on 14 November 2009
As a Prog old-timer, I often find today's "retro"-Prog a little forced: modern musicians trying too hard to recreate a vibe that died essentially 30 years ago. While Transatlantic is a bunch of accomplished musicians with their own styles and sensibilities, they can still fall into the same trap with a listener concentrating more on influences than on the music itself - and The Whirlwind has them all ....
.... that said, it is a fine album: assured songwriting, melodies with lots of variety; elegant, creative arrangements; rousing performances, excellent musicianship; well recorded: the suite [not a single piece!] mostly flows pretty well from pastoral beauty to vamped-up rock to rustic acoustic to grandiose ballad; intensity shakes hands with gentleness, fluctuating moods; lengthy instrumental sections liberally dispersed. Trewavas' energetic basslines are superb; heavy, powerful; I find Portnoy a trifle too hyper at times on drums, and some lyrics become a trifle preachy, but that's a relatively minor quibble.
My only previous Transatlantic record was debut SMPTe which left me unconvinced; a typical supergroup that flattered to deceive; but nine years later they sound much more `together' as a true band working in harmony, with subtle interplay and sensitivity: this is key to my enjoyment of this record and whether I will still feel as positive about it in a year's time, but I think I will! The Whirlwind is a classy, well-balanced record: the best retro-Prog album I have heard for many years; it knocks spots off most neo-Prog output!
PS - the extras on disc 2 [special edition] are fully realised recordings; OK in themselves but they don't really add any value unless you are a committed Transatlantic fan.
on 18 November 2009
I was initially a little reluctant to get this, although I have the first two; the reason being my concerns about the possible domination by Neal Morse. I acknowledge his musical prowess but have become wary of his fixated output.
However - I needn't have worried as this is a GROUP affair; indeed Stolt, Trewavas and Portnoy frequently lead things. Reference has been made by one or two reviewers to Portnoys imposing drumming; well, he is an imposing drummer. Personally, I don't think he is that overpowering. Listening to this one appreciates Trewavas's solid bass and assured playing and Stolt's tight guitar runs. Of course Morse's smooth multi-instrumental skills are pretty much a backbone.
The title track is a 12 part 78 minute excursion into a variety of styles reflecting the performers various characters and influences; it's all played to perfection and very much a group effort - it might be my imagination, but I kept picking up The Beatles and Yes - what a mix. Then - it is Marillion, Flower Kings and Spock's Beard all rolled into one - not much Dream Theater!!
I am reviewing the Special Edition 2 disc set and believe it well worth getting.
CD2 starts with 4 originals the most surprising of which, is Trewavas's "Lending a Hand" - a even paced rock song led by Pete's plaintive voice and some really lush instrumentation.
They have fun with the Genesis cover - "The Return of the Giant Hogweed" which builds to a frantic climax.
Another surprise is a cover of Procol Harum's "A Salty Dog" with Mike Portnoy taking the vocal role and dedicating it to his father.
It ends with a rousing "Soul Sacrifice" - a real belter.
I am very glad Transatlantic have returned - they made it all worthwhile; all four playing together as one but each making their mark. A first class rock album from a first class outfit. My fears are allayed and - well; Neal's done good!!
on 27 October 2009
It's welcome back to Transatlantic!! A masterful piece of music - all 77 minutes of it! OK, it sags a bit in parts and is slightly too religious sounding (at least on the two listens I've had) but when you reach the epic closing section "Dancing with Eternal Glory/Whirlwind (reprise)" you'll wonder where the time went!! Of course, although it's sold to us as one piece of music, it's really lots of bits and pieces cobbled together - but it flows nicely!
If I have any complaints about this album it's the fact that Mike Portney's drums are often very prominent in the mix. MP is a great drummer but there are places here where it feels like there's too much of him (part 2, "The Wind Blew them All Away", is probably the worst example of this).
There's also a limited 2CD set available as well, with 4 shorter tracks and 4 cover versions, of which I have only heard their take on the Genesis track "Return of the Giant Hogweed", and an even more limited box set sort of thing with a 'making of' DVD.
Now it's fingers crossed for another European tour!!
on 14 March 2010
Before I start, I'm not a Christian. However, I'm confused by the numerous references to Neal Morse's religious beliefs. Clearly, his lyrics are influenced by these beliefs, but surely all lyrics are based on some form of beliefs/ideology. As prog fans, we have endured years of lyrics based on obscure musings [Tales of Topographic Oceans / Passion Play / Pawn Hearts spring to mind], but these albums are simply taken for what they are, brilliant albums. Surely, it's all about what inspired the artist. I think Layla is the greatest love song of all time, but my not knowing or loving Patti Boyd, doesn't matter because Eric Clapton did and that's what inspired him. In the same way, Neal Morse talks of his religion, he's not going to convert me and I don't think that's his aim.
