While I will not shy away from the fact that this album had been my first introduction to these now legends in the Prog scene, I have nevertheless succeeded in doing my research and am now confident in my understanding of the unfortunate situation that the band had found themselves in prior to writing and recording this their now seventh full length release. Rather than call it quits following the departure of their leading writer/performer/contributor, the great Neal Morse, the band decided to forge ahead and create an album that, though die-hard fans may denounce it, is unmistakeably a work that each member of the band should be proud of.
Like I stated before, my prior experience with this band had been very limited, so if you are seeking a comparison with previous works, look elsewhere, however, if you are looking for an unbiased analysis of a great Prog record, then by all means read on.
With Morse having always been the leader of the band, it truly adds to the experience of listening to this record as it is apparent that each member had an equal say regarding the outcome of the final product, as such would be the case in any band lacking a self-proclaimed leader. In any case, this quartet's persistence has paid off with an album containing enough elements to please genre fans both new (like myself) and old (like Corey) ;)
In an effort to remind all of their presence, the album kicks off with "Onomatopoeia", an extremely solid, as well as groovy rocker that also sees drummer Nick D'Virgilio accepting lead vocal responsibilities with excellent results. Whether displaying his aggressive side in the aforementioned opening track, or his sensitive side on the ballads "The Bottom Line" "Shining Star" and "Ghosts Of Autumn", his vocals always seem to adapt to the music with ease, while oftentimes incorporating elements from genres beyond Prog such as Blues and Pop (don't worry, this is not necessarily a bad thing) successfully preventing the songs from ever sounding stale or uninteresting.
Now to the music itself. Everything fits extremely well, with the rhythm section never faltering or stagnating and the guitars never taking a back seat to the rest of the instruments (though more solos would have been most appreciated by this reviewer). I chose to leave out mention regarding the keyboard work of Ryo Okumoto until now for I believe it deserves attention on it's own. Having only been partially responsible for synthesizer duties in the past, Mr. Okumoto now handles all aspects of this instrument on "Feel Euphoria" and I must say that he never fails in pleasing the keyboard enthusiast in myself each time I listen to this album. Well done.
As for this album's downfalls, they are few enough as to not pose any listening difficulties, though they are present enough as to warrant mention. The only real problems I have with this record would be in the Pop-ballad "Shining Star" and album closer "Carry On". While the former is devoid of anything that could be labelled progressive, the latter unfortunately tries a little to hard by incorporating trumpets, and strings with the result being a song too happy for its own good. However, these are only minor gripes, as there are so many quality moments apparent throughout this album that they easily overshadow any negative aspects.
All in all, this is a solid release with enough Prog action to gain the band some new fans in the genre as well as beyond it. Either way, I will be definitely be looking forward to this band's future releases with enthusiasm and anticipation; but in the meantime, there's an extensive back catalogue which warrants familiarizing. (Online December 15, 2003)