Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Neal Morse - Lifeline
Musical Style: Progressive Rock Produced By: Neal Morse
Record Label: Radiant Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2008 Artist Website: Neal Morse
Tracks: 7 Rating: 85%
Running Time: 69:35

Neal Morse - Lifeline

Progressive rock veteran Neal Morse has gained critical acclaim in recent years for his conceptual based solo albums.  Testimony, the first from 2003, was a 2 CD set featuring over two hours of music that chronicled his spiritual journey in both music and words.  Returning a year later with One, the artist focused on man’s separation from God and how, through the salvation experience, man can become “One” with God again.  ? followed in 2006.  It featured a theme revolving around the Tabernacle that Moses and the Israelites built in the wilderness and that was later built by Solomon based on the same design that came directly from God.  2007 saw the release of Sola Scriptura, a seventy-five minute epic detailing the life of the reformer Martin Luther who is renowned for nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.  Finally, 2008 finds Neal presenting with Lifeline.  While “bucking the trend” by not falling within the concept album category, Lifeline addresses a wide variety of topics, ranging from faith and hope, plight of the evil one, reaching higher while being safe in the eye of the storm along with some biographical moments that hearken back to One.

Musically, Lifeline delivers a tasteful element of variety.  Neal’s trademark progressiveness – and the creativity and inspiration that goes along with it - is best found on the thirteen minute epic “Lifeline” and twenty-eight minute mega-epic “So Many Roads”.  The variety in question, however, comes into play on shorter pieces such as the guitar driven “Leviathan” and ballads “The Way Home”, “God’s Love”, “Children Of The Chosen” and “Fly High”.  Overall, the impression left by Lifeline is a work certain to appeal to fans of all eras of Neal’s career, whether it is Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic, the quieter, pop-based sounds of Testimony or more hard rocking direction taken on Sola Scriptura.

Neal continues to bring a smooth but powerful vocal style echoing of emotion and vitality.  The albums ballads, of course, allow him to add a poignant touch but some of the heavier moments here – “Lifeline” and “Leviathan” come to mind – find him stretching as well.  Ever the versatile musician, the artist proves effective in highlighting what at times can be a dramatic scene on keyboards (but never coming across overbearing in the process) while his guitar work, ranging from hard rock bordering in metal to crisp laces of acoustic guitar, is also skillfully done.

The low end backbone to Neal’s solo releases has always been handled by bassist Randy George (Ajalon) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and such is the case here.  The two, for a lack of better words, remain joined at the hip throughout the project with their sturdy bass lines and tight as a nail – but technical – drumming.  Some of the jam band elements on “So Many Roads” allow the two to shine, particularly George who provides a nice extended bass guitar solo.

It must be noted that guest appearances are made by guitarist Paul Bielatowicz (Carl Palmer Band) and saxophonist Jim Hoke.  Jonathan Willis fills in on strings.

Production wise, Lifeline brings the same high quality as found on the artist’s previous solo works.

The albums thirteen minute title track opens to a lengthy instrumental introduction upheld by a majestic blending of piano, hard hitting riffs, sweeping keyboards and occasional bursts of adept soloing.  "Lifeline" evens out upon reaching its first verse, smoothly flowing ahead only to pick up in pace for the second.  The brief but melodically tinged chorus – highlighted by a trace of organ – that ensues will keep you coming back time and again.  A spirited instrumental section featuring some cool keyboard and guitar interplay rounds things out.  Lyrically, “Lifeline” is a biographical piece detailing the desperation the artist experienced most of his life and eventual escape:

Suffering was nothing new
My days were few without a letdown
Something down there deep inside
Dissatisfied with everything I’d find

He gave me a lifeline right down to my soul
He gave me a lifeline that I might grab a hold
He gave me a lifeline when I was cast away
He gave me a lifeline right up from the grave

“The Way Home” comes across in the form of a ballad.  Acoustically driven its distance while interwoven with lush backing vocals and strings, the song proves a soulful number bordering in the emotional.  A heartfelt but complementary vocal approach from Neal adds the final touch.  “The Way Home” is a song of faith:


Eeking out fulfillment in a tiny plastic jar
There isn’t much to go around when you don’t know who you are
And I know that I am a child of God but he seems so far away
And it doesn’t seem to help me much when I kneel down to pray

“Leviathan”, perhaps the heaviest composition put together by the artist, represents a joining of metal laced rhythm guitar and funky horns.  And it works.  The song begins ominously with swirling guitar feedback in the distance before picking up in pace as an accentuating horn section kicks in.  Plowing through its first two verses in muscular fashion, “Leviathan” decelerates for a quieter passage sublimely sustained by keyboards.  The jazz-flavored instrumental section that follows builds upon the creative environs.  “Leviathan” details the plight of the evil one:

