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Round Table Review
Tracklist: Into The Blue [I. Overture (Instrumental), II. The Dreamer And The Healer, III. A New Beginning, IV. Written In Your Heart, V. The Dreamer And The Healer (Reprise)] (25:13), Shine (7:28), Black As The Sky (6:45), Beyond The Sun (4:31), Kaleidoscope [I. Overture (Instrumental), II. Ride The Lightning, III. Black Gold, IV. Walking The Road, V. Desolation Days, VI. Lemon Looking Glass (Instrumental), VII. Ride The Lightning (Reprise)] (31:53)
Basil Francis' Review
A lot has changed for the members of Transatlantic since 2009's The Whirlwind, most notably Mike Portnoy's decision to leave Dream Theater in September 2010. At Transatlantic's gig during the High Voltage Festival in 2010, I remember Portnoy saying that this show might be their last as the band members weren't sure when they would find the time to work together again. Fortunately, that wasn't the case, as is evident from this very special Round Table Review. It seems surreal that Kaleidoscope is only the band's fourth album as Transatlantic are more like an institution than a normal group. An amalgamation of four deeply talented musicians, Transatlantic are perhaps progressive rock's leading supergroup.
Sensibly, the band have decided to strip back from the excess of their previous album; at 78 minutes, The Whirlwind was certainly an ambitious track and a worthwhile experiment, but the relatively brief 25-minute and 32-minute excursions on Kaleidoscope come as something of a relief. These two epics bookend the album, just as Duel with the Devil and Stranger in Your Soul respectively opened and closed 2001's Bridge Across Forever. Might this become a Transatlantic tradition? The band's affinity for long pieces suggests that this might be the way of things to come.
It's true to say that I haven't been the greatest fan of the band members' side projects over the last few years, e.g. Flying Colors, Edison's Children and The Flower Kings, so I was naturally rather worried that Kaleidoscope wouldn't engage me in the way previous Transatlantic albums did. Any doubts I may have had about this album were washed away within the first few minutes of Into the Blue, when the band launch into a ballistic instrumental that features some of Portnoy's best drumming this side of his split with Dream Theater. It's harder and grittier than I would have expected, and is thus a complete surprise as well as a real treasure to listen to.
Once the band move away from this Close to the Edge style introduction, they move into a driving hard rock theme, which underpins spotlight solos from both Roine Stolt and Neal Morse. Morse in particular deviates from the norm and provides an unusual but memorable solo that represents the best in progressive rock musicianship. It's an utterly thrilling ride.
After the exhilaration of the overture, the band calm things down so we can start the piece proper. As with all their best epics, Transatlantic find a thoroughly hummable chorus - in this case about The Dreamer and the Healer, whoever they might be - and feature it at several strategic points throughout the course of the track. In the intervening time, Transatlantic proffer a funky number titled A New Beginning, with vocals from Stolt and Portnoy, before starting on a lengthy instrumental that highlights the band's skill at managing their dynamics, slowly building up to a loud climax over the space of several minutes. Pete Trewavas is the man to listen to here as his understated bass lines change ever so slightly with each repetition of the riff.
During an atmospheric interlude, some unfamiliar vocals enter the mix; it's none other than Daniel Gildenlöw singing the chorus again! What a voice he has too, delicate and full of emotion, and it seems as if he is only just able to reach the high notes. His joining the band as a special guest on the album will come as no surprise to those who saw Gildenlöw play all manner of instruments on the band's Whirld Tour in 2010, becoming the unofficial fifth member of the band [Daniel also fulfilled this role on the band's 2001 European tour - Ed.]. Clearly the band wanted him to have a larger role ready for the upcoming tour but in the mean time Gildenlöw has unfortunately been hospitalised, although sources say he should be ready to attend the Progressive Nation at Sea festival.
The band eventually find their way back to the start, after yet another powerful instrumental, and bring it home with a full on reprise of The Dreamer and the Healer, ending in true symphonic style. I can't remember the last time I devoted five paragraphs to a single song, but Into the Blue might just be Transatlantic's most complete and cohesive song to date, and shows that the band are still very much at the top of their game. At just 25 minutes, it's also one of their shorter epics, and for this reason feels much snappier.
