When progressive rock powerhouses Transatlantic signalled their intention to release their 3rd studio album, ‘The Whirlwind’ in 2009, 8 years since high watermark ‘Bridge Across Forever’, I was thrilled. However good the album turned out to be though, I was left wanting. The single track, 77 minute, epic didn’t quite hit the spot for me as the previous two did. That it is still a good album is a testament to how good the first two efforts were from the super group.
I jumped at the opportunity to review the new album ‘Kaleidoscope’, and thankfully it measures up to the outstanding original outings. There will always be plenty of ideas when you throw Neal Morse (Ex-Spocks Beard), Ronie Stolt (Flower Kings), Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy (Ex-Dream Theater) as, certainly Morse, Stolt and Portnoy were main creative driving forces behind their respective bands. To me Transatlantic takes the best bits from Spocks Beard and The Flower Kings and moulds them into something far greater.
Kaleidoscope opens with probably the strongest track on the album, Into the Blue, reminiscent in structure and style of the two epics from ‘Bridge Across Forever’. Starting slowly and gently before the vocals kick in as the music rises, moving into some great instrumental work before dropping back down into a great trance-like calm section, including a cameo from progressive metal legend and unofficial fifth member of the group Daniel Gildenlow (From the outstanding Pain of Salvation).The song continues and builds to a crescendo again before the end and sets up the remainder of the album perfectly.
Second track, Shine, is the albums single. While it does nothing mind blowing it is a solid ballad, beginning with Morse at his strongest, just him and a guitar. Simple passages like this really show what a good vocalist Morse really is. Stolt gets his turn as the whole band kicks in. Shine however, just seems like a vanilla song and seems a slight misuse of the combined talent available; kind of like only using a Ferrari to pop to Tescos. As it goes on however, it gets more interesting with a great melodic guitar solo and some clever drumming (as is expected) from Portnoy. Good, but there are stronger Transatlantic songs in this category.
Black as the Sky is probably the heaviest (Prog heavy, not traditional heavy!) thing Transatlantic have ever put out, and most comparable to Stolts’ The Flower Kings with a lot of emphasis on electronics and keyboard use. Perhaps predictably he therefore takes charge of vocals for the song, which includes good harmonies from Portnoy during the Chorus. Yes, a Transatlantic song with a standard verse-chorus structure! With no real breakdown during the song, Black as the Sky is 6 minutes of solid prog galloping along. Trewavas shines here as well, with a bass line that could probably be inserted into any Iron Maiden track and fit. Another solid track.
Beyond The Sun is the third ‘short’ track in the middle of the album and another ballad, which is much more effective than Shine. It sees Morse and this time a piano, with some Dream Theater style continuum action floating in and out. Thought provoking lyrics impeccably delivered create a haunting feeling, very much like the best sections of Duel with the Devil and Stranger in your Soul from previous albums.
The album closes with another epic in the form of album title ‘Kaleidoscope’. A typical Transatlantic instrumental section begins the song, good use of keys and guitars in harmony with Trewavas and Portnoy doing what they do best in the background. If you’ve ever heard Transatlantic before, you’ll know exactly what is happening in this song. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s very predicable in terms of direction, both vocally and instrumentally, but when you have a successful formula for a band you stick to what you are good at. The middle section of the song where Stolt takes over vocal duties is definitely more interesting however, and the final 12 minutes or so of the song weaves together everything great about Transatlantic beautifully, as it starts slow and simple and just builds and builds to an epic conslusion. Kaleidoscope is a very good song and a great album closer, it just does nothing ground breaking and pushes no boundaries for the band or the listener.
Overall Kaleidoscope sounds a lot more Ronie Stolt influenced than their early work and is a definite improvement over The Whirlwind, which often felt like you would get lost in the song. The production, as you would expect from the group who are all individually perfectionists in their own right, is obviously outstanding. The songs are all well written and the album flows brilliantly, through my first sitting I couldn’t believe I’d been sat there for nearly 80 minutes and does leave you wanting more. Can’t wait to hear even more from these guys, and if you’re into your Progressive music and haven’t heard any Transatlantic, this will be a great place to start.