Reviewed by Steve Best
Something of a historical piece now, this double (and - in the case of my limited edition copy - triple CD set, containing demos, outtakes and a couple of exclusive full-length treats) released towards the end of last year, and luxuriously presented, represented the last contribution to this fine prog band of front man, principal songwriter, rhythm guitarist and keyboard player (oh, and did I say, arranger and co-producer) Neal Morse, before he decided to go his own way into the field of more overtly Christian writing and recording. With the gift of hindsight, it's pretty easy to spot the signs on the last couple of Beard albums, particularly 2000's 'V', where, as Neal himself admits, he began to let his true identity show without the compulsion to be quite so cryptic. On 'Snow' - a massive concept record which tells the story of an albino with special giftings who is misunderstood by all around him, but who eventually prevails after many hard personal challenges, Neal's Christian colours are nailed a lot more firmly to the mast. Tracks like "Wind At My Back", "Made Alive" and "Love Beyond Words" leave little to the imagination, to - as Morse himself would be the first to attest - the consternation of his band mates, one of whom is brother Alan. The music, as ever, is faultless prog-rock, vaulting joyously between myriad time signatures and achieving effortless changes of gear at just the right moments. The musicianship is top notch as always, with dazzling guitar and keyboard solo sections dotted around here and there, along with some deft and sensitive ballads, which prove that there's more to the mighty beard than rock bluster. Anyone with the barest appreciation of classic prog bands such as Yes and Genesis would find this modern day equivalent to be as good as it gets, and even better news is that Spock's Beard have already announced their intention to continue as a four-piece - with drummer Nick D'Virgilio taking over the vocal duties. I wish them all the best, but Neal Morse is a very hard act to follow, and as his swansong, it couldn't be a better tribute to a truly gifted - and brave - individual. Sometimes the word "masterpiece" is bandied around too readily. In this case, it is entirely apt.
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