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Neal Morse - Jesus Christ The Exorcist CD (album) cover

JESUS CHRIST THE EXORCIST

Neal Morse

 

Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 78 ratings

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The Duke of Prunes
4 stars I do believe it won't be an exaggeration if i say that "Jesus Christ | The Exorcist" is probably Neal Morse's best solo album. Before delving into the music, i would like to talk about the line-up a bit and why it makes the key difference between his other records. Probably the most devastating for the fans will be the fact that this album does not feature out beloved Mike Portnoy and instead, behind the drum kit, we have the young talent Eric Gillette. Odd decision, since Gillette excels in Petrucci-styled guitar fretboard excursions, but it seems like he is equally good pounding the drums. The usual suspects - the keyboard magician Bill Hubauer and Randy George on bass are presented as well. Another fresh idea - there are 12 total vocalists, and that serves to maintain the interest throughout. Of course, it can't be Neal Morse if there is no instrumental virtuosity, so, to the fans that are tired of the needless, over-the-top wankery, in some of his last albums, i will say: the symphonic and orchestral arrangements outweigh the Dream Theater-esque moments. Most of the times there is a strong, cohesive idea, melodic-wise, which the listener can get lost into, and easily follow.

The first 5 songs float seamlessly one into another and create an epic 16 minute prog tour-de-force, encapsulating the essence of Morse's music. It starts off with 1 minute bombastic symphonic arrangement introduction and the first thing i notice, are the drum fills, and overall punchy sound. They are so heavily reminiscent of Portnoy that he really doesn't feel missed. Then, Ted Leonard(Enchant, Spock's Beard), portraying Jesus Christ himself, joins with his emotional, soft vocals, leading to another instrumental part, this time feeling more dynamic. 1 minute in, and we hear Bill Hubauer's 70's oldschool, Purple-ish Hammond, leading to a really memorable keyboard melody, up to be reprised a lot later, sounding positive and uplifting, later joined by brass section, fitting surprisingly well. The overture ends in the vein of Dream Theater - Paul Bielatowicz shines with his tapping and sweep picking and Gillette shows his double bass turbulent drumming. "Getaway" introduces Mark Pogue's classic rock vocals, reminding us of Steve Lukather a bit, and Wil Morse's rasp-y vocals, contrasting well and creating that "dialogue" feel. The song ends in classic neo-prog vibe, with soaring guitar and keyboard unison. "Gather The People" features the incredible Matt Smith (Theocracy). The song alternates between his vocals and beautiful choral arrangements, symbolising Jesus coming to the people. Pretty happy atmosphere. "Jesus' Baptism" feels pop-y, with really catchy vocal lines by Ted and Matt, culminating into another heavenly choral section. Basically, that formula is applied to the whole album, with some exceptions. There is really well-thought and articulated "vocal battle", lyric-wise also, between Ted and Rick Florian's wailing high vocals in "Jesus' Temptation" - another highlight, feeling rather dramatic. Of course, there are some kind of fillers here and there, but that's inevitable given the lenght of the musical. Like "There's a Highway", which is just pop rock song on a moderate beat with acoustic accompaniments, and could've been on Rush's Counterpart for example. Absolute favourites for me are "The Woman of Seven Devils" and "Free At Last" featuring the stunning Talon David, carrying the female blues and jazz vocal style. A pleasant surprise. And just before we thought we lack craziness, we come to "The Madman of the Gadarenes", which just screames Gentle Giant, for the atonalities in the beginning, but mostly for the bizarre vocal harmonies, interweaving 4 vocalists. "Get Behind Me Satan" is heavily influenced by Rainbow, or some other classic 70's hard rock band. Another highlight is "Gethsemane", reminding of "Jesus' Temptation", since it features again the "devil" theme.

All other tracks are just revisiting themes, reprises, but that structure is what makes Morse's songwriting distinct. To sum it up: crystal production, the sound of all instruments feels more organic than ever, big amount of incredible vocalists, instrumental virtuosic parts are not everywhere, but only when they serve a purpose. Will be enjoyed by any symphonic prog fan, not minding some occasional cheesiness.

The Duke of Prunes | 4/5 |

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