The album has great moments and some mediocre moments. The playing as always is tremendous with Stolt delivering some of his best playing. The production is tight and the piece progresses with a natural flow. The lyrics are sometimes trite, but that's nothing unusual in prog land. Give it a go, you won't be disappointed.
And if the religion bit is worrying you, fear not. Passing the local Christian book/music shop, I stuck my head around the door and asked if they had anything by Transatlantic, he hadn't heard of them, we're 'safe'!
on 14 November 2009
In arguably the biggest surprise of the year, Transatlantic announced that they were re-forming earlier this year and have re-united after a 7 year sabbatical from their last release, 'Bridge Across Forever', to record also arguably the finest prog release of the year; a CD consisting of one epic 78 minute track of a segue of songs. (Is it one song divided into segments, or a segue of songs? - I expect the arguments will carry on a long time on this subject matter, but I firmly favour the latter argument.) After all, if Porcupine Tree can do it, why can't Transatlantic? The truth is that this one puts PT's partly disappointing effort into the shade and far surpasses it in virtually all respects, not just length. After a few listens I concluded that this album is, I would say, even superior to their own previous two efforts (and they were both fantastic albums anyway) and it certainly is more ambitious and grandiose in scale.
Neal Morse is still the main songwriter and seems to be still the main protagonist of the band, but this time it feels like more of a group effort, primarily Roine Stolt's guitar playing is given more prominence than before and has never sounded better than here.
Before reviewing in more detail, there are some small negatives aspects re this new recording. In particular, and perhaps inevitably in a complex segue of sophisticated songs, some of the transitions between the segments seem to work better than others, some even sounding forced just to carry on the continuity of the music. The prime example is the ending of 'Rose Colored Glasses' which is so climactic that it certainly feels like it is or should be the end of 'Whirlwind Part One'.
Now let's review 'The Whirlwind' in more detail;
1a) (As in any self respecting Prog epic) The Whirlwind announces itself with an Overture that after a slow build up introduces various motifs that will appear again later in the CD. A slow start with sound effects (Is that a hint of Pink Floyd's `Breathe' we can hear?) and then synthesized horns and strings lead to the `The Whirlwind Theme' and then some bright interplay with several changes of tempo between all the instruments, excellently driven by Portnoy who's percussions are, as always, superb throughout the whole recording. Eventually, there's a reprise of the theme and the first vocals come in with.....
1b) Whirlwind. Surprisingly it is Roine who leads into the verses, while Neal sings the choruses. The Whirlwind is not an epic but is a good song with a very catchy chorus and which (slowing) leads effectively into...
2) The Wind Blew Them All Away. A slower song but also one of the most powerful on the CD. Some great vocals and lyrics by Neal and a killer Roine guitar solo leading into a heavier passage that was previewed in the Overture, which fades and allows a bass riff to emerge with a faster beat to introduce...
3) On the Prowl. One of the up tempo segments; a great rock beat (Pete's bass riff is the star here) guaranteed to be impossible to listen to without getting your feet tapping and/or fingers clicking. Surprisingly the bright instrumental opening leads eventually to some heavy guitars and menacing and threatening lyrics delivered aggressively by Neal.
4) A Man Can Feel. Clearly a Roine song that has Flower Kings all over it and is sung by the man himself. Not a bad piece that continues in the same menacing vein as the previous song and features some very good keyboard and guitar work and becomes quite heavy in the latter stages. All of a sudden the tone lightens with....
5) Out of the Night. A very `poppy song' that has a familiar `Beatles Tribute' feel about it, reminiscent of parts of `Bridge'. A light song and Pete is trusted with some of the vocals. (Surprisingly, in the middle of this light song, Neal is allowed to use a passage from the closing song as a bridge; and it works very well). A repeat of the Whirlwind Theme and some brilliant Roine guitars lead into Neal's acoustic guitar and naturally forms one of the best transitions into...
6) Rose Coloured Glasses (actually it's the American `Colored' here). An excellent acoustic song with a great melody by Neal, and it is on occasions such as these that Neal is a peerless composer. It's a classic Morse song delivered with some impassioned vocals, (a viewing of the `Making of' DVD reveals it is actually a penned tribute to his recently deceased father and one of the highlights of the DVD is Neal`s recital of this song to the rest of the band) and there's also a great guitar solo by Roine. The song ends with a blasting of the `Whirlwind Theme' and fades and one might be excused for thinking this epic is ending but (after only 40 minutes) we're only half way through (!) as (before the theme completely fades) Neal's swirling keyboards gradually emerge introducing...
