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Morse, Neal: Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is pure Neal Morse - in every sense of the word. So you know that:
* It will be dense, hard-edged symphonic progressive rock,
* It will be extremely melodic, and
* It will have a Christian theme.

If Neal's Christian sensibilities worry you then don't listen to it - and stop reading this review. But if you're okay with the religious message, or particularly if it appeals to you, this might be one of the better records you've heard since ... well, since Neal's previous solo album.

Up to now, Morse's solo CDs have been concept albums that revolve around his religious convictions. This time, he explores Martin Luther, the famous 16th century reformer who posted his theses on the cathedral door and sparked an uproar with the papacy. And if distant memories of those 9th grade parochial school history lessons are in any way accurate, Luther's primary legacy was the declaration that God is a God of love rather than a God of wrath. An important principal indeed, and one that has molded Christian teachings ever since. "Sola scriptura" is a Latin term which meant that the Scriptures are the only authoritative reference for the faith and practice of Christians. And 'Sola scriptura' was the rallying cry of the Protestant reformation.

Martin Luther took a huge risk and put his life in jeopardy by making his reform doctrine public - and of course it's generally understood that he did it because of the strength of his faith and the depth of his principles. On this record Neal Morse describes the religious convictions Luther presumably felt, and the lyrics are written in the first person. They passionately express the depth of the singer's faith, and you might wonder - is "the singer" Luther, or is it Morse? Well in the context of the story he's obviously describing Luther's sentiments. So those commitments play into the story but are, at the same time, the artist's self expression.

So although the storyline adds an interesting dimension to the music, Neal Morse is still telling you about religious commitment - and in that sense, Sola Scriptura is not a huge step away from his earlier releases. Musically, Sola Scriptura is heavier than Testimony, One or ? - and closer to Morse's previous Transatlantic project. And following that Transatlantic comparison, some might even call it prog-metal. It isn't metal, although the opening minutes of "The Conflict" might justify that claim. Mike Portnoy hammers out an excellent, melodic percussion that would find a home on many of his Dream Theater albums, and listen to that song for the blazing guitar work and the power of the driving rhythms in some wonderfully tight drum/bass/guitar-riff sections.

There are just four songs on this 76 minute record, with 3 of them running 16, 25 and 29 minutes, each broken into 6 sub-parts. So it's very 'epic' in all senses - the song structures are long, winding things that continue to develop through the length of each track, occasionally revisiting each other, and sometimes borrowing snippets from Morse's previous records. The performances are excellent - particularly Portnoy's drumming and Paul Gilbert's excellent, very expressive guitar work. The album is more intensely musical than Neal's prior releases, but you might feel it could stand more quiet moments for variety and to provide the listener with an occasional breather - moments like the balladry of the first 4 minutes of "Heaven In My Heart".

The first track "The Door" is rich with solid progressive sounds - well layered with lush textures, a restlessly developing structure and energetic changes - and that song also calls to mind Morse's Spock's Beard-era records Snow and V.

Sola Scriptura is probably progressive than Neal's earlier CDs - and it's more intense and dense, and not as instantly approachable. There isn't much subtlety and no barriers are breached here ... if you know the music of early Spock's Beard, Transatlantic or solo Neal Morse, then you've heard this stuff before. And if you liked it, you'll definitely like this one.

Neal Morse will find a huge audience for this record both - because of, and despite the faith-based lyrics. Recommended.

Track Listing:

1). The Door (29:14)
i Introduction
ii In The Name Of God
iii All I Ask For
iv Mercy for Sale
v Keep Silent
vi Upon The Door

2). The Conflict (25:00)
i Do You know My Name?
ii Party to the Lie
iii Underground
iv Two Down, One to Go
v The Vineyard
vi Already Home

3). Heaven in my Heart (5:11)

4). The Conclusion (16:34)
i Randy's Jam
ii Long Night's Journey
iii Re-Introduction
iv Come Out Of Her
v Clothed With The Sun
vi In Closing...

Added: March 29th 2007
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Related Link: The Artist's Website
Hits: 5597
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Morse, Neal: Sola Scriptura
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-03-29 16:10:49
My Score:

I will not address the lyrical subject matter presented in this album, as that has already been done to death in hundreds of reviews. This review will be solely dedicated to the musical aspect of Sola Scriptura, so if you expect to find thoughts or comments on the lyrics, hit the back button now. However, this does not mean the lyrical message Morse conveys here is unimportant. On the contrary, it is very vital to his music, as this was the primary reason why he left Transatlantic and Spock's Beard, the band he'd carried to the top of prog rock in the late 90's. If the lyrics didn't mean so much to him, he wouldn't have left the Beard in the first place. If you disagree with his ideas, that's fine -- but don't take it out on him for expressing himself through his music. Besides, it is amusing how everyone gets so worked up about his lyrics once Neal's name is mentioned -- truly amazing.

