his work with Dream Theater. But I truly think that the best Portnoy's showcase is with Morse, and Sola Scriptura is one of his shining moments. This, along with One, are two of his strongest performances ever. And this fellow Randy George ain't no pushover! Unfortunately, though, Morse himself is not a mind-blowing player of either guitar or keyboards. He's always been more of a composer than anything. One thing that really surprised me here is how long the band was capable of keeping the pace up: sometimes there are ten minute sections end to end without any soft breaks. That's truly staggering!

I must say, however, that the metal sections aren't anything special. They're very derivative and uninspiring. The modern feel is to clean cut and too regularly aggressive to really surprise me at all. After many listens, it grows worse, and I can't help but dislike the album after a while.

So, to wrap things up, Sola Scriptura is a bit of a strong album, that focuses on both symphonic beauty and energetic complexity, but excels by far with the upbeat, intricate moments. Though there is much symphonic music in here, it is not as strong as it was on other albums (namely One). Though most of the music isn't Christian-exclusive, some gospel-like sections may prove to be, and the lyrics certainly are. Don't hesitate in buying this if you'd like to hear some great modern prog, especially (but not only) if you are a Christian, and don't mind a bit of an unoriginal, uninspiring prog metal feel.

Shakespeare | 2/5 |

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