Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Transatlantic - The Absolute Universe - The Breath of Life (Abridged Version) CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.70 | 148 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

4 stars [Review of both extended version (Forevermore) and abridged version (The Breath of Life)]

It is well known that the world of prog rock is quite bizarre. Just take a look at the dozens of memes on the internet about 60-minute long prog songs, three-hour concerts and endless drum solos, and you'll see what I mean. But with their new album, The Absolute Universe, multinational progressive rock supergroup Transatlantic have just reached a new high. Because, you see, The Absolute Universe is actually two records, of which one is a double-album. Confused? Let me explain.

The initial version of The Absolute Universe was a 90-minute musical suite divided across eighteen songs and two CDs. However, upon re-listening to the album, vocalist/keyboardist Neal Morse (ex-Spock's Beard) started to believe that a shorter, more compact version of the record could actually work better. When he presented the idea of a shorter album version to his bandmates, bassist Pete Trewavas (Marillion) approved, while drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) and guitarist Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) were not convinced. Ultimately, the band could not agree which version to put out. The stalemate was eventually solved by Portnoy's suggestion to release both versions of the album, which now have reached our earbuds under the names of Forevermore (extended 90-minute version) and The Breath of Life (more compact 60-minute version). Now, you may be excused to think that The Breath of Life is simply a cut-down version of Forevermore. But this is prog, and that would have been far too simple! Instead, the two albums actually contain different music, either different versions of the same songs (different arrangements, different singers, different vocal lines and lyrics, etc.) or altogether different songs. They are effectively two different pieces of music, built around common musical themes. Isn't this prog heaven?

Now, grandiose release projects aren't much to write home about if the music isn't any good. Fortunately, this is not the case for Transatlantic's new album. Readers who are familiar with names such as The Flower Kings and Spock's Beard should know exactly what to expect. This is modern progressive rock that pays tribute to the giants of the 1970s (Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis) but that at the same time tries to push things into the new millennium by exploring heavier and more metallic territories. The ambition to write long-form compositions means that, although the records come divided in separate and fairly short songs (from 2 to 9 minutes), there are recurring themes that surface over and again throughout the album, convincingly tying together the various pieces into a proper suite. A lots of these recurring themes are introduced in the (largely instrumental) opening track "Overture", and they are then developed to full effect across the rest of the album, before album closer "Love Made a Way" wraps everything up with a sweet medley of the key passages. It is a very satisfying listening experience, true to the spirit of the progressive rock standard, but with enough vigour and inventiveness to sound fresh still today, more than 50 years apart from the golden era of prog.

Given the quality of the four musicians involved, the playing is of course sublime. Both album versions are a lot of fun to listen to as they brim with superb instrumental passages. From Portnoy's manic drumming to Stolt's blues- and jazz-infused guitar solos, from Trewavas's rumbling bass grooves to Morse's synth extravaganza, every single musician manages to contribute some of the absolutely best heavy rock playing that you'll hear this year. Things are no less impressive when it comes to the vocals department. The four musicians share duties behind the mic, which makes for an interesting and varied approach. Morse and Stolt are experienced singers, having held the lead singer role with their respective bands for decades now. Unsurprisingly, the tracks where they sing on are the most convincing from the point of view of the vocal melodies. Trewavas is slightly weaker, although his heart-on-the-sleeves performance on "Solitude" is moving. Portnoy is the true surprise, though. His gravelly rock voice is really good and fits perfectly a darker piece like "Looking for the Light", one of the highlights of The Absolute Universe.

Although I enjoyed very much listening to The Absolute Universe, one thing that is undoubtedly lacking on this album is innovation. This is not music that covers new ground and expands horizons, it is firmly rooted in the classic prog rock tradition and does not move very far from that territory. If you are looking for new sounds and boundary-pushing music, then you'll have to look elsewhere. However, when the quality of the music is as high as on this release, this does not detract too much from the pure enjoyment of listening to the album.

Now that I hopefully convinced you that this album is worth listening to, the real question is: which of the two versions should you get? Well, it depends. If you ? like me ? are a full-blown prog aficionados you'll probably want to get both. Call me a nerd, but I had a lot of fun comparing the various versions of the songs that appear on Forevermore and The Breath of Life. One difference that is quite noticeable between the two versions is that Stolt's musical influence is much more marked on Forevermore than The Breath of Life. Three songs that only appear on Forevermore ("Rainbow Sky", "The World We Used to Know" and "The Sun Comes Up Today") could have easily been released on a The Flower King's album. More generally, there are many more mellow instrumental guitar passages on Forevermore, showcasing Stolt's signature guitar playing , that have been instead cut out of The Breath of Life. No wonder Stolt did not like Morse's idea of a more compact album! In contrast, on The Breath of Life, one can perceive more distinctly Morse's hand. So if you are more a fan of Spock's Beard's / Morse's music, I would recommend to get the shorter and punchier The Breath of Life. If you instead prefer the brand of modern prog heralded by The Flower Kings, you should go for Forevermore. Ultimately, it does not matter which version you get: if you are a progressive rock or metal fan, you simply have to give this album a listen!

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

lukretio | 4/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this TRANSATLANTIC review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.