Rock supergroup finds the best from all its members. Despite the restraint their prog tendencies still shine through. Wonderful stuff.

Label: Mascot Label Group
Time: 9 tracks / 64 mins

I have gone on record as saying that two of Neal Morse’s recent albums have been the best thing to happen in Christian rock over the last few years. That quality continues here as part of the rock supergroup‘s third (and possibly best) album Third Degree.

Comprising members who have also been part of bands such as Deep Purple, Dream Theater, Dixie Dregs, Steve Vai and Spock’s Beard, the band was assembled with the specific mission to combine complex music with accessible songwriting.

They have hit that target in the bulls-eye. Most tracks enjoy interesting time signatures that add so much punch to them, and there is such a wealth of compositional talent here, as well as playing expertise, that these songs are tightly constructed, averaging only around seven minutes in length (about a third of Neal Morse’s normal track length) - and they are immensely singable.

But while restraint reigns, there is no lack of passion. Just hear singer Casey McPherson’s feelings run riot in “You are Not Alone”.

Each track has its own qualities: with particular thanks to McPherson's singing, lead single “More” is particularly Muse-like (as is "The Loss Inside," where Morse has his Jon Lord hat on for the organ work). The immense “Cadence” starts as a gorgeously intimate track, laced with strings, that has Neal Morse's style running right through it, and then it builds and builds. “Guardian” develops too, starting with an open sound that let's Dave LaRue's bass shine, then features an extended bass solo later.

Elsewhere, we get three very different tracks: “Geromino” sets itself apart by its funky sound; the Beach Boys-influenced “Love Letter” is perky and Beatles-esque; while ballad “You are Not Alone” eschews complexity for pure emotional power, featuring Steve Morse's restrained, but effective lead guitar. His soloing on "Crawl" helps to make it a powerful album closer, too.

Neal Morse’s influence as part of this secular set-up is lower, but Christians will get the meaning of “Last Train Home” from lyrics like these:
“Watch it now as it comes through the station
Through every life I've known
I'll take a one-way ticket to a new elevation
I ride the last train home.
Don't be sad you're going home
Though the water has covered you
You'll stand and begin again
This is your genesis, your train to Jerusalem.”

This is a complete band, each member excelling in his role. The whole album can be streamed here

Derek Walker