Through the wonder of everyone’s best friend/worst enemy, the internet, albums arrive here at Lady Obscure in a variety of ways, but in the case of today’s subject, Transatlantic, I decided to go old school, pack up the gear and make a road trip. Traveling to Berkeley, California, I walked into the storied Rasputin’s Records, and strolled down the aisles in barely hidden angst, rifling through the shelves until in the middle of section ‘T’, I find my prize. Strolling up to the epically dreadlocked gentleman at the front (man I wish I had a picture of the guy, he screams “record store manager”), I know that there is a good ten hours of work waiting between me and listening to this beauty. Though the convenience of internet music life is wondrous, nothing can replace that anticipatory giddiness of waiting all day with the hot little sucker in my possession, for that moment when I can get home, cozy up on the couch, slap the Grado cans on my head and disappear into another world….
For the ten or so fans in the prog world who are unaware, Transatlantic is arguably the quintessential prog supergroup. Members are Neal Morse (formerly of Spock’s Beard), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Pete Trewavas (Marilllion, Edison’s Children), and Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater, Adrenaline Mob, currently with The Winery Dogs). With three stunning albums and over thirteen years underneath their belts, and with the help of some guest musicians including Chris Carmichael (cello), Rich Mouser (steel guitar), and Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation (vocals), the gentlemen gathered together once again to deliver us their next hunk of awesomeness, Kaleidoscope.
Kaleidoscope is a progressive rock sandwich, three delicious slices of music packed somewhere in the middle of two giant epics. Epic one, Into the Blue, is a five suite gem clocking in at just a touch over twenty five minutes. It opens about as subtle and ethereal as a song can, more gently placing us into the album with notes like falling petals and the heartfelt cello. Then everyone gang rushes my headphones and that classic prog clash enters in perfect fashion. With the album started properly, the gents are off and running, deftly handling whatever their minds can come up with. Mind you, these minds are behind some of the greatest albums in prog and prog metal, and they don’t leave the gloves on. They kick the genius ball around for about six minutes, then let the singing start. Via the wonderful vocal styles of Stolt and Morse, they tell a spiritually uplifting parable. The lyrics are pleasant and colorful, though a bit overloaded on the metaphors, but knowing this group, that doesn’t surprise me one bit. Most importantly, they fit with the music, which itself is about as overloaded as prog can be, including a middle section that is heavy on both cheese and sultriness. Hard to imagine I know, but it does work, as does the song as a whole.
In the middle of the pack are the three “shorter” songs. Shine is a pleasant number with some softer vocal work from both the singers and serene guitars. Though nothing really groundbreaking, it provides a little rest after the first epic. The real gem for me out of the three is Black as the Sky. Coming in at just under seven minutes, this one opens with a kick or two, and just keeps on going. With solid vocal work and a catching chorus, it’s a good track, until the instrumental section kicks in. Starting off with Portnoy and Trewavas setting a pace, they add on the keys and guitars and bust out a few minutes of ripper music. Next up is the shortest track, Beyond the Sun, clocking in at a measly four and a half minutes. This is a very mellow, ballad piece, with some soft cello work, keys and guitar, and an impressive vocal performance from Morse. I feel this track serves best as the breather before the kill shot, the title track, Kaleidoscope.
The build up for this track from my fellow prog fans was beyond belief, so I went into it with very high expectations. The Transatlantic gents spent the next thirty one minutes blowing them out of the air and whipping them around like a rag doll, basically showing me that expectations are for people with a limited imagination. This track is brilliant, period. The opening instrumental segment of this seven suite animal just might replace Octavarium as my alarm clock in the morning. That’s right folks, I want to start every day to this music. It moves into the Ride the Lightning segment, and again, I see myself happily rocking around my house as I get ready to kick some ass on the world. It’s that special combination of complex music, solid vocals, and just the right amount of uplifting feel. Now the track isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, it does have an insane amount of complexity to it. You can palpably feel the mood slide in the drawn out transition to the Black Gold segment. Though a bit darker thematically, Black Gold does have that little vaudeville roll to it similar to an older school Genesis. It has such an incredible build up, with all instruments building up at a furious pace until it drops off the edge and into the humble Walking the Road piece. With a mellow, almost folksy feel, it vocally fades off into some serene cello work that slowly builds to epic stature as only the best of prog can do, repeatedly hammering the notes home until we just give up and let the music take over. With another softer but achingly beautiful guitar and vocal section, it picks up pace before sliding it into yet another beast of an instrumental section. This one goes from beastly to bizarre to blazing before settling into the final reprise, finishing the song in a perfectly fitting fashion for such a mammoth song.
Though there are no real shocking revelations here, I mean we all expected brilliantly complex instrumental work, solid and uplifting vocals, spiritually gauged lyrics with just a touch of cheese, and a few songs that need you to truly shut out the world to enjoy, right? This album delivers on all those fronts, in the stunning fashion that this quartet of prog geniuses have come to be known for.