Oh boy, oh boy where do I begin with this one? Transatlantic, for those of you who are not in the know, are a progressive rock super-group consisting of members from erstwhile and famous progressive rock groups.
Neal Morse (guitar, keys, vocals) needs no introduction to me (and LeBrain now) and he is a former member of Spocks Beard, but now flies solo, his latest album Momentum released in 2012; Mike Portnoy (drums and backing vocals): Neal’s virtuoso sticksman who has performed with Neal for years, but Mike is also flying solo having departed from Dream Theater many years ago; Roine Stolt (guitar, backing vocals) is of The Flower Kings, and finally, Pete Trewavas (bass, backing vocals) is the bassist for English progressive rock powerhouse Marillion. You can see why this band are a super-group and they last released The Whirlwind in 2009, an entire song divided into twelve tracks – prog-tastic, mate!
I still listen to The Whirlwind even now and it’s one of those records which you can really get lost in, a true progressive rock record which stands the test of time. Neal Morse has such a prolific outpouring of music because not only does he have his solo albums and Transatlantic, but he also has Flying Colors who are due to release an album sometime this year hopefully. It’s not to say that in five years between these Transatlantic albums that there has been no music at all which would really be a blatant lie.
My friend, who shall ever remain nameless, bugged me for a while knowing that I had gotten into many bands my friend had suggested, knowing I would also dig Transatlantic, and if you’re into progressive rock music The Whirlwind is quite possibly an epic album of epic proportions. The accompanying DVD The Whirlwind Tour released in 2011 and filmed at the Shepherds Bush Empire is absolutely fantastic (watched the damn thing on YouTube!) and The Whirlwind the band performs in its entirety. Let’s move Kaleidoscope now that I’ve fully wrung out the history and details of this band.
Although that Kaleidoscope is only five tracks if you get the normal edition, I at first thought ‘hmm, shorter than The Whirlwind‘ but then I looked at the track lengths. The album starts and ends with songs that are way past the ten-minute mark (“Into the Blue” is 25:13 and the title-track is 31:54….) so the album is epic. It’s a running trend really when you have such divine prog on one album, and Neal has long songs on his albums, on Momentum and Flying Colors .
When you have an album like The Whirlwind in your catalog then it’s extremely to try to better it, quite possibly hard to do, but here I think they’ve tried to span their wings a little. With “Into the Blue” serving as an epic opener you have a varied mix of music going on in this track: from the intro to some heavy keyboard parts with varying tempos and amazing musicianship as always. If the opening tune is anything, then I think that this will be a tasty album; I don’t doubt any of the musicians’ prowess when it comes to playing…but if the full product doesn’t deliver…I’ll know.
The thing is with so much musical outpouring from many different bands, is that it can all get a bit samey, no real differentiating between the projects. In truth, you might as well bundle them up together and call it Neal Morse and Friends and put the band name afterwards, as this album sounds exactly like the other two aforementioned projects. Though that’s not exactly a slant on the album as they have always sounded top notch – remember me going on about how I think it’s important on how the album sounds? Well then, Kaleidoscope sounds fantastic…it truly does. Even Pete’s bass is clearly heard in the mix, and I think that in most modern metal records there’s just this ‘wall of guitar’ sound which completely disrespects the bass sound.
Even the shorter tracks allow for Roine to take lead vocals and let Neal sit back for a while, chirping in here and there with some backing vocal work and keys, whilst the rest of the band performs brilliantly. There are some even some backing vocals by Portnoy, who’s been known in the past to contribute vocals on Dream Theater albums. Already in 2014 it’s shaping up to be another storming year for music and whilst I’m not exactly jumping out of my seat with excitement, I think that Transatlantic newest prog outing could be labelled as ‘prog album of the year’ like Steven Wilson’s The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) was last year.
This album is almost too samey and there’s never that one thing which leaves me wanting more. Yes, for the sake of reviewing I listened to it multiple times and this is where I was like ‘oh, okay, hold on a minute…’ when I didn’t find that spark. It would’ve perfectly OK in my eyes to leave it a couple more years and concentrate on the second Flying Colors album and possibly another Neal Morse solo album. The Flower Kings last year released Desolation Rose which is pretty fantastic and I feel that my ear keeps on wanting to spin The Whirlwind just one more time. And another. And another.
I can listen to, say, Testimony 2 and find that an excellent tour de force of progressive rock, but with Kaleidoscope I’m almost beginning to get the scent of prog-by-numbers here. The musicianship is great, no doubt about that, and the songwriting is flawless…however there’s only so much of Neal’s lyrics I can take; the ever-so-present ‘born again’ mantra seems to wear thin after a while.
Overall, The above single “Shine” is one of the most accessible songs on the album, which isn’t a bad thing. A band always need that ‘one song’ they can push out into the public eye a month or two before release. However, I’m going to skip over this one with a pinch of salt thrown over my shoulder. Not exactly a ‘bad’ album and this isn’t exactly a good one either. 5 / 10