The epic is still growing on me, it's very long. But I enjoy the title track and Thoughts part 5 very much. The rest is OK. I have to listen more, but i don't think it'll top Testimony 2, Sola Scriptura, ?, and One.
I'm with you - the first two tracks are pretty good, top-notch Neal Morse. I've also come to enjoy "Smoke And Mirrors", even though his pronunciation of "Mirrors" in the song is more like "Mears" (especially as he rhymes it with "years" and "tears" and other such sounding words). The epic IS really long, and I'm not sure if that helps or hinders it. When "Seeds Of Gold" came out, I was hooked IMMEDIATELY and it kept my attention all the way through, and this was probably Neal's first side-length epic without movements (I think, I *could* be wrong about that, but I'm pretty sure...) and so it stuck with me as a full single song all the way through.
I'm sure I'll grow to LOVE "World Without End" and after a few listens, there are some great moments and melodies that are memorable, but it still doesn't hook me like "Seeds Of Gold" did, which, to be honest, is so very unlike any other epic Neal has written before and since!
As for the other 2 tracks, they're alright. "Freak" is Neal's quirky piece, as he always seems to write one, and it's really varied throughout and has an endearing quality about it, while "Weathering Sky" is a pretty standard Neal rocker.
As a whole, the album is pretty good, a few steps up from Lifeline
, but parts of it feel like a step back from Testimony 2
, which felt like Neal was firing on ALL cylinders, as well as Mike and Randy. I don't know...maybe T2 just came out at the right time - after an album and tour with Transatlantic, and he was writing a lot of stuff at the time. For this album, Neal admits he didn't have a lot of material ready, so maybe it kind of shows? I think he didn't let his demos sit for long enough, and they were pulled out too soon from the prog-oven.
I suppose only time will tell how this one sits among Neal's other solo works, but as I've read elsewhere from fans, Neal does concept albums better, and while an album like this is not as full of "God"-this and "Jesus"-that, much of his work on his first 3 solo albums was KILLER compared to what we've gotten with Lifeline