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Transatlantic - The Absolute Universe - The Breath of Life Award winner

Transatlantic
The Absolute Universe - The Breath of Life
by Eric Poulin at 09 February 2021, 6:16 AM

TRANSATLANTIC is a progressive rock that started in 1999 an considers its location as Millbrook, New York in the United States. The band is a supergroup comprising of Pete Trewavas (MARILLION) on bass, Mike Portnoy (ex. DREAM THEATER), Roine Stolt (FLOWER KINGS) and Neal Morse (ex. SPOCK’S BEARD). The band had a hiatus in the early 2000s, only to come back and release one of the milestones in modern progressive rock: “The Whirldwind”, an epic 75+ minute song, divided into separate tracks. Fast-forward 7 years after their last release which had 3 very long tracks and 1 ballad, and we have a similar pattern here in the album “The Absolute Universe-The Breath of Life” which was released on February 5th 2020, through Inside Out Music.

Now there are 2 different versions of this album, but not just a single cd and double cd edition. The band decided to have different orchestrations, arrangements on the songs, making both editions their own special entities. This is the abridged version which contains 14 tracks that melt into each other, essentially doing what their epic masterpiece did 12 years ago, in essence one musical piece.

As one would expect you have the very dreamy and spacy opener obviously called “Overture” a purely instrumental introduction, which has some orchestral arrangements, solos and sounds like something out of a movie soundtrack. What you have are also the quintessential melodic tones of Stolt and the bass grooves of Trewavas. Mike Portnoy seems in full form here too, while not necessarily going into full drum solo mode, everything sounds crisp and precise. There are even a few psychedelic moments here with some really distinct guitar noises and twilight zone keyboard notes.

Enter the very joyful keyboard parts of “Reaching For The Sky”, where Neal Morse shows off his own special vocal talents, but as has been the trend, the other members lend their voices to the chorus and other portions of the song, such as the easy to recognize British overtones of Pete Trewavas. The song was released as a single and it is understandable, as it is a very easy-listening tune, that happens to reference in the lyrics, the masterpiece I mentioned earlier. Wrapped in great guitar melodies, the song could have easily been the album closer because of its structure.

“Higher Than The Morning” shines with some beautiful bass work and within the first minutes shows off a very impressive chorus. The song has a more mid-tempo aspect and is surely more mellow than the previous song, without falling into the ballad category. The song uses the vocal choirs differently than any other song from the band I have ever heard so far. Add a more melodramatic keyboard outro, that bounces into some proggy bass of “The Darkness In The Light” where the contrast between the powerful grooves and the chorus itself could not be greater. Roine Stolt speaks more than he actually sings on this number, an interesting change in itself. You could make the case that this about as close to jazz the band has ever flirted with, and once again, a welcome addition to their compositions.

“Take Now My Soul” starts with some acoustic beauty, a great trait of the band since their early days and where Neal Morse feels 100% in his element, as the great storyteller who speaks from the heart and lays his passion at the forefront. The song does rely on what has become his bread and butter, speaking of his new-found love for religion, the bible and the lord, since the early 2000s. The ending brings back one of the melodies heard earlier on the album, with more pronounced bass lines this time around.

Much more ominous and powerful keyboards (probably than any other song from this project) are present on “Looking For The Light” which is profoundly heavy in stature and just more hard rock than just progressive music. I honestly cannot compare it to any other track released on the other albums as it is just raw and harsh. The only mellow element on this one is the chorus. The song on the first listen made the hair on my arms stand up, it is that poignant and memorable.

The band have definitely been in-tune with the concept of love, and “Love Made A Way (Prelude)” with accordion sounds and of course some acoustic accompaniment. The song serves really more as an interlude (being barely over 2 minutes) but shows how the band has always mastered the art of slowing down an epic. “Owl Howl” oozes, smells and sweats RUSH with some dark and heavy progressive rhythm guitars. The heaviest the band has sounded since the metal part in “Stranger in Your Soul”. If you are familiar with THE FLOWER KINGS, this guitar tone is used quite a lot by Roine Stolt to add a sinister touch (check out “Paradox Hotel”) to his compositions. The song is creepy to say the least and as the title suggests sounds like you are going through a dark forest.

“Solitude” is piano-based and guided by the unique vocals of Trewavas, that are almost never present on the ballad songs, so it is nice to see the band change things up a bit. There is a bluesy side to the guitars as well. The lyrical content could not be more relevant, as the subject is about turning off all our devices, shutting off the outside world and dwelling in a state of solitude. The vocal line from “Love Made A Way” makes it way back onto this one, making sure we have some musical continuity (the opening segments are also referenced here).

“Belong” is an odd one with some incomprehensible child-like dialogue (maybe a troll language I have never heard of), but musically is highly comparable to the middle sections of the epic “The Truth Shall Set You Free” from Roine Stolt’s musical genius. The singing on this one sounds straight out of a barber shop quartet.

The powerful tribal drum patterns of “Can You Feel It” has the raw emotion of TOTO mixed with some nature-oriented lyrics and letting the soul be absorbed by the power around it. A high dose of passion makes this number, the warm-feeling moment of the album. “Looking For The Light (Reprise)” as the name implies revisits the musical theme earlier on the record, letting the beautiful bass notes shine through, with some mellotron touches. A tremendous piece that shows why these musicians are at the very top of their game. The chorus is absolutely amazing on this one (yep you got it, something happened with my arms again on this one). It is the fastest and most energetic part so far and reminiscent of “Is it Really Happening?” minus the rapid ending. Ironically, as all great progressive records do have implied over the years, “The Greatest Story Never Ends”, a song that even in its short nature will bring you back the old days of GENESIS and their masterful playing on “Trespass”, packed with about a thousand notes and some more complex arrangements leading into a powerful crescendo.

The album closer “Love Made A Way” brought tears to my eyes on the first listen as it majestically repeats some of the great lines of music heard on this masterpiece. I cannot name many bands who manage to hit the right chords (metaphorically and musically) as much as TRANSATLANTIC. Every single album ending is beautiful and the pure definition of a journey’s ending point, and this is no different. My words cannot do it justice, it is an emotional rollercoaster of music that will leave you breathless.

As my last line suggests, this album embodies everything we have loved from this band over the last 20 years, sublime melodies, great lyrics and great fluidity. As much as I adored their 2009 opus, this one matches it in quality, presentation and memorability. From the bottom of my heart, TRANSATLANTIC, thank you guys for coming back and writing such an amazing album in a time where everyone dearly needs it.

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
'1. Overture
2. Reaching For The Sky
3. Higher Than The Morning
4. The Darkness In The Light
5. Take Now My Soul
6. Looking For The Light
7. Love Made A Way (Prelude)
8. Owl Howl
9. Solitude
10. Belong
11. Can You Feel It
12. Looking For The Light (Reprise)
13. The Greatest Story Never Ends
14. Love Made A Way
Lineup:
Pete Trewavas - Bass, Vocals
Mike Portnoy - Drums, Vocals
Roine Stolt - Guitars, Vocals
Neal Morse - Keyboards, Vocals
Record Label: InsideOut Music
     


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