Thursday, February 29, 2024

TRANSATLANTIC deliver the Absolute Universe across two discs

Few bands epitomise Freddie Mercury’s credo of Nothing succeeds like excess more than Transatlantic. A prog supergroup, their music is longer, more complex, and more involved than most other prog bands, in a genre where lengthy songs are not exactly an unknown quantity. The band comprises four supremely gifted musicians, including one virtuoso (Mike Portnoy, drums), one prog-God-in-waiting (Neil Morse, keyboards) and two other extremely talented musicians in Roine Stolt, guitar and Peter Trewavas, bass, each of whom is also more than capable of handling vocal duties, and their harmonies on tracks like ‘Higher than the Morning’ are eerily reminiscent of Gentle Giant.

Transatlantic are a band who’ve always been up for a challenge and, on this album, they’ve done something a little unusual or, as Mike Portnoy says, “Unprecedented”. This is because there’re two versions of the same album being released simultaneously. A 90 minute double CD entitled Forevermore, and a single 60 minute CD The Breath of Life. Portnoy said, “However, the single CD is not an edited version of the double. They’re new recordings. We’ve revamped the recordings to make the two versions different”. This is what occurs when four guys who, between them, are overflowing with compositional and creative nous get together. They’ve also returned to the concept album format, with each disc being one giant composition split into chapters, with the storyline being ‘the struggles everyone faces in society today,’ with lyrics given from an observational rather than a preaching standpoint.

On these releases, there’re no unexpected changes of style, no 31-minute epics, several sections reminiscent of what’s gone before, and they’re all mainly shorter tracks, with only four of the 32 pieces of music exceeding seven minutes. The music is far more accessible than on previous albums, and the flash kept to a minimum, though there’s still plenty of stunning, albeit restrained, musicianship on tracks like ‘Looking for the Light (reprise),’ and especially ‘Overture,’ which begins both discs, which is deceptively simple sounding but with lots going on under the radar.

One stand-out feature is Neal Morse’s gift for melody. Across both releases his penchant for complex yet accessible tunes is noticeable. ‘Swing High Swing Low’ becomes, on the shorter disc, ‘Take Back my Soul,’ .. and who could argue when Morse sings “And when summer comes we’ll dance again?” He also tugs at the heartstrings with ‘Love made a Way.’ Portnoy also shows why he’s such a highly regarded drummer on ‘Owl Howl’ and ‘Darkness in the Light’ features Roine Stolt’s guitar at its best.

Being great musicians doesn’t always mean great music is the outcome, but Transatlantic have defied the odds here by producing an album that easily bears comparison to their best work. These are four guys at the top of their game who could have taken their feet off the gas but who, instead, have decided to go for it on this new album, with the end result being something exceptionally good

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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Few bands epitomise Freddie Mercury’s credo of Nothing succeeds like excess more than Transatlantic. A prog supergroup, their music is longer, more complex, and more involved than most other prog bands, in a genre where lengthy songs are not exactly an unknown quantity. The...TRANSATLANTIC deliver the Absolute Universe across two discs