On the musical front, it has to be noted that Sola Scriptura does little to reinvent the wheel -- on the contrary, it mostly expands on the elements introduced on his previous works. It is a tad heavier though -- the addition of guitar god Paul Gilbert certainly shows. Gilbert not only inserts some amazing, jackhammer riffs into the epic-length songs, he also plays several of his trademark solos, such as the bluesy part on "The Door", made up of several sub-parts, with an overwhelming symphonic aura sustained by grandiose arrangements and recurring melodies. The six-plus-minute intro of this song is among the heaviest moments you'll ever hear on a Neal Morse album -- hyperkinetic riffage, rising piano accents, and killer drumming by Mike Portnoy. He's given more space on this album than before and is unafraid to fill the piece with slaying drum fills and relentless double bass drum work. As usual, his tone is amazing and will make many drummers jealous. Complete with a middle-section that boasts blazing vintage synth leads and furious electric leads, the song also calms down with the inclusion of solemn acoustic passages driven by the amazing vocalizations of Neal Morse -- sort of like "Wind at My Back" from Spock's Beard Snow. The amount of gospel-style female harmonies is kept to a minimum here, but when they are mixed into the main melody, they become sublime. By the end of the song, which is just shy off the 30-minute mark, it is just Morse and his repeating a little "chorus", rocking it into your soul -- he is still one of the greatest prog rock singers around. His knack for timeless harmonies remains unique and unrivaled.

"The Conflict" starts with a shredding lead by Gilbert -- it's pure and it's crazy. This man has phenomenal talent. The song boasts a more hard rock vibe, notably in its visceral first half. Randy George pounds out walloping bass lines to underscore the violent wall-of-sound guitars and keyboards prior to the song's slowed-down acoustic bits, more gospel vocals, a touch of Latin, and sweet piano motif. It then builds to a big, exciting finale with more Beatles-like harmonies and crazy instrumental dexterity. The climax is kept until the final second -- first Morse harmonizes over his own vocal melody and then there is an arresting lead with a descending acoustic guitar in the background.

"Heaven in My Heart" is a shorter piano ballad, complete with rousing strings and a steady drum beat. It is arguable whether this track could have been left off the album or whether it was included in order to reach the 75-minute playing time, but it certainly is no filler, if you are a fan of Morse's vocals. The last song, "The Conclusion", another epic, makes several nods to his past, like the drum solo that recalls Transatlantic's "Duel with the Devil". Actually, the rhythmically varied instrumental section is right up there with the finest moments captured on Transatlantic records, which is a great thing for sure. The counterpoint near the end is musical perfection -- conflicting emotions coming at you from every corner highlighted by a strong guitar and keyboard aesthetic.

Sola Scriptura is Morse's most high-energy work yet. It is one of the greatest prog albums of the year so far. Whether it will top his previous album ? remains to be seen.

Morse, Neal: Sola Scriptura
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-02-23 14:46:48
My Score:

Neal sure has turned up the heat here on Sola Scriptura, his latest endeavor into solo territory. Surprisingly bombastic, complex, and even at times heavy, those who thought Morse's foray into Christianity was going to lead him into mellower waters have been quite mistaken. If anything, Neal Morse's music is getting more aggressive, more full of power, with each release, bringing the overall feel pretty damn close to a combination of early Spock's Beard and Dream Theater. Having folks like Mike Portnoy (drums) and Paul Gilbert (guitar) on hand certainly helps matters.

I won't get involved here on the lyrical aspect, basically because not everyone will agree or understand what Neal throws at us since he left the Beard, and quite frankly I'm not much of a religious nut. However, if you don't mind the Christian themes, there's some serious progressive rock going on here in Sola Scriptura, and I think musically this one has more "ooomph" and firepower than any of his previous offerings. Hammond and synths blaze through the mix courtesy of Mr. Morse, while Portnoy's drum work is powerful and intricate. The real kicker though is the meaty guitar riffs and scorching leads from former Racer X/Mr. Big hotshot Gilbert. Take one listen to his passionate yet fiery solo on "The Conflict"-it will send shivers up your spine and bring tears to your eyes all at the same time, it's that good, that emotional. Vocally, Neal is his usual melodic self, and let's face it, the guy can certainly write a great, catchy melody, and his vocal style totally fits the bill here as always. Sure, there are a few passages here that sound awfully familiar to his previous work in Spock's Beard or even his earlier solo releases, but that's easy to overlook as the overall quality is just top notch.

With three "mammoth" pieces and one short song, Sola Scriptura is about as epic as you can get. There seems to be no shortage of creativity coming from the Neal Morse camp, so let's hope he continues to keep pumping out material like this for years to come. In addition, a full blown tour would be nice as well. For the time being, what we have is one of the best releases so far here in 2007.

» Reader Comments:

Morse, Neal: Sola Scriptura
Posted by Paul Harcourt on 2007-02-07 11:21:20
My Score:

I've had the privilege of hearing a promo copy and its beyond my expectations! I honestly think its the best solo album of his yet. Much heavier than any of the previous offerings, with scorching guitars from Paul Gilbert (Mr Big) and Mike Portnoy playing licks that wouldn't be out of place on a DT record. The music is full of complex prog with superb musicianship.

Re the "Christian content", I think maybe people will find the "little man against the system/David versus Goliath" theme easier to accept than they did the "?" album. Anyway, songs about a corrupt Church will be meat and drink to many progfans! (think 2112, Operation:Mindcrime, etc...).

Morse, Neal: Sola Scriptura
Posted by Roger Silva on 2007-02-06 10:52:29
My Score:

Its really amazing how Mr. Neal morse manages to surpass himself on every record!
This is his best solo offering sofar. Try it; the music speaks for itself!!

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