|Musical Style: Progressive Hard Rock||Produced By: Neal Morse|
|Record Label: Radiant||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2007||Artist Website: Neal Morse|
|Tracks: 4||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 75:58|
Sola Scriptura, the most recent solo outing from former Spock’s Beard vocalist and keyboardist Neal Morse, is his fourth conceptual work in as many efforts. His 2002 release Testimony, for example, was an aptly titled two CD set that chronicled his spiritual journey set in both music and words. Following up in 2005 with One, Neal detailed man’s separation from God and how, through the salvation experience, man can become “One’ with God again. ? came out in 2006. It focused on the Tabernacle that Moses and the Israelites built in the wilderness and that was built by Solomon based on the same design that came directly from God. On Sola Scriptura Neal again deals with historical themes, this time concentrating on the life of the reformer Martin Luther who gained renown for nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. The albums concept is centered around how “Sola Scriptura”, the assertion that “scripture alone” is the primary and absolute source of authority and how the Bible is infallible, is a foundational doctrinal principal of the Protestant Reformation upheld by Luther.
Sola Scriptura finds the artist delivering another progressive based epic. And epic is the key word here in that the album comes in at over seventy-five minutes but features just four songs. The opening track “The Door” (29:14) gives way to “The Conflict” (25:00), while the shortest piece here, “Heaven In My Heart” (5:11), is followed by “The Conclusion” (16:34). It must be noted, nevertheless, that the albums three lengthier numbers are not long, meandering compositions in that they each break down into six “sub-songs” that logically – the key word here – flow from one to the next. (This is something Neal also did on One.) Unlike his previous efforts, however, on Sola Scriptura Morse steps it up a notch and heads in progressive hard rock territory. Just check out the driving riffs reinforcing the instrumentals “Introduction” and “Re-Introduction” in addition to the instrumental based openings to “Mercy For Sale” and “Keep Silent”. “Do You Know My Name?” and “The Vineyard” both rock with authority as well. The album, on the other hand, does feature its share of quieter moments. “Two Down, One To Go” and “Already Home” both reflect an acoustic based rock influence, while “Keep Silent” is a laid back, bluesy rocker. Several ballads are allowed to stand out, most notably “All I Ask For” and “Underground”.
Neal, of course, returns with his powerful but poignant lead vocal style, highlighting each track with just the right amount of emotional touch. His work on keyboards cannot be overlooked either in that he brings out the best – without coming across overriding – of what at times can be an environment bordering on the dramatic. As a guitarist, he effectively adds the needed crunch to help move Sola Scriptura in progressive hard rock territory. The duo of bassist Randy George (Ajalon) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), who formed the backbone of Neal’s previous solo efforts, return to anchor the low end full and firm. George really shines on the fittingly entitled “Randy’s Jam” and Portney the instrumental “Re-Introduction”. It must also be mentioned that mega talented guitarist Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) makes a guest appearance by adorning “Upon The Door” and “Do You Know My Name?” with lead work that is nothing less than jaw dropping.
Due to an album concept that can border on the problematic if not controversial, I feel it is necessary to touch upon the lyrics. Topics addressed include a historical summary of the Dark Age church through the start of the Reformation, Martin’s nailing of the 95 Thesis to the Wittenburg church door, Revelation 18 and questioning blind obedience to church and state as opposed to God. I will leave things open to your interpretation, but, at the same time, the artist pulls no punches either; with that in mind, I cannot help but think he hit the nail on the head at the same time.
Production values, as one would expect from a Neal Morse project, are stellar.
Album opener “The Door” is a twenty-nine minute epic broken down into six different parts.
“Introduction”, part one, is a rollicking instrumental that stands in support of the artists move in a progressive hard rock direction. Plenty of rhythm guitar shores up this one along with occasional slower passages in which keyboards play a prominent role.