7) Evermore. An up tempo eclectic piece delivered by Roine with another Flower Kings sound, there are some truly amazing guitar and (to a lesser extent) keyboard effects. It's a piece that grows on you and features some excellent driving riffs and guitar work. A brief reprise of one of the themes of the overture provides a seam into...
8) Set us Free. One of the lighter songs with a jazzy feel and a very catchy chorus, with which Pete is trusted again and he does a good job. The end features a repeat rendition of one of the riffs that appeared earlier in the Overture. Neal's keyboards emerge and introduce a menacing riff leading to...
9) Lay Down Your Life. A complicated Neal song with some complex, heavy driving riffs and a heavy guitar solo. The song to me highlights Neal's latter Beatles influences and also showcases Neal's vastly improved vocal talents as the song is delivered a la an angry John Lennon. Almost imperceptibly the tension lightens...
10) Pieces of Heaven. The first instrumental piece since The Overture with a superb marching but slightly comedic rhythm which dies and leads to some effects and to...
11) Is It Really Happening? A strange chanting piece that has the slight feel of the `The Wall' (Is There Anybody Out There?) about it. It also has a slight `filler' feel about it - did `Is it Really Happening? have to be repeated quite so many times? But then you realise it was merely the introductory forerunner to something very much greater. The vocals concede and allow a beat and the music to develop into a quite incredible passage that starts with a blinding piece of guitar work and spirals dervish-like faster and faster until it feels that the band can't possibly control the frenetic pace for any longer. One of the most extraordinary instrumental passages in the history of Prog. All of a sudden it ceases and Neal's Grand Piano enters to introduce what seems to be the most hotly debated song...
12a) Dancing with Eternal Glory. Definitely a song from one of Neal's recent solo projects, and therein lies the controversy in the clearly religious lyrics. However you feel about this piece as a fitting conclusion to this project this is unarguably a beautiful song with a haunting melody and chorus and is flawlessly delivered by Neal and the band (including yet another classic Roine solo). Does it really fit in with the rest of this project? Hmmm...not completely sure, but it certainly contains the gravitas necessary for the occasion in my opinion.
12b) Whirlwind (reprise) (Actually the whole band's rendition of the chorus of 'A Man Can Feel' briefly intercedes before the reprise starts.) And this immense piece of work finally ends with a reprise of the title track theme with the lyrics continuing in the same religious context of the previous song. Finally concluding with `And from the whirlwind comes the breath of life.'
Well, how do you summarise an album on this scale which has attracted so many diverse reviews and opinions? In my opinion, it's certainly a truly excellent album and there's enough greatness in it to be rated as a 5 star `masterpiece'.
I would recommend getting the deluxe edition with the `Making of...' DVD which illustrates how the band works together and leaves you flabbergasted as the short timescale of the composition and recording of this incredible piece of music is revealed and helps you to appreciate this band's outstanding achievement even more.
on 25 July 2014
Very nice, fairly 'classic' or retro prog rock. It's quite light (compared to some more 'metal' prog) but musical and lyrical. I actually prefer the live version (you can see it on YouTube), which prompted me to buy this - they deserve to get some revenue from their efforts!
on 3 June 2011
I think This album is great I love some of the passages with the bass where is plays rythms and it seems to change when the drums come in and add whole level of rhthym on top its wonderful it is an album featuring just one track broke in to twelve sections. so it can be listened to separatly
Excellent musicianship on show with just the ride of widdly noodling and infact alot of the widdly noodling is very atmospheric and fits the music.
the Highlight is the interesting rythm work with bass and drums with the skippy guitar and keys over the top.
I think my favourite part is Evermore
which has a keyboard Intro and after a few phrases of the riff there is some crazy playing then it stops and then starts and then stops again its really great.
although technically it is all one song.
I actually think Mike Portnoy plays better and more divers in this band than his main band.
roine stolt plays some great guitar, lead and rythmn Morse has some very good lyrics some are quite obviously religious but who cares it is about dancing.
a highly entertaining album
I have played this enough times to be convinced that it is another magnificent album from the band that gets my vote as the most consistent and convincing of the latter day crop of neo-proggers. Whether it is as good as their earlier Smpte or Bridge Across Forever, both of which were `perfect' albums of their genre, is still too early to say, as these guys' albums tend to grow with each hearing, as the layers of detail fall into place in the memory. As things stand, I would point newcomers to the earlier albums, particularly Bridge, not because there is anything wrong with this album, but simply because Bridge is a prog-lovers paradise, and as such should be considered mandatory listening. But for those who know their earlier work this latest is unlikely to disappoint.
