NEAL MORSE — Sola Scriptura (review)

NEAL MORSE — Sola Scriptura album cover Album · 2007 · Metal Related Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Neal Morse has released many albums since leaving his progressive rock band Spock’s Beard, varying between rock, progressive rock, Christian worship (you read that right) and even a folk album. Sola Scriptura is considered to be Morse’s fourth prog album and it is quite the beast. As warning bells are undoubtedly ringing by now in the heads of a metal community, yes you’re right, this album does have Christian lyrics. However it’s not Christian for the sake of being Christian, unlike his worship albums, it is also a concept album telling the story of German theologian Martin Luther, therefore it has a purpose which is what makes this album more enjoyable for me, since I freely admit that Christian lyrics can really irritate me if all they are about is preaching.

The core band is made up of Morse (vocals, guitar, keyboards), his Transatlantic bandmate Mike Portnoy on drums and one Randy George on bass. Guitarist Paul Gilbert is featured as a special guest. Musically this album goes all over the place as prog is wont to do, with the guitars getting pretty heavy at times to the point that the riffs can be considered metal. In fact although Neal Morse is first and foremost a progressive rock artist, I can't help but consider some of his work, especially Sola Scriptura to be metal. Just compare the sound here to his work in Spock's Beard and the difference can be heard at once. If this isn't a metal album, then it is a very very very heavy rock album, one that I think will appeal to fans of both progressive rock and metal.

The album only has four songs on it and clocks in at just under 76 minutes. It’s three epics and one shorter ballad. The first two songs are both 20+ minute jobs, with opener The Door not much under a full 30 minutes. The Conflict (the album’s best song in my opinion), clocks in at 25, and the third epic, track four, The Conclusion, though slightly shorter, is still 16 and a half minutes. Each epic comprises of six sections. Since this in a concept album parts of the music are occasionally revisited between the epics.

I find myself really wanting to talk about The Conflict so I am going to do so. “Wait, what about The Door?” I hear you say. Well The Door is pretty good too, but The Conflict is one of my favourite songs of all time and I feel it showcases just what Morse is all about so I'm going to make it the centrepiece of this review.

Starting very heavy and with some tasty lead from Gilbert, there is something very spooky about The Conflict’s first movement Do You Know My Name? That is because there is a section which has a very Alice in Chains like quality to this movement, with the vocals sounding very like that of the late Layne Staley. If I didn’t know better I’d think that Morse had used his new found relationship with God to arrange a guest appearance from the ghost of Layne. I confess to needing to do a double take when first hearing this song. It has to be heard to be believed. Flowing into the next section Party to the Lie with one of the best prog transitions I’ve ever heard, the song gets a bit lighter and starts to actually feel a bit more Christian. I have no problem with this because it still sounds good. Later in the song there is some flamenco guitar from Gilbert during the Two Down, One to Go section, and some more heavy stuff in The Vineyard. In short The Conflict is like the very blueprint of what a prog epic (rock or metal) should be. Highly recommended that you check this track if nothing else.

Another notably section is The Conclusions opener Randy’s Jam, a bass solo with some wild keyboards as backing. Pretty interesting beginning to the end of the album. The whole of the Door, while nothing stands out as much as in The Conflict, is a pretty solid piece from start to finish. The Conclusion is the weaker of the epics, though by no means bad. In fact the whole album is of a very high quality, even the ballad Heaven in My Heart, which is a much more traditionally structured song in comparison, lasting for just over five minutes and sticking to a single style, doesn't come across as a piece of filler amongst these epics.

In conclusion this is easily one of the best albums that Morse has put his name to, and I am counting not only solo work in that statement but also Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic. I highly recommend this.

(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)
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