|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By: Transatlantic|
|Record Label: Radiant||Country Of Origin: USA, Sweden & UK|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Transatlantic|
|Tracks: 5||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 75:51|
A twenty-five minute plus epic that breaks down into multiple parts to form a complementary whole. The dizzying array of time signatures and less than conventional song structuring. An equal emphasis on complex instrumentation and virtuoso musicianship. And, of course, the sophisticated and intelligent lyrics- the kind which cannot help but force you to think. All this is the accomplished handiwork of Transatlantic, a progressive rock ‘supergroup’ consisting of American vocalist/keyboardist Neal Morse (formerly of Spock’s Beard) and drummer Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater), Swedish guitarist Roine Stolt (Flower Kings) and English bassist Pete Trewavas (Marillion).
With its name as a reference to the fact that half of the group is American and the other European, Transatlantic got its start as a side project of individual members full-time bands and lasted until 2002 in its initial incarnation. On its 2000 debut SMPT:e, standing for StoltMorsePortnoyTrewavas, the group showcased its penchant for the mega-epic, as can be found in 31 minute opening track “All Of The Above”, while 2001 follow up effort Bridge Across Forever upheld the trend in coming in at over 75 minutes but including just 4 songs. Transatlantic temporarily disbanded following the departure of Morse to pursue a career in Christian music only to reform in 2009 and release its third album, the single track 77 minute The Whirlwind. Not to be outdone, Transatlantic returns in early 2014 with its fourth magnum opus Kaleidoscope, this time breaking down 75 minutes of music over 5 tracks, with two in the twenty-five to thirty minute range sandwiched around three others less than eight minutes each.
The focus on lengthy material, obviously, attributes directly to Morse, whose solo releases have included such epics as “The Door” and “The Conflict” (both Sola Scriptura and 29 and 25 minutes, respectively), “So Many Roads” (28 minutes and off Lifeline) and “World Without End” (33 minutes from Momentum). Question Mark, of course, features a single 56-minute 12 part song. While Kaleidoscope gives prominence to only one song credited to Morse, “Beyond The Sun”, the album’s remaining material was “written and arranged by Transatlantic” (as per the liner notes). Regardless, one cannot help but notice the influence of Morse’s signature songwriting imprint, both musically (again, in terms of the extended focus) and lyrically (well thought out as always).
The overall impression (at least from this reviewer’s perspective) suggests less of a ‘side project’ and more of a group that has been performing together for literally years- and highlights the cohesiveness and chemistry that goes hand in hand. This manifests itself from how it can be argued that Kaleidoscope represents a work at the very least equal to (if not better) than much of the output of the previously referenced groups. Yes, my opinion only, but one also cannot deny the influences of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Procol Harum and even The Beatles. And while Transatlantic has never been known for having a particularly aggressive sound - those that use the ‘progressive rock’ label as opposed to ‘progressive metal’ have the right idea - Kaleidoscope is not without its share of heavier moments either.
“Black As The Sky”, one of the albums more compact at just under seven minutes, captures some of that heaviness. The song proves rollicking in capacity, highlighting searing organ (and lending a darker aspect in the process) and Portnoy’s technical rolls and fills (a case can be made that Transatlantic finds him reaching his potential as opposed to the aforementioned Dream Theater). The remaining two shorter pieces bring a ballad based feel. The seven and a half minute “Shine”, in contrast, moves stilly and tranquilly its length to acoustic guitar. It also finds Morse and Stolt trading off vocally, with former bringing his trademark smooth and pristine style (and handling majority of the albums vocals) and latter an earthier and more soulful mid-ranged presence (and providing periodic contrast throughout the project in the process). Stolt also stands out with a lengthy run of his blues driven soloing. Albums shortest is the four and a half minute “Beyond The Sun”, maneuvering in even slower fashion to piano, violin and orchestration in equal amounts.
The two epics, “Into The Blue” (25 minutes) and “Kaleidoscope (31 minutes), come across fluid from start to finish despite the protracted length and complexity. Listenable is the key word at hand in that both hold up under repeat listen (based upon my experience) from breaking down into several parts, with five reserved for “Into The Blue” and seven “Kaleidoscope”.
“Into The Blue” opens its first six and a half minutes to instrumental “Overture”, which runs the gamut from ethereal keyboards to hard rocking guitars while calling attention to complementary keyboard and guitar solos. “The Dreamer And The Healer” takes the calmer tone as gently done guitars and keyboards lead the way, while a heavy set rhythm guitar provides transition to “A New Beginning”, as organ and lower register vocals establish a churning scene with an overriding seventies influence. Stolt again steps to the plate with an extended run of tasteful blues based soloing. Back to calmer territory as acoustic guitar solidifies “Written In Your Heart” prior to things reaching their climactic conclusion with “The Dreamer And The Healer (Reprise)”.
The albums title track opens instrumentally (also entitled “Overture”) as up-tempo piano and driving guitars set the stage for “Ride The Lightning”, maintaining the spirited focus with its uplifting proclivity and over the top symphonic overtures. This one also allows Morse’s skillful keyboard presence to stand out. “Black Gold” combines a catchy chorus with moments ranging from the quieter to frenetic- not to mention allowing Trewavas’ bass to uphold the backdrop. The extended instrumental run that ensues gives way to “Walking The Road”, a Beatlesque ballad carried perfectly by piano and swirling guitars, and “Desolation Days”, also evenly done from drifting in acoustic fashion. The magnificent conclusion is reaching with churning but quirkily entitled instrumental “Lemon Looking” and aptly placed “Ride The Lightning (Reprise)”.
Transatlantic, obviously, are not a Christian band nor Kaleidoscope a Christian album. That said, Morse’s faith does not fail to come through in the lyrics- no, not forthright as his solo material but noticeable nonetheless. “Black As The Sky”, for instance, exhorts the listener to “Keep your eye on the light and hold your head high” while “Shine” advises “If the light of the world lives in you/Then no matter where you go/You can let the darkness know/There’s a little light left in your soul”. “Beyond The Sun” suggests “And we will live forever/When all is joined together/And we will live each day beyond the sun”, while “Desolation Days” leaves little doubt as well: “Out of the cry of every pain/From the realm of doubt and shame/That’s where God will lift us higher/There in our desolation days”.
Kaleidoscope adds up to a very good progressive rock album. If into past Transatlantic releases or Neal Morse’s solo material (not to mention the wide array of acts referenced in this review), then I cannot help but make a strong recommendation. Top of the line musicianship, versatile vocals and solid production makes for an even listen despite the albums 75 minute length. It is also time smartly used in that the lengthier material breaks down efficiently while that shorter helps everything flow together in logical fashion. Lone complaint - and this might be a stretch here - is that I wish the album had a few more heavier moments, albeit keeping in mind Transatlantic IS progressive ‘rock’ as opposed to ‘metal’. Still, it is to the albums credit that it is a potential top 10 album of the year candidate at such an early stage in 2014.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Into The Blue” (25:11), “Shine” (7:26), “Black As The Sky” (6:43), “Beyond The Sun” (4:29), “Kaleidoscope (31:53),
Neal Morse - Lead Vocals, Keyboards & Acoustic Guitar
Roine Stolt - Electric Guitars, Lead Vocals, Percussion, Acoustic 12 String & Additional Keyboards
Pete Trewavas - Bass
Mike Portnoy - Drums
Chris Carmichael - Cello
Rich Mouser - Pedal Steel Guitar
Daniel Gildenlow - Lead Vocals