For the first couple of plays I wasn't sure. I think my problem was that it is very long, and it proved difficult to make opportunities to hear the whole thing from beginning to end without everyday life intervening. And, as it's a total concept, being twelve superbly crafted songs elaborated into pieces by endlessly inventive arrangements, segued together with a rich set of thematic interconnections, it really needs to be heard end to end to make sense. There are no real natural breakpoints in the narrative, so no obvious points from which to duck out or return to. The album demands that you lay back, close your eyes and let the sonic movie unfold. With less than full attention I got the impression that the pace of the thing, despite a lot of dynamic variation, would keep gravitating back to that of slow, grinding anthems and a creeping sense of crescendo fatigue. However, once fully immersed in the music that impression disappears. Indeed, I have no doubt that every song is flawless with not a moment of bad music, the only question outstanding, that only more playtime will answer, is whether it all works as a big, gargantuan whole.
All the tracks are built around very strong melodies in which the Lennon/McCartney influence on main composer, Neal Morse is easily apparent. These songs are then subjected to a prog treatment that, while recognisably rooted in the influences of the masters from the heyday, are bought entirely up to date by the marvels of modern music technology that the first generation pioneers could only have dreamed of. To be clear this is proper prog, not its hyperactive half-brother, prog-metal, but proper prog with swelling organs, whirling mellotrons, buzzing synths and effects laden guitars. Although there are a handful of pretty, tinkly moments on the album this is not pretty, tinkly prog. Rather its is grubby, grungey prog, with a big dollops of meanness, that sooner or later get transformed into visionary anthems of hope, as befits the lyrical content, which deals with the wickedness of the world and the spiritual antidote to its ills. The power for all this is provided by the indefatigable rhythm section of Mike Portnoy's drums and Pete Trewevas lolloping bass, whose day jobs are with Dream Theatre and Marillion respectively. Guitars are the domain of Flower Kings maestro Roine Stolt, who is not given to overt displays of virtuosity, but exhibits an uncanny mastery of modern effects technology, and a wide range of playing styles with which he manages to create the impression of contributing multiple layers to the mix. At the focal point, on keyboard and lead vocals and sundry other instruments, is primary composer and all round musical genius Neal Morse.
Alongside the instrumental aspects of Transatlantic's oeuvre must be placed the extraordinary vocals, both the solo contributions of all members, and the glorious blended harmonies that are band trademark. Indeed, it might even be that it is the vocals on this album that marks it out as progress on what has gone before. Neal Morse has one of the most flexible voices in all of music, being able to summon a rampant howling wolf, an innocent boy chorister, and everything sweet and monstrous in between. Roine Stolt has a more immediately individual voice but one that has definitely matured in the dozen or so years I have followed his work, and who now provides a really nice complement to Morse. Portnoy and Trewevas make minor but useful solo contributions as well. But as a harmonic unit they add a choral dimension to the total musical mix that only finds parallels with the likes of CSNY and the Beatles at their best.
I was slightly nervous before purchase, being aware that compositional genius, Neal Morse, has succumbed to the Light Side since their last release, quitting his main band, Spock's Beard, to pursue a solo career devoted to an overtly born-again Christian agenda. I am pleased to say that, while close scrutiny of the lyrics makes it pretty obvious what Neal intends by the words, they are pitched with sufficient ambiguity as to be not too uncomfortable for a spiritually burned out old agnostic like myself. I think only the most militant of atheists would have difficulty with the lyrics to The Whirlwind.
I just hope there is a fresh generation out there who can respond to the richness and depth of this amazing music, because there is more to these guys than mere revivalism. They have resurrected a musical form, that the rest of the world has presumed dead for two decades, and taken it off towards bold new horizons. May it live a happy and prosperous life.
on 22 November 2009
Transatlantic are the progressive rock "supergroup" formed by Neal Morse (ex-Spock's Beard on vocals and keyboards), Reine Stolt (Flower Kings, on guitar), Pete Trewavas (Marillion, on bass) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, on drums). The band came to fame in the progressive rock world for two excellent albums in the early part of the Noughties: 2000's "SMPTe" and 2001's "Bridge Across Forever". Since then, however, the four have gone about their own business, each with their own bands or solo projects, only deciding to reband as Transatlantic earlier this year; "The Whirlwind" is the result.
