Australian Prog Metal outfit Acolyte has just released their impressive Entropy album (our review here). It even earned the accolade of being an ATB ‘Album Of The Week’.
Acolyte drummer Chris Cameron is clearly a man with immaculate musical taste. Without any coaxing or arm twisting, he’s decided to write a piece for us with his thoughts on the man who some (well…one) of us At The Barrier consider a musical genius.
There are few progressive rock artists in the modern era as prolific as Neal Morse, who alongside his various ongoing solo projects (and past involvement in Spock’s Beard) continues to put out albums with The Neal Morse Band, Transatlantic and Flying Colors.
I was first introduced to his work when my younger brother Ben showed me the opening sections of his solo album ‘?’ (2005), also known as the Question Mark album. Being avid Dream Theater fans at the time, this album popped up on our radar as it features guest appearances by both Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess. I was instantly a fan. In classic Neal Morse style, Question Mark is a long form concept album with songs more akin to different movements in a large-scale classical work or musical theatre production. Often drawing upon themes based on his Christian faith, for Question Mark Morse takes the listener through the old testament biblical narrative of the temple.
It was a combination of the freedom to explore a variety of dynamic musical styles, long-form narrative, grand themes and virtuosic performances throughout that really drew me in. His follow up concept album Sola Scriptura (2007) had a similar impact on me, but this time consisting of a darker and perhaps more emotional musical palette. Again, Morse was joined by Portnoy on this album (they have an ongoing musical partnership across numerous different projects), whose drumming style has had a large impact on my own.
Being a prog-rock-concept-album-loving drummer, there is always lots to enjoy on a Neal Morse prog-rock release: there’s often a big main theme or motif that recurs throughout, there’s the frequent use of odd time signatures, use of dynamics and different musical genres, long and expressive solos, big vocal harmonies, epic and emotive finales… His albums have inspired me to continue to press into the progressive rock genre and explore the possibilities of taking listeners on a journey through both a lyrical and musical narrative. I also resonate with working towards a prolific pace of music creation across a number of different projects and genres, mixing things up and not getting stuck in one particular sound or process.
It’s always hard to select favourite albums, songs or sections, although the two most recent albums by The Neal Morse Band, Similitude Of A Dream (2016) and The Great Adventure (2019) – both themed around the narrative from John Bunyan’s 17th-century novel The Pilgrims Progress – really showcase the musical variety, grand narrative and intricate arrangements that have become a hallmark of his output.
Touring to Australia for the first time in late 2019 to do a short run of solo shows armed with only an acoustic guitar and keyboard, I witnessed first-hand Neal’s obvious love for music, storytelling and joy in playing songs from his back catalogue to a small but enthusiastic audience. These character traits, which are also explicit in his recorded work, are infectious and continue to inspire me onwards in my own musical journey and exploration of the possibilities within the progressive rock genre. I’ve no doubt that some of this imprint of Morse’s musical style has worked its way into being a part of my own musical fingerprint, which together with my fellow Acolyte bandmates’ influences helped to shape and arrange our new album Entropy.
Here’s the Acolyte video for Resentment from the Entropy album.
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