The band need a breather and so do we, so between the two large pillars that bookend the album are featured three shorter tracks, the total running time of which doesn't even come close to the length of Into the Blue. Beginning the triptych is Shine, Transatlantic's obligatory pop ballad in lieu of We All Need Some Light from SMPTe which acts as the band's "lead single". I have to admit, I prefer its predecessor, but Shine does have its moments, especially during the guitar solo, and with the reprise of The Dreamer and the Healer carefully concealed in the outro.
Black as the Sky is much more peppy, and more what you'd expect to hear from a prog band. This speedy track is guaranteed to rock the house, and I can foresee the instrumental being stretched and improvised over in concert. In its studio form, the instrumental is where the meat of the track lies, with numerous time signature changes and quirky eddies.
There is an odd symmetry to the album. Just as Shine acts as an epilogue to Into the Blue, the next track Beyond the Sun could be seen as a prologue to the final track, Kaleidoscope; besides the segue, they both share a melancholic theme, played on the cello. The comparisons don't end there; while Shine reflects We All Need Some Light, one can also remark that Beyond the Sun sounds very similar to Bridge Across Forever in that it is acoustic, melancholy, and - I hate to say it - rather dull. It only really works if you listen to it as the introduction for the next track.
Kaleidoscope marks a return to the epic style the band are known for. Once again, the band find themselves a hummable chorus in Feel the Lightning, and then go off and do something else for a bit. It's fun for sure but unlike Into the Blue, Kaleidoscope begins to meander rather quickly, losing the track's momentum, especially with the contrasting airy piece Walking the Road which feels like it's been taken right from the '60s! Only in the 21st minute, when all hope has been lost, does the piece finally start to close in on itself, with a reprise of the chorus.
When this happened the first time I actually sat up for it was as if Transatlantic were reading my mind. Suddenly focused on the piece, I became mesmerised as they launched into one of the most impressive instrumentals on the album. Densely layered and very complex, this is exactly what fans of Transatlantic have come to expect from their favourite band. Afterward, time for one last reprise of Feel the Lightning followed by a symphonic fade-out. A fade-out? Not the way I'd end the album!
With Kaleidoscope, Transatlantic prove that they are still progressive rock's #1 supergroup. The opening epic Into the Blue is certainly one of the band's best tracks; this is how long songs should be done! Even more remarkably, however, I've found this to be one of those rare albums where each listen brings to light more and more fascinating details and surprises in the music, increasing the album's longevity. My main criticism is of the title track itself, which could do with having some of its fat trimmed. Nevertheless, for a band entering their fifteenth year, it's astonishing that they still manage to remain on top and yet the proof is in the pudding. That pudding is Kaleidoscope and you really ought to try it.
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
This is the first new release in the prog spectrum that I have heard so far this year and if this is anything to go by then 2014 could be another very good/classic/vintage year for prog. That could be a tall order as last year was especially good in my opinion.
So here we are with Transatlantic's fourth studio album in some 14 years since SMPTe all those years ago and I have to say it's a bit of a blinder. Quite how four musicians who are as busy as these are manage to factor in time to write, record and produce anything is astounding in itself but the sheer class and quality of what is on offer here is impressive to say the least.
There are just five tracks on this CD with a running time of over 76 minutes so, yes, you've guessed it, there are a few "epic" songs on here. Two actually; the opening and closing tracks with three shorter, but no less impressive, songs in between the epic sandwich as it were.
I'm going to address these shorter tracks first and then the "epics" at the end.
Shine is the first of these and it's in a similar vein to We All Need Some Light or Bridge Across Forever, opening with a gentle acoustic strum and a heartfelt vocal from Neal Morse. It has a wonderful chorus, Roine Stolt sings part of the second verse and after that gorgeous chorus. There is a great Stolt guitar motif and solo and it's a very organic sounding song. They even made a video for it.