Transatlantic's brand of progressive rock is no-nonsense, unabashed symphonic-rock: this album is a concept and "The Whirwind" is, essentially, one composition that is subdivided into various phases. There is plenty of opportunity for the instrumentalists to display their technical prowess throughout the piece, although, on this occasion, there aren't actually that many lengthy instrumental passages; the short "Pieces of Heaven" is the only totally instrumental composition and there is plenty of singing through the other numbers.
The album will appeal to fans of Transatlantic's previous two albums and to fans of symphonic-rock in general. It may well have appeal beyond those narrow categories as the music is melodic and rhythmic, often catchy, and the subdivision into manageable "songs" would allow for easier dissemination in the modern, urgent world: you don't have top be in for the full 78 minutes to get some enjoyment from this music!
So, how good is it? Personally, I'm finding that music that has recently come from Neal Morse - the de facto leader of the supergroup - is beginning to sound as the rechurning of previous motifs and compositions. The music on "The Whirlwind" is credited to "Transatlantic" but the lyrics, for a start, are clearly Morse's, being as they are an allegory about finding oneself spiritually. A common subject for him, of course, but the use of the allegory allows those non-Christians to "shelve" any concerns they might have about being preached. I suspect that what has happened on the musical composition is that Morse has come in with the basic structure and the guys, being the vastly experienced progressive rock musicians that they are, have written all their own, very often considerable, parts. Whichever way it was done, "The Whirlwind" lacks the sparkle of either the previous albums or fo Morse's best solo work.
Compositionally it sits closely to something like Morse's "Sola Scriptura", without ever reaching the power or melodic heights of that album. Similarly, there is no melody to match "Bridge Across Forever" nor the force of the earlier Transatlantic albums.
Despite those criticisms, it is an enjoyable album and fans coming to it as their introduction to Neal Morse or Transatlantic may well fall in love with it. For others there are highlights to pick out from what is an album without any real bad moments: my personal ones being "Out of the Night", for its catchy rhythm, and the closing number "Dancing With Eternal Glory/Whirlwind", which has the sweetest melodies integrated into a fine composition.
Like much music these days, the album is offered in a number of formats: I have teh single-disc version; although there is a two-disc version with some more original music and some covers, as well as a version with a DVD charting the making of the album.
on 16 November 2009
The beginning of the decade saw two excellent retro prog rock albums from this excellent supergroup, after a "Bridge across forever" tour dates finished a seven year hiatus occurred with virtually nothing from these guys was heard about. After a very surprising but very welcome formation earlier in the year, was i excited? definitely, Transatlantic are one of my favorite rock prog bands and once again the patience after all this time has most sincerely been worth it. Its great to see Neal morse taking control of the writing duties once again and the re-joining of the other band members to produce this excellent masterpiece. It' not like they have spent overly long on this endeavor either as a new album was only announced back in the spring, so why and what is it the makes this new album stand out and so great then?
keeping all the classic trademark Transatlantic sounds, including great long winding passages containing great folk beats, great keyboard work, soloing, excellent vocals and keeping the bass down to a minimum. All of this sounds amazing with the unique style Transatlantic have, a supergroup they are and don't disappoint with regard to detail in the production clarity and musicianship departments which are of the highest possible level. Of course past releases were so good it was inevitable that a high standard was expected of them this time round especially after such a long absence, though they have delivered fantastically well, everything across the board here is clean and well executed and was exactly what i hoped for, even the covers on the second disc are excellent some of which i think even surpass the originals.
The bonus disc on the deluxe box set are well worth it over an hours worth of the whirlwind making is on there plus a commentary as well, without a doubt the choice of the standard CD plus the digi-pak including the cover disc and finally the box set with the DVD "making of" are all recommended but clearly the deluxe will be a little more expensive and in demand than the other formats available, so price may be your only concern, however i really recommend you invest in this new album, especially if you happen to be a new fan or browser as this album and band are one of the few bands still out there still playing quality prog rock of this type, i'd like to think i have a wide knowledge of this genre and i can tell you there are very few bands out there who can much the level of quality that has been attained on this record.
My only gripe would have to be the maybe the strange layout of the title track perhaps fewer but longer songs would have been more effective, still just a nick-pick really summary: Transatlantic is a definite five star album recommended to anyone willing to appreciate talent and a liking to non-commercial music i have found this amazing musical experience the best since Porcupine tree's "signify" grab it quick before the Whirlwind is gone!
Stand out tracks: Whirlwind overture, The wind blew them all away, Evermore, Set us free and Dancing with eternal glory. 10/10 absolutely breathtaking.