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Transatlantic - Kaleidoscope CD (album) cover

KALEIDOSCOPE

Transatlantic

 

Symphonic Prog

3.83 | 356 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Mr. Mustard
4 stars Up to this point, the two main songwriters of Transatlantic, Neal Morse and Roine Stolt have over 50 hours of music between them in their respective bands and solo careers. Take into account Pete's work with Marillion, and Mike Portnoy's ridiculously extensive drum credentials you have an experienced group of musicians. With the sheer amount of work these guys have pumped out over the last 20 years it is undoubtedly expected that the creative energy should be almost gone by now. And so the question I pose is: Has it? The latest Transatlantic effort is perhaps the best answer to this question.

Formed as a supergroup of progressive talent, the band saw a period of remarkable efficiency, releasing two albums in just two years of its formation. With these two albums, and the comeback album The Whirlwind, the members were able to combine their unique songwriting abilities and quirks into a cohesive unit which resembled the individual styles, yet felt like something fresh. Kaleidoscope sees the return of the sound and style that graced these past albums, yet presents a new sonic landscape not quite explored previously.

Kaleidoscope is best described as culmination of their sound up to this point. When listening to the album I found hints of SMPTe, Bridge Across Forever, and The Whirlwind scattered throughout. Being closer chronologically to The Whirliwind, the album naturally carries that sound, but there are plenty of little details that hark back to the first two albums. An obvious example is the reverting back to the song lengths and formats of the first two albums, which means two lengthy epics and three shorter songs. Fortunately, the band is always most comfortable in their longer epics, and here is no exception.

However, there are some differences which I believe lead to a weaker album this time around. The album suffers from two major problems, as I could identify. A common complaint regarding the first album is it being too Morse-heavy, something that was fixed somewhat later. However, I feel as though this album suffers a bit from sound separation between the members input. That is to say, the Morse parts I could identify much more easily as Morse, and similarly with Roine (who seems to have had much more input than usual.) This becomes slightly annoying when you realize much of the material could have easily been on Momentum or Desolation Rose, the last albums of Neal and Roine, respectively. This, in addition to some of Pete's parts being completely isolated in the songs makes for a rather disjointed experience not seen nearly as much on the previous albums.

A second point is something which I believe slightly plagued some of Neals work, and is a common theme throughout the Flower Kings. I found the album had many parts that were simply unneeded. In the first three albums every moment had a reason for being there. On this one there are a few moments that seem to be less inspired, or simply don't fit in properly with the rest of the album; some specific examples being in my song by song analysis.

Fortunately, the album starts off strong with 'Into the Blue.' This one starts quite similarly to 'Duel With the Devil,' with the Cello representing the mid-tempo, melodic main theme. But this only lasts briefly before being hit with a heavy and obviously Roine-inspired passage similar to what he has been doing with the Flower Kings recently. Vocals finally enter almost 7-minutes in, yielding some classic Neal-penned verses and some great guitar work and the Beatles harmonies so present on their previous albums.

The following section entitled the New Beginning continues the heaviness, but not long before leading to a rather unvisited side of Transatlantic: A nearly 4-minute- long crescendo which starts with a simple bassline, and leads to a chaotic finish with flying guitar and drum work. Suffice it to say this moment is the one that impressed me the most in the new album.

After such intensity, we're given a short break with an atmospheric section featuring a reprise of the Dreamer and Healer melody by none other than Daniel Gildenlow. I am not much of a fan of the man's music or exuberant vocal style, but will admit he absolutely nailed it here. With a perfect transition, we are led to the next section, Written In Your Heart, a Neal-inspired dramatic segue to the final few minutes, which are a reprise of the main melody. Perfect in its structure and delivery; there is no fluff here. This one is without a doubt the highlight of the album, and easily finds a spot amongst Transatlantic epics.

Before the album's official release we were teased with a snippet in the single, Shine. I didn't like it then, and my mind hasn't changed since. The melodies are mundane, and the sound is, dare I say, commercial. Mike's Beatle's inspired vocal part is nice, but isn't helped by the ridiculous effects and the fact that his vocals aren't terribly impressive. The following guitar solo is one of Roine's best for sure, and the neat little reprise of Dreamer and Healer is a nice touch, but neither distract from the unadventurous nature of the song as a whole.

'Black As the Sky' is one of the stronger songs on the album. Being a massive Spock's Beard and Flower Kings fan, I appreciated some of the call-backs present in the song. The relation to Devil's Got My Throat from Spock's Beard's Snow was apparent right away, and I also heard some early Flower King styled vocal melodies from Stolt. Despite the slightly lackluster verses, the middle section is absolutely killer with its plethora of keyboards. This is classic prog and Transatlantic at their cores.

Kaleidoscope continues the band's tradition of ballads with 'Beyond the Sun.' A song I believe was written entirely by Neal, this one is best related to the title track from Bridge Across Forever. Some simple piano chords played to Neals vocals, but also some "Gates of Delirium-esque" atmospheric touches make this song. But when listening to it I felt as though something was missing. Both are quite simple, but 'Bridge Across Forever' captivated me in a way this one simply didn't. Though the more I listened the more I appreciated, and it certainly makes a great calm before the storm moment for the next track.

The title track rounds out the album in epic fashion. This one is truly a culmination of the different members of the band. With no time to waste, it starts up immediately in epic heavy, upbeat prog fashion, before seguing into the catchy as all, sugar filled main melody. Neal makes another Snow callback, with a melody that strikingly resembles 'Wind At My Back.' The happy-go-lucky mood up to this point is halted with the 'Black Gold' section, painted with a dramatic Cello riff and obvious Roine-inspired verses and chorus. This, along with the short jazzy interlude in the middle of the section are some aspects of the band that are quite fresh, and very welcome.

Mike Portnoy's frantic drumming segues into Pete's main contribution to the album. This section serves as a bit of controversy amongst many people. Not aside the momentum breaking nature of the piece, which it just seems they stuck in here to represent Pete. But the uncharacteristically karaoke-like vocals are a bit cringe worthy on the first few listens. The section is not bad by any means; it has a nice Pink Floyd vibe, and I enjoyed Pete's contribution of 'Lending a Hand' on The Whirlwind, but this just seems out of place in the context of the song, and is a prime example of the cookie-cutter complaint I addressed earlier.

The section is pretty short-lived, however, as we're hit with the Morse-led section, Desolation Days, which is mostly just a reprise of the main theme. Luckily we experience another one of the highlights of the album before it ends in the Lemon Looking Glass section. Referencing the ending of 'Is It Really Happening' from the Whirlwind, and containing some classic Spock's Beard and Flower King's instrumental bits, this five minute instrumental section is one of the strongest moments from the album. The 31- minute adventure of a song ends with a classic Transatlantic reprise, featuring soaring guitars in a dramatic landscape which slowly fades away.

And so, have the members of Transatlantic finally run out of ideas? I believe not, but nor do I believe they have deviated significantly from the comfortable prog-by-numbers formula they've long since established. But luckily there are people like me who eat it all up. And while I believe the album failed to meet the epicenes of their first three, it would be a big disservice to go against a solid album by one of the best groups in modern prog.

8/10

Mr. Mustard | 4/5 |

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