(All Album Reviews by YESHEAD777)
Well, so much has been commented and debated about this CD on this forum and others-mostly for it's religious message. And why shouldn't it be? It is based on one of the most controversial religious figures and historical milestones in organized religion-Martin Luther and the reformation, by the most outspoken Christian PROG musician today-Neal Morse. To put that aside and concentrate on the music alone is possible because the message is so central to the album, as all of Neal's solo "Christian" albums have been, so I will try and touch equally on both:
1) ”The Door”- starts out hitting you in the face with an intricate and very dense piece of instrumental introduction reminiscent of Dream Theater, Spock Beard's Snow and Transatlantic-mainly "Stranger in Your Soul". Mike Portnoy shows right away he's back to his bombastic style most prevalent on One, and sadly missing on ?."In the Name of God" is up tempo, but not as fierce as the intro but has some of the hardest-hitting, blunt (and true) lyrics on the whole disc. "All I Ask For" and "Keep Silent" have great instrumental passages-most reminiscent of Snow's "Long Time Suffering", and "Open Wide the Flood Gates", but it's lyrics that sum up Neal's heart and main message: "This is all I ask for-this is all I’ve wanted to do, is to live with you forever, and feel the beauty of your truth, to live a life that's pleasing to you, you know my heart you know it's true. And from “Keep Silent”: "How can I keep silent when I know the truth? How can I stand idly by with the privileged few? I don't wanna be the one to bring the curtain down, I’d much rather stay at home and keep what I've found, But Jesus didn't call me to do what I would do, So how can I keep silent when I know the truth?" To me those lyrics say it all and make me not doubt the sincerity of Neal's heart in this project. The first epic ends with a searing solo from Paul Gilbert after Neal sings "I will write my words upon the door" Track 1 is consistently intense musically and lyrically, and while being in the same style as his previous 3 solo records, is much heavier, darker, and dense overall.
2) “The Conflict” - starts where "The Door" left off, with blazing fret work from Paul Gilbert and possibly the hardest section on the whole CD, reminiscent of "The Devil's Got My Throat" but much better. "Party to the lie" slows down some, but still has some great intricate moments and some catchy hooks. It gets really dense and intricate complete with angelic choirs going into "underground" which mellows things out before the brilliant acoustic/flamenco styling of Neal and Paul going into a great Latin rhythm in "Two Down,One to Go". Great track! "The Vineyard" ventures back into the heavy mode, and the track ends on a mellower note on "Already Home"(reminds me of Kansas). Another VERY consistent track for its length-maybe the highlight of the CD!
3) “Heaven in my Heart” - is a short ballad that sums up Neal's message not only for this CD but probably his whole philosophy in a nutshell. A very moving well-orchestrated song, but sounds a little out of place on this CD, and in the context of the specific story being told.
4) “The Conclusion” - starts out extremely heavy again with Randy George playing some incredibly fast and heavy bass notes, intense drumming from Portnoy (again), and some "sick" keys from Neal. Most of this song brings back melodies and sections all ready covered, "Clothed with the Sun" is very strong though, and things wrap up very nicely and majestically with "In Closing" which asks the question "Maybe it is you He’s looking for....."
Right now it's too early to tell if this is my fav of his yet. Testimony is the most personal, One is the best musically, and ? the most well-constructed. This has a little of all of those components and I have to say that Neal pulls off the harder edged stuff much better than I would have thought. And his guitar playing has really improved also. Regardless of what you think of his spiritual beliefs, he is, and always will be (IMHO) in this day and age the most talented musician in the PROG world! You owe it to yourself to get this album!
(All Album Reviews by BrotherJon#9)
While climbing the stairs on his knees in an act of penance, the reformation rebel, Martin Luther had an epiphany - "The just shall live by faith.” This was the genesis that ripped a hole in the very fabric of the Catholic faith and gave way to a new doctrine of love, compassion and forgiveness. Only in the theatre of “progressive rock” could this tale be more aptly brought to life. With Neal Morse’s 4th semi-secular release, the allegory of Martin Luther’s tale brings forth a pertinent and applicable CD entitled Sola Scriptura.
Clocking in at just over 76 epic minutes, Sola Scriptura is broken into 4 main works that effortlessly ebb and flow throughout the chronicle. “God is a God of love rather than a God of wrath” and with that I will abstain from criticizing those fans that lack the courage to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the experience of the music. This is Neal’s finest hour.
With his usual suspects of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums and Randy George Bass, Guitar (Ajalon), Neal’s trio gets even better with age. Guest artist this time out is Mr. Big’s Paul Gilbert on guitar. The opening track – “The Door” brings the participant up to historical snuff rather quickly through lush and intricate instrumentals that lead into the antagonistic tension of a Christianity that is askew with pain, suffering and corruption. Morse does well to set the stage early with this as it is visceral and serves as lingering justification for Luther’s actions. Towards the end of this piece, Martin Luther already begins his doubt in the validity of the churches actions.
