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Neal Morse

 

Symphonic Prog

4.21 | 455 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

The Ace Face
5 stars Since Departing Spock's Beard, Neal Morse has made albums that are always just a teensy bit below the masterpiece level. On this album, he reaches the heights of the Light, his first effort as a prog musician and his first masterpiece. This album is absolutely spectacular. All of the necessary elements are here: plenty of talented musicians, probably his best line-up to date, consisting of Alan Morse, Roine Stolt, Steve Hackett, Jordan Rudess, Mike Portnoy, and Randy George. Combine all these guys with Neal's most inspired writing yet, the album is propelled into the stratosphere.

Temple of the Living God: A mysterious, dramatic opening that is so key for a good concept album/rock opera to work. Something that makes the listener want to concentrate on the music and nothing else. The mystical piano line is hair-raising, and we get introduced to the main theme, a quiet acoustic guitar with mellow electric parts accompanying it. Morse sings softly, and then then tempo kicks up for the overture of sorts. Electric piano lead part is amazing and the guitar parts are very epic. When the vocals kick back in, it sounds like early Spock's Beard with a vocal distorter and a few electric noise bursts from Alan Morse. This segues perfectly into...

Another World: a new synth theme is introduced along with a cool verse vocal line and piano part, telling of the tents gathering around something. The storyline in this album is the most vague, and I have trouble discerning it. However, this is a great song, if it were longer it would be bad, but its the perfect length, even allowing for a small guitar solo at the end, and a slow down into...

The Outsider: Lightly strummed acoustics create an ethereal atmosphere that Morse has never been able to make, sending shivers down my spine. Neal sings perfectly here, sounding impassioned and truly lonely. It slowly builds as Neal becomes more confident in his singing, perhaps representing the bravery of the outsider to venture into the place he is isolated from. The acoustics bring us nicely into...

Sweet Elation: Neal sounds even more impassioned here as he belts out the vocals and the guitars pick up the tempo, with plenty of other instruments adding in. A new theme is introduced here that will later be extrapolated on many times over, but for now it stays simple and leads into...

In the Fire: a great wah-wah guitar intro brings us into the Devil's Got my Throat of this album. Some vocals bring us in along with the epic chorus, but the main focus is the instruments. Soon a duel begins between Alan Morse and Jordan Rudess, complete with ridiculous shredding and funky sounds blowing you away. This section continues for a little while and never gets old. An amazing riff is also introduced at one point, with plenty of air guitar opportunities. This song is just full of the little tidbits that made Spock's Beard so unique. The ending section has a massive hammond solo from own own Neal, and introduces the new theme for the next song with horns and clavichord, with the next song being...

Solid as the Sun: Similar to In the Fire, but heavier and more developed in melody. The chorus is spectacular and the mellotron part is ridiculously well thought out. There is a great bass solo in the middle from Randy George accompanied by a narration with some Christian lyrics. Following the bass solo is a horn section with a soaring saxophone solo, a rarity in Morse's world, but great nonetheless. The ending section is a reprise of the themes from Into the Fire mixing with the heavy riffing from Solid. This medley brings the intense solo section to a close and gives us...

Glory of the Lord: Lots of strings and choirs accompany Mike's symphonic drumming for a heavenly interlude of epic proportions. This is a perfect length and segues nicely into...

Outside Looking in: Surprise! on a Neal Morse album, the first ballad section is 28 minutes in! and only one of 2 ballad sections! Not that its bad, this ballad is quite good in fact, with Morse revisiting the theme of isolation introduced in the outsider. A nice little guitar riff accompanies Morse and a light string backing fills it out nicely. This carries on for a good length, allowing for a guitar solo improvising on the them, and brings us into the peak of the album...

12: With some more ballad work, Neal explains the religious significance of the number 12 by naming all the things dealing with religion that also happen to come in 12: tones in music, tribes of israel, disciples, sons of jacob, etc. etc. Finally, Neal reprises the opening lyrical theme and the song changes in mood. The dramatic, mystic, epic chord progression from the last half of Sweet elation comes back, and Mike Portnoy switches to pure snare drumming with a little cymbal work while Neal gives us his typical latin piano solo section. This is one of my favorite instrumental sections of all time because it builds the drama throughout and this is especially key for this album as the ending needs to be at the highest level of drama possible. After the piano solo is over, the guitar theme kicks in again, and gets faster and faster until Steve Hackett hits the first note of his solo. When this note hits, the sky is torn open by its awesomeness and the Great Guitar God from Genesis rends his way through a scorching solo that seems almost impossible from anyone else. Its just perfect. The synth theme returns and there is plenty more soloing combined with keyboard fills and even a sitar at one point, and it builds and builds until a powerful release leading into...

Entrance: piano and mellotron combine to make a slightly evil atmosphere while Morse does a little role-playing. The chorus is stellar, yelling about the unclean ones, the weakest ones, the lowest ones, and how Morse will help them all. Still, there is fear evident in those people, for they do not believe. I am not a religious man, but I still feel the power in this song, and I can feel Neal Morse's soul bared before us all as he gives all and takes none. Some orchestral bells accompany the second chorus as the volume builds and the sweet elation vocal theme is revisited. Several key changes are experienced, each one ascending in volume and power, until Morse is at the top of his range, and perhaps even beyond. Neal re-sings the Temple of the living god theme amidst the most furious instrumental flurry I have ever heard on a Morse album, and then it dies down to random synth gurgles and mellotron washes to prepare for the upcoming ballad...

Inside his Presence: an excellent variation on the opening piano theme is played, and Morse's voice enters at barely a whisper. The lyrics consist almost entirely of quotes from different parts of the bible, although where they are from I do not know, nor do I know what they have to do with the story. Morse sings with a grandiose, operatic passion not seen since the days of Peter Gabriel. After several choruses, what seems to be a bagpipe enters with the main theme and starts the epic close. For the last part of this song, 2 or 3 guitars solo over the theme of Inside his presence, but the theme will soon change for...

The Temple of the Living God: the theme suddenly takes on a more grand mood and the drums are fittingly pounding and epic. Roine Stolt is probably soloing here, as well as both Morse Brothers. This epic jam builds and slows dramatically to the final repetition of the main lyrical theme and an orchestral, dramatic finale suiting for a 57 minute epic song/album. A final piano chord closes it off, much like a Day in the Life from Sgt Pepper. Some wind and whispering fill the last minute or so, giving a shivery feeling alluding to more possible albums.

Overall, Morse's best, perhaps better then Spock's beard material and equal to Bridge Across Forever in scope, drama, talent, passion and serious progging. I highly recommend it to anyone with an affinity for dramatic prog.

The Ace Face | 5/5 |

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