Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope
Release Date: January 27, 2014
Rick Wakeman of the band Yes, once said about progressive music, “I say that it’s about breaking the rules. But the secret of breaking rules in a way that works is understanding what the rules are in the first place”. The reason I view progressive music as the best kind of music there can be, is because I know I won’t be let down, but neither will I know what to expect. It is the harmony of solid, concrete complexities woven into an ocean of emotion orchestrated by what you may understate as the maestros of music, in general. That, my friend, is progressive music in a gist.
Today we talk about a flawless band that has come out with a brilliant trifecta of flawless albums over the years, the progressive rock super-group, Transatlantic. Kaleidoscope is their fourth studio full length. This time, apart from the fantastic four, Chris Carmichael hops in, to play the cello, skimming through glimpses in the album. This record, although having a mere five tracks, spans up to about a whopping 75 minutes. So gear up for some of the best progressive music you’ll hear in a long time. The first track, “Into the Blue”, begins with an atmospheric, soothing symphony played on the cello, that bangs into Neal Morse’s typical stream of progressive music lead by the funky Mellotron. Shortly after, Pete Trawavas noodles along with a classical tuned, dark, bass riff. Mike Portnoy’s drumming is mind-blowing as usual. Just before the tempo changes to a really groovy, foot-tapping classic rock tune all the instruments (almost), are tested out: Starting with Roine Stolt’s guitar ripping leads, as he swaps the limelight with Morse on the keys. Right away you know, this album isn’t one that should be viewed through its musicality, but as a journey, a voyage through the sea of symphonies. And right away I know, I don’t want this album to end. Eventually, Morse’s refreshing vocals swim along to join you in the journey. Throughout the song, everyone chips in, cheekily enough, but quite perfectly! The vocals now switch all along the band members while Morse and Stolt exchange some of the most exciting solos quite effortlessly, and Portnoy’s percussive brilliance is shown throughout the odd time signatures of the song. Pete Trawavas chips in with his occasional bass guitar licks, accompanied by Stolt. This is a full package, and by full package I mean they have quite expertly stitched this progressive piece so complexly and perfectly involving literally all elements of rock, whilst also reaching out to jazz and even metal, courtesy Stolt’s screaming lead and Portnoy’s fast tempo drumming. Just, magnificent beyond words. The song comes to its final halt with Stolt totally squeezing the emotion from your heart with a brilliant solo. On this album, the listener is the dreamer, and the music, the healer.
With a euphoric sigh, a pause to digest the awesomeness I just heard, we move to the next song, “Shine”; a strong, soothing ballad. Morse begins with his trademark ballad intro, the acoustic guitar intro and his captivating vocals. Stolt pulls off a stunner in this song with two mad solos that yet again squeeze out the emotion in the song. A great ballad in the end. Moving on, to “Black as the Sky”, boasts of another foot-tapping, really catchy progressive rock tune. This song particularly, and pretty much the whole album in general has influences right from their debut release, dating back to the likes of Yes and Rush as well. The song takes a short dip into an array of odd time signatures, most probably composed by Portnoy, as it had a strong reminiscence of Dream Theater throughout. The song ends with a knock-out, fast-paced progressive rock sound. The next track, “Beyond the Sun” features Rich Mouser on the pedal steel guitar. Yes, with a steel guitar in a song, it has to have a melancholic vibe overall, and it most certainly does. The song ends with a heavy heart, a well made, yet simple ballad.
Lastly, to end the album, but not for another half an hour, comes the pinnacle of the album, possibly the band’s career, and a milestone along the road for progressive music: “Kaleidoscope”, the mammoth, title track. This song is a long, highly complex, well structured symphony that sums up not only the band’s style of play, but rock music as a whole. It begins with the faster, heavier side of rock with Stolt and Morse doing their usual tango. The transitions in this song, needless to say, are erratic in a good way, and commendably tailored. It’s like a change of channels while watching TV, the only difference being all the channels broadcast are actually something good! The first transition is to the old school classic, progressive rock feel. This segment begins with a funky tune that will make your head groove back and forth with Morse’s swift keyboard tricks, and ends with a great solo by Stolt. The next transition is to symphonic rock, and my god it begins with a rising theatrical feel to welcome a calm before the storm yet to come. This symphonic segment consists of shades of a theatric break, a rise that precedes an unexpected calm until the very end. Meanwhile, Morse crams in a swift, cute solo on the Mellotron that acts like an appetizer to Stolt’s solo right after it. During one of the symphonic waves hitting the sands, Portnoy hypnotizes with a great display of his legendary drumming skills. The outro of this segment has Carmichael coming back to showcase his weeping cello. Stolt carries the same tune, turning it into what could possibly be summed up as the one of the best transitions I’ve come across, and this coming from a HUGE progressive music fan. The song breaks into a sweet acoustic passage to welcome the last segment of this potpourri of magnificence, the complex solo-filled funky, heavy, artsy segment. This is where the band members really pull up their sleeves, show you that this isn’t a magic show filled with tricks, but it is a pure display of talent that words can’t suffice. Morse comes up with all the funky, creepy, peaceful sounds he can, Stolt is a natural with his leads that never fail to impress and coordinate so perfectly in sync with Morse’s keys, Portnoy reaches out all over his drum kit and Trawavas just slaps that bass all along the way, making this unanimous effort; a success to say the least. The inexplicable song, and album, and of course, the journey ends with a soaring guitar solo by Roine Stolt that just goes on and on until it slowly fades away. The most captivating of solos one can play.
I’d say progressive music a like a box of assorted chocolates, you certainly never know what to expect at all, and you will crave for it, for life. It is these musicians we must salute, for sticking up to what they always do, not holding back to whatsoever boundaries the world comes up with, breaking them effortlessly, and coming up with back-to-back masterpieces, while staying true to what they believe in, all along the ride. Kaleidoscope is certainly is the best album of Transatlantic‘s career. The silence almost feels awkward after 75 minutes of top-class music expelled into my ear drums, so I shall stop now and go back to fulfill my craving for this special kind of ear candy.