In the day of the Lord He will slay the sea monster
He will punish the dragon that rose from the waters
Out of the depths of the sea comes Leviathan
There will be no place to flee for Leviathan
One day we all will be free from Leviathan

“God’s Love” is another moving ballad in the mode of “The Way Home”.  An acoustic guitar also carries the song its full length, establishing an environment that is laid back musically and faith based lyrically:

The storms may weather, but He will never
God’s love won’t let you down
When you’ve fallen under
You don’t have to wonder
God’s love won’t let you down
God’s love won’t fail
He’ll never let you down

“Children Of The Chosen” proves a quieter piece amalgamating an acoustic guitar with a highlighting vestige of keyboards.  This one almost gives rise to a worshipful feel with its richly textured chorus and hope based message:

We are sunlight, we are golden
We’re the children of the chosen
We are sunlight, we are golden
See us dancing in the sun
We’re the children of the Holy One

A perfectly timed acoustic guitar solo helps put things over the top.

A Neal Morse album would not be complete without at least one epic and such is what we have in the twenty-eight minute, six part “So Many Roads”.  The song is biographical as it presents a candid account of the artist’s early experiences and his motivation to seek a new life:

The song starts its first five minutes to “So Many Roads”, a melodically driven piece supported its extent by an ample amount of keyboards backed by occasional traces of acoustic guitar and organ.  A soul that is searching is the subject matter here:

Cause there’s so many roads to nowhere
So many places I could try
But I feel there is one that will go there
One for me is really right
I’ve waited so long in maybe
Maybe its time for me to fly
And search for the one that will save me
That will lead me in the light

“Star For A Day”, taking things in a more hard rocking direction, stands out with its abundant driving riffs and blues based lead guitar- not to mention giving rise to a top of the line melody as well.  Keyboards move to the front of the mix to shore up a sweeping instrumental section.  “Star For A Day” talks about exactly that:

We’ll make you a star for a day
You’ll get so high you can fly away
Why don’t you put yourself into the play
I’m telling you son this is the only way
Be a star for a day

Quite an abrupt transition is made to the laid back “The Humdrum Life”, five minutes of acoustic guitar and jazzy saxophone.  A lengthy stretch of gritty lead guitar is added to a song talking about living life to the fullest:

Give up your silly dreams, live life fully
Come down the surest road, fulfilling is a fantasy
Dreams won’t pay your bills
You better come and be like me
This is the best way to be

An equally abrupt changeover is made as “All The Way To The Grave” kicks in.  Moving at a fixed upbeat tempo, this one represents another hard rocker with its guitar driven impetus and perfecting traces of organ.  An extended jam-band style instrumental section finds Randy George pumping out some resounding bass line.

An extended instrumental passage leads the way to “In The Eye Of The Savior”, an orchestral ballad carried by lush vocal melodies, ethereal guitars and just the right amount of symphonic keyboards.  A grand and stately chorus allows the artist to detail his new found faith:

Before your time is almost gone
Look in the eyes of the Savior
Turn your darkness into dawn
Look in the eyes of the Savior
Closing things out is a reprise of “So Many Roads”.

I find “Fly High” to be the better of the albums ballads.  A piano joined with orchestration takes the song through its first two minutes.  Picking up in pace as the rhythm guitar steps forward, “Fly High” grandly moves ahead only to again decelerate to a piano.  Paul Bielatowicz follows with a shredding run of lead guitar.  “Fly High” talks about being safe in the eye of a raging storm: 

Life like a razor can shave you clean
Or it cuts in a moment to leave you to bleed
And in fear you have settled for what you have found
You’re safe, you’re comfortable, but your stuck on the ground

Fly high, fly straight through the open sky
Give up everything you have for what you could never by
It’s time, if you seek you can’t help but find
What you give up you gain, you will be lifted high

Lifeline adds up to four great songs in the hard rocking “Leviathan”, epic “Lifeline”, mega-epic “So Many Roads” and ballad “Fly High”.  Everything else is very good.  With its tasteful variety and creative songwriting, Lifeline should appeal to fans of all eras of Neal’s career.  Musicianship and production represent other strengths worth mentioning.  Highly recommended.

Track Listing: “Lifeline” (13:28), “The Way Home” (4:21), “Leviathan” (6:06), “God’s Love” (5:28), “Children Of The Chosen” (4:58), “So Many Roads” (28:44), “Fly High” (6:31)

Neal Morse – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Randy George – Bass
Mike Portnoy - Drums 

Additional Musicians
Paul Bielatowicz – Guitars
Jonathan Willis- Strings
Jim Hoke – Saxophone

Also Reviewed: Neal Morse – One, Neal Morse - ?, Neal Morse – Sola Scriptura


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