Next up is Black as the Sky which is a much more traditional sounding Transatlantic track with Neal's synths juggling a merry melody line, Pete Trewavas' bass and Mike Portnoy's drums propelling things along with a Roine Stolt vocal. This is a pretty furious piece all told, the mid-section features a surging bass motif over which synths are laid before a brief keyboard frenzy ensues. That surging bass keeps pumping out a steady groove, ably propelled by Mr Portnoy's drums, and then onto a Stolt solo before picking up the chorus again. Glorious stuff indeed.
the last of the shorter tracks is Beyond the Sun which opens again with atmospheric keyboards and again there's a fine heartfelt melody and vocal from Neal, singing of how much of life we don't understand and of how we leave a handprint in the sand. It's a song about loss and the purpose of life. There are some great guitar parts in this song, simple but so effective in creating the atmosphere around this short piece.
So to the epics then...
Firstly, there is Into the Blue at a jaunty 25:13, opening with keyboards and guitar tones against which a mournful cello plays before more majestic keyboard and guitar lines emerge. And then we are into an opening section that twists and turns like a high-powered car on a switchback, all very heady stuff indeed - and this is only the opening five minutes! There is lots going on, with some fabulous ensemble playing with everyone really going for gold on this opening salvo. Then at the 3:48 mark Roine Stolt starts to soar followed by Neal Morse and then by Roine again. The whole band then join in for an ensemble passage before the 6:35 mark where the song section begins.
Well the vocals come in from Neal Morse, talking about the colours of summer and winter, before a further guitar break at 9 minutes. Then there's keyboards before a spoken vocal (possibly Mike Portnoy - but it seems slowed down whoever it may be) and at 13 minutes a longer Stolt guitar break underpinned by the rest of the band. As always there is some great support from the rest of the band that makes this album sound so "alive".
At 18 minutes an acoustic guitar comes in along with the vocals and then some great harmonies, from everyone it seems, before a keyboard motif emerges and the whole band join in for the final segment. Once again a previous melody returns and is expanded upon before at 21:35 it changes into a more sprightly, jaunty and bouncing melody until the vocals come back in for the last time with a guitar leading the song out, keyboards joining in as the song closes on atmospheric sustained chords and guitar tones.
It's a great piece and a fabulous opener and statement of intent to boot.
At the other end of the album we have the other epic piece, Kaleidoscope, the title track of the album and the longest track at some 31:54 (I've got CDs shorter than this track alone!). It opens with a muscular riff and Kansas sounding keyboards before at the 4:30 mark in comes Neal's vocals telling us to "ride the lightning", this followed by Roine's first guitar break and then at the 9:40 by his vocal and a prolonged instrumental ensemble section by the whole band.
At 14 minutes comes what sounds like Pete's voice then a brief and triumphant sounding keyboard line before his voice sings "what can I do to find myself?". Cello returns, mournful and emotive, before the band join in with the underlying and recurrent motif. Neal's solo voice and acoustic guitar then come to the fore before a delicate backing along with harmony vocals and extended keyboard and guitar led passages. We then return to the striking melody that runs throughout the piece, however this time with more vocals added at the end, and then the piece plays out over an extended instrumental outro.
Once again this is a classic lengthy Transatlantic piece and is every bit as good as what has gone before.
So there you have it, 29th January 2014 sees the unveiling of this wonderful CD and If you like what Transatlantic have done previously then no doubt you will want one of the Special Editions that are available, but whatever format you choose I would strongly recommend this release as it is every bit as good as previous efforts and shows a further progression and growth of the cohesiveness and chemistry that Messrs Stolt, Morse, Portnoy and Trewavas share when they gather under the Transatlantic banner.
For this one the gauntlet has been thrown down...
Marcel Hartenberg's Review
So here we welcome Messrs Portnoy, Stolt, Morse and Trewavas back once again, bringing forth a new album. No real need for an introduction as those four all have made their marks in the universe of prog. Still, should you have travelled beyond the stars and back or just missed out on the whereabouts of these ocean crossing musicians, here are Mike Portnoy, the founder and once drummer of Dream Theater now playing in various other settings, The Winery Dogs being one of his latest endeavours; Roine Stolt, The Flower Kings main man who also used to play in Kaipa, way back when; Neal Morse, the man who brought The Beatles into prog and was co-founder of Spock's Beard, now enjoying a solo career; and certainly not least, Pete Trewavas, the bass player that set fire to Forgotten Sons, The Invisible Man, Power and all those other fine tunes by Marillion. Not your average bunch of guys, moreover the crème de la crème in the prog universe as we know it.