“The Conflict” is a rocking, almost prog-metal at times as Luther challenges his own conscience to reach the truth. In a more or less narrative, Morse’s over-the-top priestly romp of ego gone astray ventures into an homage to Alice in Chains - Layne Staley – perfect! The band is at its most powerful finest here as they give release to the tension with Luther’s public opposition to the papacy and exile. The classic guitar solo in the center of this work is tender, touching and a wonderful segue into the despair of Luther’s rejection into the Latin flavored jam that juxtaposing underscores Luther’s being in hiding to continue his work. The track comes full circle with the church’s mission to squelch this exiled outlaw and Luther’s ultimate end.
“Heaven in My Heart” is the pinnacle of the entire CD as it is the transcending of Luther’s idea into the hearts and minds of all that had the capacity to accept it. The song is crafted expertly as it goes from dark to light. Taken out of context, this song may be written off as a Dove Award winner. “Heaven in My Heart” is so much more sandwiched between the drama of Luther’s fight and realizations. A simply beautiful track with some ‘Beatle-esque’ flourishes sprinkled about.
The closer, “The Conclusion,” beckoning from beyond the grave, Luther’s spirit paves they way, through a ‘prog du jour!’ Randy George has an dexterous bass solo amidst splashes of orchestral fanfare. Not to forget the prowess of Morse’s musical abilities, his arrangements, keyboard solos and opulent synth pads are at their finest! With images from the Gnostics to affirmation of Luther’s idea taking root in a solid and fertile ground of faith. Paul Gilbert’s lengthy and interlaced solos that retard to the end match the magnificence of the apex of the piece.
You might say I have thought all of Morse’s works fantastic as I have pulled out and aligned a personal connection to his expression of music and faith, so I may have a prejudice…..so what? Get over being too cool to listen to ‘Christian’ music and just listen….I mean listen as if it were a concept album about the hypocrisies of a corrupt government if that helps! Sola Scriptura is a definitive piece.
(All Album Reviews by Windhawk)
(originally written for www.prog4you.com)
God, he pulled it off!
Neal Morse is a household name for anyone who has been reading up on happenings in the prog environment for the last decade or so. Sola Scriptura is his 10th solo album according to his official discography, and his fourth prog release after he found his peace with God.
And therein lies a bit of controversy in Neal Morse's long history as a musician. Saying goodbye to his former life after becoming a personal Christian, and leaving his former bands Spock's Beard and Transatlantic due to that, made parts of the prog community a bit alienated towards Neal Morse. From what I've heard of his previous solo releases, becoming a personal believer changed the musical output from Neal Morse quite drastically, infusing his musical output with quite a lot of inspiration from the gospel scene musically as well as lyrically. And although these releases are all good outings, the gospel flavouring certainly hasn't been to everybody's taste.
On Sola Scriptura, Neal Morse tells the tale of Christian hypocrites taking the place of God in the olden days, as well as the personal battle of one man who has a burning desire to give God back to the people, replacing the worship-addicted hypocrites ruling people's life with God. The man in question is Martin Luther, a name that should be familiar for most people. And the musical backdrop for this story is good; actually very good. You can still hear the gospel influences here and there, but on this release there seems to be slightly less of the musical gospel inspirations than previously.
Opening the album is "The Door", a track lasting almost 30 minutes. The song has a strong 70's feel to it, lots of different parts to the song creating a wide musical variety. Binding the track together are melody lines and themes repeated directly or in variations, as well as the 70's tinge on instruments and vocal performance.
"The Conflict" clocks in at 25 minutes, starting off with a sound close to prog metal, and then going from one musical phase to the other, including a longer section with strong Latin inspirations, kinda Santana light. The sound of this track is closer to contemporary than the opening track, and binding this one together is done in the same way as the opening track on the album. "Heaven in my Heart" is a 5 minute long power ballad with gospel touches to it, with good synth work creating the needed tension and nerve to keep the track interesting.
"The Conclusion" ends the album, starting out with a prog metal sound before evolving to a very modern sounding mid-tempo prog rock tune, and then ending in a more gospel-oriented mood. Along the way, melody-lines and themes from the first three tracks are heard now and again, nicely creating a strong feeling of coherence for the album as a whole.
An album with as many long songs as is offered here, can be a quite tedious affair. But here, the songs are well structured. The musicians get to showcase their abilities to quite a good extent, but thankfully there are few or no examples of extreme self-indulgence when it comes to soloing and instrumental show-offs. Instead, the focus here seems to be on creating good melody lines and themes, keeping the listener interested even if he or she doesn't know anything about playing instruments.
Describing the music more detailed here isn't really feasible, as there are too many different sounding parts on offer on this release. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the keyboard is the dominant instrument on this release; so if you don't like keyboards, this album isn't for you. But for everyone else with an interest in complex rock music, this is an album that should be checked out.
It's not a masterpiece, but a good strong release without any obvious weaknesses in this reviewer’s opinion.
Reviewer: Olav Björnsen