Momentum is Morse’s seventh progressive rock release amid a slew of releases outside the prog rock genre. Needless to say, he is a very busy man. For this one, he once again garnered the talents of his favorite rhythm section, bassist Randy George of Ajalon and drumming icon Mike Portnoy formerly of Dream Theater. They have been his go to men for many previous albums, and for good reason. George more than handles his own on the bass, and Portnoy is arguably the premiere drummer of his generation. Adding to the mix are a load of talented guest musicians, including legend Paul Gilbert and an incredible newcomer in Adson Sodre. With musicians at the ready, and a burst of creativity at the beginning of January 2012, Morse and crew managed to pump out an impressive progressive rock album in a short time, slated for release on Sept 10, 2012.
The album opens with the title track, Momentum, and I feel it’s a very fitting opening piece. Neal had just finished a year in which he released Testimony 2 and a subsequent tour and album, I feel the title and tone of the piece is more than just an inspirational song, it expresses that it is not just a new album, but another step in his journey. The song is catchy and poppy, with some brutal guitar work by Paul Gilbert in the instrumental section, and it delivers on its premise, firing up the listener for the next step in Neal’s musical journey. The next song, Thoughts Part 5, is definitely the most intriguing song on the album, as Neal uses various musical and vocal stylings, intermixed with some inspired instrumental work. It opens with hard pounding chords, only to translate into soft, choir-like vocals. This mix is carried throughout the song, a tug of war between the beatific side of the vocals and the aggressive side of the instrumental. The main instrumental part is just awesome, with all three musicians hitting on all cylinders, especially Portnoy. I feel this is where his talent stood out best on the shorter segments of the album.
The pace changes for the next song, Smoke and Mirrors, a wrenching and soulful ballad. It is here where Neal is expressing his spirituality in an almost humbling way, and the soft guitars help add color to a beautiful piece. Weathering Sky has a good hard edge, but still keeps in with the album’s hopeful and spirited tone. The use of the more resounding choir-like tones of the keys is interspersed throughout the album, and really brings this aspect of the album home. The last song before the epic, Freak, is a playful expression of the constant enigma of what the true nature of Jesus is. I like how he expresses this in such a playful manner, it adds a slice of innocence to a message that is way too often pounded home, again taking the more humble approach to the spiritual side of his music, but that doesn’t last. Closing out the album is the epic, and what an epic it is.
Clocking in at over thirty three minutes, World Without End simply delivers, hard and strong. It starts with one of the best intros I have heard in a long time, a soft crystal tinkling that switches abruptly into forceful, epic notes, so as to express its presence with authority. The next six minutes of the opening segment deliver an instrumental that any prog band would be proud to have as a standalone on an album. All the great prog elements are present. The one that stands out most to me are the transitions, they are smooth and effortless on the listener, especially the one between the Introduction and the second part Never Pass Away. This is the segment I especially love. All the pieces work so well together here, and the chorus is just catchy as hell. As the different segments come about, the thematic element of the piece is revealed. Never Pass Away expresses an inner desire in all of us to find peace of mind, somehow, some way. As it moves into the next segment, Losing Your Soul, the myriad paths that we can distract any person from finding said piece of mind are explored. Neal makes no secret of his religion anywhere on this album, but here is where it is most present. The electric tone to the vocals, the grinding and rolling beat, and the almost machine like sounds express in a very efficient way the results of a person’s will gone unchecked, something that applies to people of any faith. When our will runs riot, our personality’s can dominate, leaving what’s important in the wake of destruction left by such a lifestyle. As it moves on, The Mystery gives a soulful and beautiful side of the epic, all while taking a deeper look into what the real source of the peace of mind we seek is. Bridging the gap between The Mystery and the next segment is another stellar instrumental, flowing into a blissful segment and yet another mind blowing instrumental segment. The pace of the song is relentless, just when you think it’s coming to a close, he instead pushes the intensity meter up another notch, truly an epic as epics should be done.
Overall, Neal once again shows why he such a force in progressive music, as he should be. Innate talent, hard work, many years of practice and experience, and working with some of the best names in the business past and present, can add up to little else. We can only hope that his momentum doesn’t lose any speed here, the progressive fan community is always eager for more Neal Morse.
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