The pace abruptly tapers off as a transition is made to “In the Name Of God”. Gently moving ahead in a keyboard driven manner, the song gradually builds in impetus until the rhythm guitar steps forward to drive a chorus ensnared by a graceful web of vocal harmonies.
“All I Ask For” comes across in the form of an ethereal ballad carried its distance by a compelling blend of acoustic guitar and keyboards. A sweeping chorus puts in place an atmosphere of a serene capacity.
Momentum picks up as a lengthy instrumental section fortified by some blazing lead work propels things to “Mercy For Sale”. Slackening noticeably at the start of its first verse, the song is urged ahead by a crisp rhythm guitar until it evens out for a chorus delivered in stately fashion.
A combination of fiery and bluesy lead work sustains the extended instrumental section that ensues, the tempo slowing as the transition is made to “Keep Silent”. This one proves quite the laid back number as more bluesy licks and chops holds sway over it from front to back. A nice touch of keyboards is added as well, particularly during the songs gospel flavored chorus.
An emotional conclusion is reached on “Upon The Door”, a quieter piece that is gracefully upheld by a piano until Gilbert steps forward with a stretch of riveting work on lead guitar.
“Do You Know My Name?”, the opening track to the twenty-five minute “The Conflict”, reflects an all out metal feel in its guitar driven instrumental opening. Gilbert graces the scene with his fiery riffing, leading the way with a plethora of determination until a chorus of a substantial variety is obtained.
A calm and placid feel is reflected during the first verse of the mid-tempo “Party To The Lie” before the rhythm guitar flows into the mix to stand in support of its uplifted chorus.
The initiative picks up throughout the majesty filled instrumental section urging things to “Underground”. This one proves one of the albums gentler pieces as an amalgamation of acoustic guitar and keyboards holds sway over the song from beginning to end.
The appropriately timed flamenco guitar solo that follows is soon backed by a flowing Latin beat, the pace increasing as a move is made to the rousing acoustic and piano based rock of “Two Down, One To Go”.
The driving blend of rhythm guitar and organ that takes over sustains things throughout “The Vineyard”, a hard rocking track highlighted by its swirling keyboard solo and a chorus in which a keyed up environment is put into place.
“Already Home” brings “The Conflict” to its fitting close. Quite the laid back piece, the song slowly moves forward as it makes its way to an ambient chorus reflecting a tranquil and smooth sounding touch. Plenty of bluesy lead work stands in complement to the untroubled setting.
The ballad “Heaven In My Heart”, the shortest track here at 5:11, is slowly compelled by a piano until, following its second chorus, the pace picks up in a rousing manner to a subtle trace of rhythm guitar.
The sixteen minute “The Conclusion” is the albums final masterpiece.
An amalgamation of heavy duty riffs and pronounced bass lines shores up the instrumental “Randy’s Jam”.
The tempo slows to a piano at the start of “Long Night’s Journey”. Gradually gaining momentum throughout its first verse, the song culminates for a decisive chorus shored up by an underlining touch of keyboards. This one does a nice job of reflecting a classic rock feel.
The fast paced instrumental “Re-Introduction” showcases a hard rocking vibe as Mike Portney graces the scene with his intensely delivered work on drums.
At just the moment things build to a peak, a transition is made to the even sounds of “Come Out Of Her”. Establishing a mid-tempo setting, the song progresses in distinguished fashion as it mirrors impassioned touches its entire length.
“Clothed In The Sun” is a calmer piece that slowly flows in highlighting a notable melody along with just the right amount of emotional allure.
The minute long keyboard based “In Closing” does an effective job of wrapping things up.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Door” (29:14), “The Conflict” (25:00), “Heaven In My Heart” (5:11), “The Conclusion” (16:34)
Neal Morse – Lead Vocals, Keyboards & Guitars
Randy George – Bass
Mike Portney – Drums
Paul Gilbert – Guitars
Chris Carmichael – Violin, Viola & Electric Violin
Michael Thurman – French Horn
Rachel Rigdon – Violin
Hannah Vanderpool – Cello