Remember the world as pictured in Avatar? Just picture yourself flying, circling above the trees and gazing down. The first two minutes of the Overture of Into The Blue feel just like the scenes where we get to soar above the imaginary world. And then, all of a sudden, not quite like the movie, a forward look warns of the dangers ahead, as does the music. A sound not unlike recent Deep Purple. Mike Portnoy drumming frantically away, Roine and Pete bend their strings as though they are warding off a company of enemy tanks and Neal joining in to diverts the attackers with keyboard sounds that have it all to overcome. Then of course the peaceful sounds again beckon.
That was just the overture. As The Dreamer And The Healer starts, one of the Transatlantic trademarks shows itself in full bloom; lush sounds and Neal Morse singing, by now the Transatlantic, Beard and Morse followers will all be full of joy and rightfully so. It is not necessarily the inventiveness of the song that does the trick, it is the way that Transatlantic get their songs working.
The number of bands that know how to write epics that really work is not that large, yet Transatlantic surely rank among them. It's in the way the melody flows, the right choice of the keys in the textures and then of course there is Pete's growling bass and Mike's free drumming. No overt exposure of technical qualities, just a matter of let the music do the talking. Yet there is more to Into The Blue than merely the Morse touch. Roine joins in on guitar and voice and we get another switch in the song that then takes another turn as Daniel Gildenlöw, of Pain of Salvation fame, gets to sing a part. And my, for those already enthralled by his voice, here Daniel really shines. No pun intended though, despite the title of the album's second song being Shine. Before we get to that, there is the reprise of The Dreamer And The Healer and the 25 min+ song ends in a good old fashioned grandiose way, ultimately recreating the loveliness that started it all.
What we get in Shine is Transatlantic offering their positive thoughts on life. Even though this may be very much linked to Neal's beliefs, there is no denying that the spiritual feel that the song has is shared by all the members of Transatlantic. All is in balance here, rhythm section, choruses, lead vocals shared by Roine, Neal and Mike in the Beatle-esque middle part. Roine adds a very beautiful solo to the song which manages to send shivers up and down this reviewer's spine, never overdoing it. We All Need Some Light from SMPT:e springs to mind as a reference. Picked as a single, it might attract more people than just the prog audience. A nice touch is another reprise of The Dreamer And The Healer just before the song ends.
Black As The Sky opens on a rumbling bass, thundering drums and keyboards and guitars sending us on our way, marrying a feel like Genesis' In The Cage with that of Marillion's Market Square Heroes. The keyboards give Black As The Sky a very playful mood, while Pete's bass, the vocal parts, the drums and the guitar rather add the more hard rocking, driving sense to the song. Lyrics telling us "They tell who will live, who will die" and an ominous feel enters the scene.
Have no fear, for Neal, backed by only piano, guitar and cello, treats us to Beyond The Sun which is very much a Neal Morse ballad. The title reflects the Spock's Beard song The Distance To The Sun, as does the music for a bit, but the Bridge Across Forever title track also flashes by. A nice second ballad.
Then we get to the aptly named Kaleidoscope, a song with as many variations to it as you would see when looking into an actual kaleidoscope. Where the opening song might rely on recurring themes, this one is more about adventure, twisting and turning at every corner whilst still very much retaining a coherent feel in the song and in the band interplay. The seven part song shows a lot of the influences of the Transatlantic guys but what it mostly does is show that four creative talents can do a lot more with those influences than merely recreating what has been done before. Kaleidoscope is very much 2014 and brings out the best in all of them. And that's not even going into the details of the song. But I'm not doing that either, this is one to experience. Suffice to say that there's a lot happening, it is quite the kaleidoscope! Pete gets another chance at the mic and treats us to his more than considerable bass skills, Neal and Roine sound even more in balance sharing vocals than ever before, not only in this song but on the album as a whole as well, and Mike's drumming skills - his technique never being in question - really do a great job here: no technically overdoing it, rock solid when necessary and just letting his drumming flow on the other parts.
