In the midst of my suffering
Lost at the core I turned away
When the illusion meant everything
As the winter of my dreams died down
I turned to hear a different sound"
One Word Review: Exuberant
How can a dream so far away become a blazing reality?
Prog Rock maestro Neal Morse delivers close to two hours of music, spanning two CD's, on this 2011 album. Disc One is a concept album based on Neal's own biography, which is also available in book form and Disc two has three stand alone tracks. Testimony Two is the perfect introduction to progressive rock.
Three words epitomize the album: Glowing. Organic. Dramatic. The music is all that and more. There is a feeling of exuberance and life while listening to the album and it brings with it, a deeply positive vibe. This is underlined by a life affirming story.
The band consists of Mike Portnoy on drums, Randy George on bass and Neal Morse on everything else. Mike Portnoy especially, stands out with absolutely inspired drumming. Several members of Neal's former band, Spock's Beard, and many others guest on the album as well.
I got into Neal Morse with his Sola Scriptura album and have not listened to his earlier works yet. Not having heard the first Testimony album (released back in 2003), I am unsure how much of a connection there is between the albums' musical themes (I'm sure there are plenty), but my experience with Testimony Two is that it stands completely on its own, without any problem.
Disc One is one long piece of music split into three parts and 13 tracks, with a duration of 78 minutes. It is a highly recommended experience to Take The Time, sit down and listen to the whole thing without interruptions. The immersion you give to the album this way is rewarded tenfold toward the end. The album takes on a life of its own and feels like a real journey with a beginning, struggle and conclusion. Neal's life is laid bare, and the listener is given access to the inner core of his soul. Whether you will like this or not will most likely depend on your own personality. For me the emotional approach works. It works because everything is done in a 100% convincing way. Neal dares to use his voice to wring out every last drop of emotion from whatever he is singing, when it is needed, and he knows when to hold back, to give just the right impression of an inner struggle.
Though the whole concept album is one long piece of music, the individual songs have their own identity and each stands out in its own way. There are numerous parts through the album, I look excitedly forward to hearing with each listen, and that is a pretty big compliment, after having listened to this album as much as I have over the past two years.
Mercy Street opens in a gentle, melodic way and with an opening line like "Love knocked upon my door, one day" the album had me at hello.
With the instrumental Overture No. 4 the album soon turns in a more complex direction. From here on out the album weaves in and out of moods ranging from joy to despair, all brought to life by deeply emotional singing and virtuous instrumental passages. Music and voice work together as one in an amazing way. It is as if these two entities are synchronized to each other perfectly. The music underlines the lyrics, and whatever emotion the atmosphere calls for, the music is there to amplify that in a brilliant way.
It's hard to describe but especially Mike's drumming, which I already mentioned, is fantastic. It is as if he is hitting as hard as the lyrics call for. Take a listen to The Truth Will Set You Free for an example of what I mean. The songwriting is of high caliber, with a clear understanding of what works and what doesn't.
Ending the first part of disc one in a tear-inducing way, Jayda effectively gives life to Nighttime Collectors, which turns things on its head with a psychedelic vibe and then back again, with a hint of melancholy. Time has come Today goes for a more direct approach and has a strong drive and excellent melody going for it.
Jesus Blood slows down for an emotional ballad. I love how the atmosphere is stretched out with the "And I know, Yes, I know" line. It gives the song a very special vibe and much greater impact. There are some chilling moments in this song, but the most amazing thing is the feeling I get, when hearing Neal sing these agonized lines; it is clear amidst it all that he is squeezing every bit of joy for music into his singing. It's hard to describe but it can be heard.
Road Dog Blues turns the tide in a more positive direction with a bright outlook out into the unknown. The song is quite a specialty, with an upbeat vibe, an excellent groove and a brilliant ending, where a sweet piano segment gently sets the stage for It's For You.
It's For You is a pinnacle of the album for me. There is an incredible sense of drama in the song. The music is tense, with a strong sense of withheld power, suddenly being unleashed. It results in a truly joyous song, a revelation that suddenly explodes in bursts of bright color. Mike Portnoy's drumming is inexplicably brilliant here. Notice the way the drums take over and leads the song ahead in a full on charge. The chorus works as the melodic turning point of the song. It is one of those rare, chilling choruses, I am sure I will never tire of hearing. I simply love how this song delivers the message of going all in.
With Crossing Over / Mercy Street Reprise the album comes full circle with a convincing conclusion, one that is completely fulfilling and emits the strength of inner peace. It is really amazing how much this shines through on the whole album.
I find the personal lyrics fascinating and moving. What gets me is not the religious aspect, but the impression of this journey towards an unknown goal, through inner struggles, responsibilities, obstacles, love and doubt, only to finally reach a sense of deep inner peace. The lyrics make this journey come to life in the most beautiful way.
The above review has focused on the concept part of the album. The second disc has three songs, all of which are worth your time and serve as an added bonus. Absolute Beginner and Supernatural are melodic and direct in their approach. They have a very different feel compared to the songs on Disc One and are successful on their own terms. Seeds of Gold is a 26 minute monster, but a tender one. A highlight is the guitar solo by Steve Morse near the end of the song.
As I discovered on my first acquaintance with Neal Morse, on his Sola Scriptura album, he is a man of passion. That fact is even more openly displayed here.
Testimony Two disc one is a concept album that manages to combine lyrics, music and atmosphere into something that is complete. When this happens it is magic. I have that exact feeling while listening to the album, a magic happy feeling, which in the end inspires. This makes Testimony Two a rarity.
Written By Steen
Online: Thursday, July 4, 2013
It's For You
Monday, July 8, 2013 - Just Me
Part 1 is even bigger a challange as there are 2 discs of story (while T2 is only 1 disc with 3 non-story "bonustracks"). There are a lot of musical links between both Testimony-albums, that were introduced in T1 and resurface again here. Storywise T2 is more of a focus on a certain period of Neals life, while T1 gives a broader picture....while I am certainly not as religious as Neal, I can appreciate his coviction. And musically he is really unmatched in his field...so check out Part 1:-) (and if you need to know even more you can also get Testimony as an audiobook via Radiant records, Neals record company. As always thx for the nice pick:-)
Friday, July 12, 2013 - Steen
Thanks! You're welcome. The right path for me seems to be Testimony Two, Testimony One and then the audiobook. I was considering the hardback edition but the audiobook description on the website sounds really interesting. Listened to Testimony One for the first time yesterday by the way and noticed several familiar themes. Nice!