It was 2009 that Transatlantic last released a new studio album. And with only a few listens you can tell is was worth the wait. What started as a side project more than 10 years ago has evolved into a full-fledged band that ranks at the top among all the Prog greats. Each album boasts multiple songs in excess of 25-30 minutes written seemingly with ease. With this new album, Kaleidoscope, the group live up to their own lofty standards while in many ways exceeding expectations. Whirlwind, in contrast, while a masterpiece by any measure, was a lot of music to absorb given that it was a 72 minute song. In Kaleidoscope, the band returns to their prior album format, bookending the disc with 2 Prog epics and including 3 shorter length songs. This album is a musical experience, and there is not one minute worth skipping.
Kicking off the album with the brilliant “Into The Blue” is the personal highlight for me. This immensely strong song is as perfectly constructed a 25 minute epic as you can hear. The opening “Overture” boasts some incredible musicianship by each band mate, while also introducing the main theme of the song as only Transatlantic can do. The epicenter of the song, “The Dreamer and the Healer” is one of Neal Morse’s finest moments, both vocally and with respect to his songwriting. Sprinkled throughout the song are some unique and interesting moments which seem to be influenced by the latest Flower Kings album. We can’t overlook the section “Written In Your Heart”, which features Daniel Gildenlow on lead vocals. Having been a 5th member live with the band for many years, it is nice to see him get a moment on this CD. He shines on this song, adding an exciting vocal element that could only fit his voice. The song closes with a reprise of “The Dreamer and the Healer” in typical Transatlantic and Neal Morse fashion, telling a fantastic musical story and coming full circle. The ending is so powerful and moving that the album could have stopped there, and it would still be a top album of 2014.
Second is the acoustic ballad, “Shine,” which was the first single and video released in late 2013. Recalling “We All Need Some Light” from the band’s first album, the song is a nice contrast from the 30 minute epics. It really showcases the bands ability to write a solid melody without needing the instrumental gymnastics and the 10 different parts. With some Prog bands, fans might skip the short ballad; however, with Transatlantic, I tend not to do that. They have proven that even their shorter ballads are to be treasured. While most of the bands fans will point to the epics as the their favorites, the ballads are necessary for the album and appreciated just as much.
“Black as the Sky” is the surprise on the album, as the band hasn’t really done a shorter straight-up rock song since “Mystery Train” on SMPTe. Musically, it would be a great fit for The Whirlwind. The middle section, around the 4 minute mark, is where the band does their best impression of Genesis’ “The Colony of Slipperman.” From there, the song gets a bit heavier and really never lets up until the end. The chorus, which is sung by the entire band in unison, sounds like a band that is really confident in themselves, again not needing 30 minutes to show that they can kick ass. This song is truly another highlight in the Transatlantic catalog, and showcases their talent, both as individual musicians and as a unit. “Beyond the Sun”, the 4th track, is written and performed by Neal Morse. It is a quiet ballad, similar to “Bridge Across Forever” from the band’s second album, and I consider it the calm before the storm, the album’s title track and longest song “Kaleidoscope.”
Clocking in at 31 minutes, “Kaleidoscope” is different than “Into the Blue” in that the opening song really leans on the main musical theme throughout, where this track has a few more distinct parts that could have been songs unto themselves. The opening verses of “Ride The Lightning” are upbeat and carried by Mike’s drumming, such as in the opening verses on “The Whirlwind.” “Black Gold”, on the other hand, is pure Roine Stolt, a bit darker in tone and features some intense strings, as if a theme to a movie. His voice is so unique and a pleasure to hear appearing. “Walking The Road” is Pete Trewavas’s turn at the wheel, where he takes over lead vocals. The melody in the chorus is easily memorable and is followed by a horn interlude, which then flows into a string and guitar section, bringing us back to the song’s main musical theme. The next section, “Desolation Days,” is a Neal Morse acoustic section where he repeats the chorus from “Ride the Lightning” in a more subdued manner and sounding like a completely new part. One of Neal’s strength is singing with just an acoustic, and it is a perfect fit here. “Desolation Days” could have been a single. The section called “Lemon Looking Glass” is the strongest instrumental section on the album. Pete’s playing is solid and nicely featured throughout. The bass is very prominent, not only in this section but also really throughout the album, more so than in the previous albums. Mike Portnoy has not had a chance to let out his Prog mastery in a while, and it’s nice to hear him as sharp as ever on this song and album. The ending is a reprise of “Ride The Lightning” with an extended guitar solo ending and fade out.
After 75 minutes of Prog genius, one can exhale and appreciate the masterpiece that is Kaleidoscope. It’s all there: the long songs, the short songs, the instrumental sections, and the repeating melodic themes. Yet it all sounds as fresh and vital as ever, taking us on a musical journey that only Transatlantic can do.
There is a special edition, which includes some amazingly well produced covers, including “And You and I”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Night in White Satin”, among others. The effort that Transatlantic put into these songs is apparent, making the Special Edition a worthy addition.
A nod has to be made to the album’s design and packaging. It is not often that you get a CD in this day and age, that you actually hold in your hand while listening, look at the pictures, and read the lyrics. Unfortunately, it’s an experience lost in today’s music environment, which hits home when you get an album of this magnitude. Downloading one song off of it from iTunes just wouldn’t be the same. Fans can support the band and appreciate the entire experience by purchasing this album. You won’t be sorry that you did.
Catch the band on tour this year beginning with the Progressive Nation at Sea Cruise.
Release Date: January 27th, 2014 on Radiant Records
Key Tracks: Into the Blue, Kaleidoscope
|1||Into the Blue||25:11|
|II. “The Dreamer and the Healer”|
|III. “A New Beginning”|
|IV. “Written in Your Heart”|
|V. “The Dreamer and the Healer (Reprise)”|
|3||Black as the Sky||6:43|
|4||Beyond the Sun||4:29|
|II. “Feel the Lightning”|
|III. “Black Gold”|
|IV. “Walking the Road”|
|V. “Desolation Days”|
|VI. “Lemon Looking Glass”|
|VII. “Feel the Lightning (Reprise)”|
|Special edition bonus disc|
|1||And You and I||Yes||10:43|
|2||I Can’t Get It Out of My Head||ELO||4:43|
|4||Goodbye Yellow Brick Road||Elton John||3:16|
|5||Tin Soldier||Small Faces||3:21|
|8||Nights in White Satin||The Moody Blues||6:12|
|Neal Morse — keyboards, acoustic guitars, vocals|
|Roine Stolt — electric guitars, vocals, percussion, additional keyboards|
|Pete Trewavas — bass guitar, vocals|
|Mike Portnoy — drums, vocals|
|Chris Carmichael — cello|
|Rich Mouser — pedal steel guitar on “Beyond the Sun”|
|Daniel Gildenlöw — special guest vocals on “Written in Your Heart”|