Even though I may not be a Transatlantic addict at all, Kaleidoscope really is a great album. The fact that the songs keep repeating in my head and demanding attention show that it actually truly works as a 'Kaleidoscope'. I keep hearing new things. So be it, certainly we know that these guys can play and, yes, familiar terrain may be covered along the way but Transatlantic still show that band spirit can take you a long way in crafting some great songs and have us listeners enthused by the way they let us journey through the kaleidoscope they have created. A fine, fine album.
Guillermo Palladino's Review
And finally I have my first opportunity to review an album from a band that has fully deserved the “Prog Rock Supergroup” tag that they received with their first release, SMPT:e in 2000. I remember that year, I was rediscovering a lot of music and listening to several bands that were new to me at that time, and this project was a huge surprise because of their line-up, consisting of members from some of my favorite bands (Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard and Marillion). What was expected to be a side project from their regular bands became one of the most powerful groups in the world, and despite the pedigree of the bands where these players made their names, I've felt that Transatlantic has balanced its respective musical influences and styles even if for me the leaders of its direction are Roine Stolt and Neal Morse.
Overall I feel that this album is lighter than the previous one, obviously the 77 minute epic song The Whirlwind was a challenge for the band in a musical way, but also for the fans in the listening. The band is still composing in the long form for which the progressive rock is widely known but on first listening I felt it to be less heavy and I identified clearly arrangements that reminded me of their original bands' musical styles but perfectly amalgamated into a whole composition. A friend of mine listened to this album earlier than I and told me that "you'll like it cos' it is more of the same...". About the new territory the band is exploring in this new album, Neal Morse said:
"I think Mike played some jazz stuff to the guys. We got into some more King Crimson areas; there are some heavy bits, which are different from what we've done before. I got into some spacey stuff that was different from anything I've ever done before."
Well, let's have a look and decide whether my friend was right or not.
Into the Blue is the opening track, starting as an overture with a string arrangement that defines the main harmony of the song. Without any doubt the main influence here is the solo work from Neal Morse and The Flower Kings with huge keyboards arrangements, standing out are the use of Mellotron, organ and synthesizers. The feeling and technique of Roine Stolt's guitar mixed with the keyboards have the main role in this suite which I consider in many ways similar to the job done by the band in their early works. This song has the particularity that the "fifth member" of the band, Daniel Gildenlöw, has a main role, singing a full verse. My personal opinion is that Gildenlöw fits better into Transatlantic than he does into his regular band, Pain of Salvation. Anyway, a mixture of old stuff and heavier riffs that also reminded me of some Crimsonesque moments. 26 minutes of pure Progressive Rock flowing beautifully that won't disappoint readers of DPRP at all.
Shine is a more acoustic song, one from the Momentum sessions that Neal Morse thought would be a better fit for Transatlantic. And he was right, it is the calming moment of the album, like We All Need Some Light and Bridge Across Forever but with more arrangements and a great solo from Roine Stolt. These kind of semi-acoustic interludes became a trademark for the band and Shine isn't an exception. It is a very beautiful song with all four members taking part in the singing and became their first official video. Mike Portnoy said about this video:
"Here it is...the very first Transatlantic music video! We shot this video this past September in London the day after the Progressive Music Awards. What a beautiful setting it was to shoot in! Picking a song to do a video for wasn't easy as most TA songs are about 30 minutes...hahaha! But Shine was a cool choice as it's such a beautiful song with all 4 of us sharing the vocals. Enjoy!"
Black As the Sky is a great song, a crazy mixture between The Whirlwind, Suite Charlotte Pike and Devil's Got My Throat from Spock's Beard's Snow. I like the rhythmical approach of this song a lot with a duet between Trewavas and Portnoy, Morse's keyboard arrangements and organ reminding me Keith Emerson. Transatlantic in full intensity deployed along almost 7 minutes.
A string solo arrangement made by Chris Carmichael starts Beyond the Sun as a kind of soft song that builds to a crescendo combined with slide guitar from Rich Mouser, sounding like Steve Howe, and piano resulting in a totally athmospheric piece, but sounding like a Neal Morse song rather than a song for the band. Of course, this is a break, or better said, the intro that is needed before we start listening to the album's title track.
