The Sea Within - The Sea Within
Bonus disc: The Roaring Silence (8:00), Where Are You Going? (5:50), Time (7:12), Denise (5:10)
Patrick McAfee's Review
Publicity notes for the The Sea Within claims that they are less a supergroup and more of an "amalgamation of some serious talents". Whatever terminology is used to describe them, this new band consisting of guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt, bassist Jonas Reingold, keyboard player/vocalist Tom Brislin, drummer/vocalist Marco Minnemann and vocalist/guitarist Daniel Gildenlöw, certainly peaked my curiosity. The line up is diverse enough to expect something that is out of the ordinary. With that consideration in mind, the final results do not disappoint.
Stolt is a very gifted musician who's signature sound has often dominated projects like the Flower Kings and Agents Of Mercy. I rather enjoy some of the music of those bands, but I hoped that this endeavor would reflect the artistic input of all of its members. I am very happy to report that is definitely the case. Though there are some moments that are reminiscent of Stolt's previous work, The Sea Within's debut is a varied musical treat.
The prog quotient of the band is demonstrated more by the vast range of styles than the number of chords that they play. They throw a lot into the mix and the end results are always effectively accessible. No need to worry though as there is also enough musical complexity and creativity to satisfy even the most discerning prog fan. This includes musical nods to classic bands such as King Crimson, The Beatles, 10CC and Yes. I don't however want to create any idea that this album is an exercise in nostalgia. It can remind of the past at times, but the music to be found here is modern and vibrant.
It is a recording that takes some time to absorb but by the fifth listen, it had me. In fact, with a sincere sense of trying to avoid hyperbole, there is little that I can find to criticize about it. I hesitate to call out specific tracks because it works best when listened to in the complete way that albums should. Peak moments exist, such as the splendid Broken Cord, but there is not a single track that feels like a step down. Even the bonus disc avoids filler status.
What is especially impressive is that this feels like the work of a band and not a circumstance where name musicians were thrown together. Perhaps that explains the want to be disassociated with the term "supergroup". There is a natural flow to the songwriting and the performances are excellent throughout. Though Tom Brislin has played live with prog bands like Yes and Camel, it is great to hear his work in a completely original prog endeavor. (This writer would also welcome a new Spiraling album - just saying).
Though most of the lead vocals are handled very capably by Daniel Gildenlow, the inclusion of singer Casey McPherson (Flying Colors) on three tracks adds to the potent variety. Stolt provides some of the finest playing of his career and Reingold and Minnemann make up a brilliant rhythm section. This first work by The Sea Within is quite simply an inspired album, filled with memorable songs and expert performances.
It is without doubt one of top releases of the year and arguably one of the best of the decade.
Héctor Gómez's Review
Supergroups. We love them, don't we? They've always been part and parcel of rock music history. Traditionally, prog has welcome these more or less spontaneous/calculated (delete as appropiate) line-ups of legendary players with open arms, sometimes to great delight (ELP, UK, Transatlantic), but also as short-lived disappointments (GTR, the original Asia quartet). Where in the bigger picture does this new multinational all-star cast belong?
Well, The Sea Within can't be dismissed as a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination, but I can definitely feel an air of missed opportunity, the uncomfortable sense of being somewhat underwhelmed by the end result. When you put Stolt, Reingold, Gildenlöw, Minnemann and Brislin together in a London studio to produce magic and then promote it intensely in prog circles as the next big thing, expectations are sky high and hype inevitably sets in. Needless to say, when this happens the chances of being disappointed grow exponentially.
And that's just what happened to me with this release. Not that I ever expected it to break new ground, but the idea that it never feels like the whole is greater than the sum of its parts pervades the whole thing, and that's frustrating. Don't get me wrong, after all this is a very nice classic prog release, expertly performed, produced in vibrant fashion and with eye-catching artwork to embellish the package, but it never reaches the heights The Flower Kings or Pain Of Salvation reached at the peak of their powers.
That said, the first five tracks are excellent, and it's where the band strikes a remarkable balance regarding the different styles and aestethics present in the album, namely symphonic rock, jazz fusion, hard rock and a dash of American pop sensibilities. Even if Minnemann tends to overplay here and there (because he can), Ashes Of Dawn makes a powerful, dynamic hard hitting opener, and Rob Townsend's saxophone definitely lifts the piece when it irrupts.
They Know My Name features some very tasty guitar from Stolt, which adds style to an already appealing and catchy, if somber, ballad. Fond of the old Genesis 12-string magic? Then look no further than The Void, an acoustic driven piece which would feel at home in Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot. An Eye For An Eye For An Eye is a powerful 7-minute rocker with an eye (no pun intended) on jazz (I love it, but can understand those who feel it's out of place), and Goodbye is an irresistibly groovy Flying Colors... well, Sea Within mid-tempo. Yes, Casey McPherson is on vocals here, so comparisons are unavoidable.
After the brief but nice instrumental Sea Without, which plays as a sort of abridged version of TFK's Rainmaker, and just when you think there's a winner in the making, believing the band is saving the best for the epic (as many prog bands do), things go south. Now, I don't like the Anderson/Stolt album; I think it's a boring, meandering mess. I know I might be in the minority here, but as much as I wanted to like it, and believe me I tried, it represents the worst of both Anderson and Stolt worlds as I see it. The music seems to go nowhere, and there's too much syrup to my liking.
Unfortunately, the 14 minutes of Broken Cord encapsulate those feelings (no wonder Anderson himself appears on backing vocals here). The first five minutes have a Beatles vibe to them which evolve into a mildly interesting, albeit short, instrumental interlude to then inexplicably languish for the remaining six minutes. Yes, it's frustrating, and even more so after the album's strong first half hour. The Hiding Of Truth, which comes after it to close disc 1, doesn't fare much better, as it is a ballad which re-offends with the sappiness (Mr. Jordan Rudess and his ornate piano guesting this time around). As closing tracks go, I'd have chosen Denise, the last song on the disc 2, which works much better as a somber and dramatic capper.
Speaking of the second CD, it definitely makes for a worthy companion, and both The Roaring Silence and Where Are You Going? (almost) keep the standard of quality found on the first 6 tracks. If you get rid of both the pointless epic (listen, it's not mandatory to have one on a prog album if it's not good enough) and the subsequent bland ballad mentioned above, you still have nearly 60 minutes worth of very good music, although a bit on the "tried and tested" side of things.
So, a nice listen indeed, but not "album of the year" material if you ask me.