Reviewed by Anthony Longville
Over 75 minutes of music, divided into just four tracks, two of which soar over the 25 minute mark and kicking off with a rocking five minute intro. Musical themes are repeated throughout. This is Neal's fourth solo progressive rock CD, since quitting the helm of Spock's Beard. Here the sound is built around a four man band. Morse and his regular collaborators Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums and Randy George (Ajalon) on bass are joined on this occasion by the lead guitar of Paul Gilbert (Mr Big). The resultant sound is unmistakeably Neal Morse, although the steady progress over the last few albums to a generally heavier sound continues on its course. Hard rocking mixed with gorgeous melodies. There are a number of sections which hark back to earlier Morse works, for example "All I Ask For" and "Long Night's Journey" evoke memories of the Beard's 'Snow'. Modern 'prog' is not ashamed to show its respect for its musical roots either, and "Upon The Door" is cleverly built around the simple repeated opening chords of Genesis' 1972 classic "Watcher Of The Skies". A very tasteful tribute. It's a huge and superbly executed soundscape, the musicianship again of the highest calibre. But then one has to turn to the subject matter and the lyrical approach here. It is several months since I first read Neal's announcement that he was working on a new rock album, and that that album would controversially deal with the true Church and the false Church. Such an announcement filled me with a certain unease which I still struggle with as I listen to this. As many will probably not be surprised to know from the album title, this is a concept piece based on the life of Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, as he stood against the corruption of the Church of his day. The controversy is on two levels. In the early days of the project Morse was made aware of a side to Luther which was previously unknown to him, about anti-Jewish statements made by Luther in his later life. I suspect most Protestants like me were unaware of such things, but are aware of the all important emphasis on salvation by faith not works. Morse admits in his liner notes that he had considered scrapping the work, but wanted to stress the way "God used [Luther] to protest false religion" "is still a good example of courage and boldness for a godly cause." On the second level, the Church in Luther's day was effectively the Catholic Church. There has been a lot of concern voiced on Morse's message boards that the album is anti-Catholic. I believe we have to take Neal at his word when he states, "I am not trying to point to only one church that needs to be reformed, but rather that we should ALL look at the Scriptures afresh." That's a sentiment I think probably all of us would agree with. But at times the talk of whores and dragons makes for very uneasy listening. Difficult sometimes to know where the language of Luther ends and the commentary of Morse begins. But again I come back to the challenge - taken from the closing words on 'Sola', "God can change the world with just one willing soul.maybe it is you he's looking for." Listen and be challenged.
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