Kaleidoscope is the ending suite from this amazing record, a 31 minute epic song that results in a great mixture of musical influences and elements during the playing time, the band using all of their musical resources and skills in this great song. All the influences are present here; The Beatles, Genesis, King Crimson. The song starts with a great intro and an organ solo from Morse, and develops in a section that reminds me of Genesis and Spock's Beard's Walking on the Wind. Again Roine Stolt's amazing guitar brings us to the next section with a heavier riff with Stolt himself singing. Without any doubt the contrast between the voices of Stolt and Morse is another trademark of Transatlantic. Another fact is that Neal Morse's voice is one of the most representative of the Progressive Rock genre during the last 20 years. The middle section of this song becomes heavier, ending abruptly with some spacy rhythms like Pink Floyd's Us and Them with Trewavas singing the section in a more relaxed way with a Brit-style keyboard solo and Steve Hackett's stylish rhythmical arrangement and solo; beautiful. Another acoustic section starts, again very similar to We All Need Some Light but with more of a crescendo mood preparing us for the ending section of the album, led by an arrangement typical of the band with drastic rhythmic changes in a kind of reprise with the touch of albums like Space Revolver.
The Special Edition of this record has a second CD in which the band performs covers from several bands like Yes, The Moody Blues and King Crimson among others. I'm not going to analyse them because we already know that Transatlantic have the ability to give all their covers their own special rearrangements that pay homage to all their musical influences.
Overall, perhaps my friend is half right with his comment, but I have to recognize that I really like the way in which Transatlantic can foresee and manage their concept of progressive rock as a whole. This album has Neal Morse as the main creative force amongst the contributions of the other members, and this is the reason why it sounds a bit too flat, but I can't deny that it is going to be one of the most interesting releases of this year and I think that we'll have much more Transatlantic in the next few years. As usual, our kindly readers have the final word for this review and I hope they will be as pleased as I when they listen to Kaleidoscope. I'll recommend it without any doubt.
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Transatlantic Studio CD Reviews:-
|"With almost 80 minutes of music by four great musicians, there's much to enjoy for us prog-fans."|
(Jan-Jaap de Haan, 8.5/10)
|Bridge Across Forever|
|"The musical themes are stronger, the playing is tighter and even heavier. The use of different singers really adds to the charm of this band. Maybe the band should try and keep their longer pieces a bit more compact, because their biggest strength is the variation - and not the repetition - of material."|
(Rob Michel, 8/10)
|"This is not pure genius, but it is the band's best album to date and I do recommend it."|
(Ed Sander, 8/10)
|Previous Transatlantic Live CD & DVD Reviews:-|
|Live In America|
|"...it still gets a positive rating from me, although I maintain my point of view that this definitely isn't a must-have."|
(Ed Sander, 7/10)
|Live In Europe [CD]|
|"...the album does however get a recommendation, mostly on the high quality of the songs contained within, and the fact that as live albums go this is one of the better ones I’ve heard."|
(Tom De Val, 8/10)
|Live In Europe [DVD]|
|"The technical flaws aside, it is a must have item, and a great document of this band."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8.5/10)
|Building The Bridge / Live|
In America [DVD] (2006)
|"an ok release, which fans will probably enjoy, but it probably won't get many repeated viewings."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 6.5/10)
|An Evening Of Transatlantic|
Whirld Tour 2010 (2010)
|"Two defining comments where made which really stuck in my mind...Roine commented that, "the audience listened with their eyes", which I thought was such a precise observation. The second comment came from Mike, who stated that, "the motivation of the band is to make good music and have fun as their lives don’t depend on it".|
(John O'Boyle, 9/10)
|More Never Is Enough|
|"Despite the band's total error of judgement in releasing this album, I still support them fully, and hope they find it in them to record a new album - though perhaps they could return to the more manageable 30 minute format!"|
(Basil Francis, 6/10)
|Previous Transatlantic Live Reviews:-|
|2000:-||NEARfest 2000 (Review #1), U.S.A.||NEARfest 2000 (Review #2), U.S.A.|
|2001:-||U.K., Netherlands & Germany|
|2010:-||Netherlands & U.K.|
|Previous Transatlantic Interviews:-|
|Mike Portnoy speaking to Jerry van Kooten (2001)|
|Roine Stolt speaking to Dave Baird (2010)|
|Roine Stolt speaking to Gert Hulshof (2010)|