Well... how are you going to start a review of Neal Morse, I asked myself when I got the honor to review the above mentioned album. There are already a lot of reviews from the past that I have read from the good man. He has of course ended up in several projects, with and without his good friend Mike Portnoy. He has also been particularly important for his first real band, Spock's Beard. This band is referred to in many reviews. I have never understood what it means that people should always compare it. In addition, Neal is praised for his musical craftsmanship, as well as reviled because of the repetitive character one experiences in his music. I don't always think that is very objective, but okay, what is objective? That question would of course be interesting to take a closer look at. However, I think that it is not for Background Magazine or the undersigned to answer this question. I believe that I stick to the most objective assessment of the music and lyrics that Neal Morse wrote for Jesus Christ The Exorcist. The CD cover says: a progressive rock musical. I never really liked a real musical, but I do like progressive rock. So I am curious what Neal made of his Jesus Christ The Exorcist. But secretly, to increase the tension a little, first a look at the cd cover. The loyal reader of my reviews knows that I regularly tell something about this, and this time also. It must be said that the cover is special in simplicity, sober even. A kind of spotlight, which is dimmed a bit, shines some white and yellow light on a further jet black cover. Is it now a spotlight on something on earth, or is it light that shines from Heaven into darkness (earthly life)? Well, it is not that simple, because it is already open to several explanations. When we open the cover, we see Golgotha with the three crosses through a rock formation in the evening light of the setting sun. When I look at this, the whole theme revolves around itself. The way it is on the photo is impressive, by the way, you can see the emotion in the picture. Of course I could have known this for a long time, given the title of the CD, but nevertheless, this picture puts you briefly on the history of Christianity.
10 years ago Neal already knew he wanted to make a rock musical. However, due to all the hustle and bustle he has in making music with his The Neal Morse Band, Transatlantic and Flying Colors, the musical was in the refrigerator. Every year he organizes his Morsefest in his home church in Nashville and wants to do something unique for each edition. This was also the case for Morsefest 2018. He has written the story of Jesus Christ entirely in his spare hours and has turned it into a musical that he shows on stage at Morsefest. It must have been an atmospheric affair, because the cast is very comprehensive. In this review I will not mention everyone by name, then the review will certainly be too long. In terms of musicians, Neal has drawn from his The Neal Morse Band, only Mike Portnoy is not present and Eric Gillette plays the drums. He also invited his good friend Paul Bielatowicz to play the guitar. Paul also played on the Lifeline album by Neal Morse. In addition to music, there are many vocal roles in the story of Jesus, for which he has invited a number of people, apart from Neal himself of course singing. Among the party are Ted Leonard in the role of Jesus, Nick D' Virgillio in the role of Judas and Talon David in the role of Mary.
I want to invite you to sit down, put on a good pair of headphones, take the textbook and especially keep reading. This will only benefit the experience of the music. And yes, I know it is a long ride, the album takes about 110 minutes, but when you follow the instructions above, the minutes are gone in no time, I can assure you.
As usual from Neal, a concept album almost always opens with an Introduction or an Overture. In this case even both. Introduction opens bombastically, immediately opens all registers. And rightly so when Ted sings that he is crucified and whether God wants to forgive us people for our mistakes. Such a theme requires beautiful music. To let this message sink, an instrumental Overture is coming, again with beautiful, bombastic music. So that is called a warm and heavy welcome to this story.
In Getaway, choral singing occurs for the first time. And you will hear it regularly on the whole album. This is such a musical element we are not used to in our regular music we are listening to. For me it is truly welcome, it gives even more power to the whole.
Gather The People opens the theme acoustically. However, it becomes very solid towards the end of the song. The song closes with a nice keyboard part and guitar solo.
In Jesus' Tempation, the longest song of the entire album, it clock's just over the 10 minutes, you hear a lot of musical violence as well as resignation. The theme is that the devil challenges Jesus. It is really a whole, text and music. There is a lot of debate between Jesus and the devil (Ted versus Rick Florian). I think this is one of my favorite songs, so much happens and you experience so much emotion, as if we are present as a spectator. Great, great song.
Another song to name is The Woman Of Seven Devils, sung by the very talented Talon. She has a beautiful voice, very welcome and very close to how she leads her life, challenging, stimulating and reprehensible, she can truly sing anything. Nice to hear her finally ask forgiveness from Jesus. The song concludes with a guitar solo of about a minute and a half, with keyboards that makes it all rise to great heights. It may continue for a while if you ask me. Another great one.
Another song that deserves attention is The Madman Of The Gadarenes. A man is influenced by the devil and is cured by Jesus. The song really grabs you. You will be possessed and the demons will speak to you about what happens in a cappella, in Gentle Giant style. A very proggy song.
The first disc concludes with Get Behind Me Satan, a solid rocker with a wonderful carpet of keyboard sounds and a short guitar solo.
Well, we are only halfway through and have heard so much beautiful music and beautiful lyrics that are also performed by heavily talented singers, great!
In the style of Queen, He Must Go To The Cross opens the second disc. Again many duels in the music, so you truly can feel what is happening in the story.
Hearts Full Of Holes, the song from Judas, sung by Nick D' Virgillio follows. And dear people, turn the volume to very loud, you should feel what Judas had felt so many years ago. In terms of vocal highlights of the album, this is possibly the winner of the album. What a beautiful voice Nick has and how much emotion he put into his voice here, really, really incredible. Every time I hear this song I get goosebumps. When you also hear the Heavenly music, it touches you so, so deep, you can only become silent after the song. Yes, it is permitted to pause for a few minutes after this great song.
The Last Supper is also an emotional song because Jesus indicates that he will be betrayed by one of the twelve disciples. This song really revolves around the lyrics and you will be taken away again.
Gethsemane is a song with many proggy parts that are all related to the story events that are sung. This is also one of the highlights of the album musically seen. This is so Neal Morse, yeah!
Jesus Before The Council And Peter's Denial knows duels between Jesus and Caiaphas with ditto music. Peter's part of his denial is again so emotional, I get a lump in my throat when I hear it, heartbreaking.
In Judas' Death Nick sings again in tearing emotion. He so much regrets his betrayal that he only can committed suicide, what he does do. Really heavy stuff when you realize what he had to do.
Jesus Before Pilate And The Crucifixion. What is so beautifully portrayed in this song is the doubt Pilate has, sung by Neal, who sings with such fragility in this passage. When Jesus is led away to be crucified, the guitar solo goes through marrow and bone and we also get a keyboard solo in the hundredth gear. When Jesus dies, you hear the surrender in his voice as in the music.
In Mary At The Tomb, Jesus reveals himself to Mary and it all becomes good, positive and fine again, Jesus has risen. Love Has Called My Name is the song this beautiful work ends convincingly, the victory is here!!
Wow.... this has become an unprecedentedly beautiful album. Personally, I have always found Neal's themes very emotional, open, honest and wonderful to listen to. The way in which he does not opt for a regular album in this case, but has actually turned it into a musical, really has something extra. I have been a fan of his work for years and he has made music across the board, but I still think that this is his work that touched me the most. Perhaps it has also has to do with the theme. But whether or not you are a Christian, everyone should have this album in the closet. You deserve that as a person, because it is not going to get better than this, believe me!!
In addition to this review, I also had the honor to interview Neal. You can read the interview later on our website.
***** Michel Stolk (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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