Neal Morse's first album since leaving Spock's Beard in late 2002 is quite frankly a shocker. Not a shocker in a bad way, no, not by any means. See, Neal left Spock's Beard to pursue his Christian "calling", and at the time he was unsure exactly what that would entail, and I'm sure many of his fans were a bit skeptical as well. After spinning his new CD Testimony a few times, I can safely tell you that Neal has not walked away from progressive rock. No, this new CD is as full of catchy, symphonic, aggressive, complex, and melodic prog rock as any of the recent Spock's Beard releases.
Testimony basically tells Mr. Morse's story, his new beginning in life. It's a poignant tale, one of hope and fear, but ultimately of one person's search for the allmighty, finding it, and rejoicing in the glory that this discovery has brought into his existence. Yes, the lyrics here are very religious in nature, but if you can appreciate this from a storytelling perspective, it does not come across as preaching at all. Musically, there are parts that are just as bombastic as anything Morse did with Spock's Beard, as rippling synths, organ, Mellotron, crunchy guitars, and a tight rhythm section are just some of the many nuances to this fine CD. Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy guests on drums, which helps kick up the aggression a bit, Kerry Livgren from Kansas guests on some guitar, and members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra add a nice symphonic and classical edge to some of the songs. Neal's voice in is fine form throughout, yet he seems to have a bit more passion this time around, perhaps to the renewed happiness that he is enjoying these days.
One of 2003's biggest surprises? It actually shouldn't be considering this musicians past history. We all can breathe a sigh of relief that Neal Morse has chosen not to leave the world of prog. He's just chosen to approach it with a different slant, based on his new lease on life. Highly recommended!