Kaleidoscopes tend to mesmerize the eyes. Transatlantic's new project just might do the same to you, but through your ears....
Label: Radiant Records
Time: 5 tracks / 75:48 minutes
Yeah. Five songs – 75 minutes. Plus.
We're talkin' prog now, baby.
On Kaleidoscope Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt and Pete Trewavas – all giants of progressive rock – join forces for the fourth time and once again become the international prog super-group, Transatlantic.
Complex song structures, virtuosic musicianship and mystical/spiritual lyrics abound on this project, which begins with the 25 minute "Into the Blue," a big, melodic piece heavy with Morse's influence and sung by Morse, Stolt and Portnoy (with one sinister sounding deep vocal that I can't quite identify). Starting out as a wash of spacey atmospheric sounds, the piece picks up steam and explodes into a heavy riff that might bring to mind Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" on steroids, powered by wailing guitars, powerhouse drumming and machine-gun fast keyboard riffs. Coming back down to earth, a passionate vocal from Morse sets up a lyrical theme that will recur in a later piece: "The dreamer and the healer, they wait for you..."
Easily the most accessible song on Kaleidoscope, "Shine" begins as an acoustic guitar-accompanied ballad, starting once again with Morse on vocals. The song slowly builds in intensity and instrumentation, and Roine steps up to the vocal mike: "If the light of the world lives in you / Then no matter where you go, You don't let the darkness know / There's a little light left in your soul." Stolt is more-or-less in second vocalist position on the project and his vocal timbre, including a barely-detectable Swedish accent, is refreshing and effective,. Of course Stolt's guitar playing is superb and has never sounded better than it does throughout the album and on this track in particular. The extended guitar solo on "Shine" is technically brilliant and emotionally potent, shifting through key changes with grace and power. This is where Transatlantic sounds most like a band and not a special event – Trewavas' bass playing is economical and strong, Portnoy's drumming is textbook prog (as it is throughout the project), and the phase-shifted chorus (sung by Portnoy) is a stylistically trippy hook, linking the musical style firmly in the Classic Rock period.
"Black as the Sky" is a spirited romp featuring some purely progressive synth work that at times recalls the sound of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Stolt takes the front-man spot on this one, singing a cautionary tale about dark forces that "tell who will live – they say who will die..." Trewavas' bass gets a real workout on this one. Once again, Transatlantic sounds more like a cohesive unit than ever.
Starting out sounding like a tender ballad with some nice up-front cello sounds, "Beyond the Sun" then goes places you'd never have suspected. The song evolves through various textures and rhythms and gets into some genuinely exciting piano work. Lyrically (I write this without the benefit of a CD package), the song seems to deal with reunions on the next level, 'beyond the sky.' Although the album isn't as explicit as a Neal Morse solo project, there is a general nod to a traditional Christian world-view throughout the five songs.
This leads us right into the album's almost-32 minute title track, a complex, fun, and adventurous prog epic that has everything you'd expect from this band – thunderous and complex drumming, serpentine bass lines, dazzling keyboard passages, smart, emotional guitar solos, and fine-tuned vocals. The song shows some influence from the Dutch masters, Focus (in their more proggy mode) and has a nice jazzy middle with some juicy guitar work. The band interaction is both fun and impressive.
Introduced to the public in 1815, the Kaleidoscope was a tube that used mirrors and bits of material that would produce an an infinite array of colors and images depending on how you played with it. Transatlantic seems to do something similar, but with music. Listen to their musical Kaleidoscope and be prepared to get mesmerized.
- Bert Saraco