Review: Transatlantic, The Whirlwind

An Epic Tale of Apocalyptic Scale
This is a mirror review from Prog Archives: http://www.progarchives.com/Review.asp?id=442708

TRANSATLANTIC-The whirlwind.After a prolonged time since their last collaboration when they made “Bridge Across Forever” in 2001 (one of the best albums of the decade), Prog Rock’s premier super group, Transatlantic, have given us the incredible gift of “The Whirlwind.” This is an epic story both musically and lyrically, a magnum opus with eschatological undertones but with hope in the midst of suffering.

Musically, the sound is distinctively Transatlantic – an intriguing stew that mixes Neal Morse’s (ex-Spock’s Beard and a critically acclaimed solo career) sophisticated themes, catchy melodies, and seamless transitions with the quirkiness of Roine Stolt’s (The Flower Kings) compositional genius. This is old-school Prog, in the vein of Kansas, Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, with plenty of influence from The Beatles of the late-60s.

You’ll find layers of guitars, both electric and acoustic (Roine Stolt has won plenty of awards for his guitar prowess—having been compared with David Gilmour, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, and Frank Zappa), lush keyboards (dominated by organ and synth and with flashes of piano by the virtuoso singer/keyboardist Neal Morse), bass guitar that gets perfectly fronted plenty of times (from Pete Trevawas of renowned Neo-Prog band Marillion), and drumming that moves from heavy to delicate and back again with ease from the legendary Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater). There is simply no better rock drummer performing today than Portnoy.

There are plenty of instrumental flourishes on “The Whirlwind,” the highlight being “On the Prowl.” Vocals are shared by Morse, who excellently sings with both emotion (especially on “Rose Colored Glasses”) and intensity (he particularly nailed it on “The Wind Blew Them All Away”), and Stolt, whose vocals are an acquired taste (a taste that I have actually acquired!) and does a wonderful job as well, especially with a mad-scientist sound on “A Man Can Feel.”

This album is meant to be understood as one continuous, 12-part, 78-minute epic composition. In Neal Morse’s normal MO, the opening track includes an “Overture” giving the listener a foretaste of the musical themes that tie the album together. The main Whirlwind theme draws you in instantly, and with that opening track, your appetite is whetted, and you’re ready for the musical journey on which these four men are going to lead you.

Lyrically, the songs are dominated with the Christian worldview of Neal Morse. Morse converted in 2002 and left the band he founded (Spock’s Beard) as well as Transatlantic in order to pursue more strictly Christian themes in his music. Morse’s solo albums have been critically acclaimed for their musical genius, even by those who did not appreciate his Christian lyrics. When Transatlantic announced a reunion, I wondered how much leeway the other band members would give Morse lyrically. The answer is: A lot. The other three seem to respect Morse’s faith enough to allow him to express it in his songs, which speaks highly for Morse and his relationships with these men.

The story that “The Whirlwind” tells is apocalyptic, the story of judgment and turmoil, but also of hope and mercy. In “The Wind Blew Them All Away,” Morse sings,
And in the master's house
They're partyin' down
But there's no resting place
In this prodigal town
But there are some we know
Thought they'd go all the way
But the wind blew them all away
In “Set Us Free,” there is more explicit eschatological overtones and a cry for help:
Look at the people
Tossed in turmoil in the street
Satan like lightning falling down
The ungodly world
Is like a vicious troubled sea
Feels like our ship is sinking down
We have been blinded in our hearts
We want to say
And somewhere inside we know
It's not supposed to be
Come bring this ship
Out of the whirlwind and
Set us free, free, free, free...
The album is very accessible and intriguing through the first eleven songs—telling a story that all can relate to with music that is captivating and cutting-edge musically. It talks of finding meaning in hardship, of justice, and of finding hope for the next life in the midst of all of it. But then comes the final song, the sappy “Dancing with Eternal Glory.” I understand the need to tie up the story with a glimpse of heaven, but this song seems out of place, too cliché, too kitschy. Morse sings,
And you're dancing with eternal glory
Taking a step to another land
You are dancing with eternal glory
This is much more than time and chance
When the giver of life is asking you to dance
This is a bit too cheesy for such an amazing album, too trite. I have simply pretended that the first six minutes of this song does not exist, and skip immediately to the final six minutes where the reprise of the main theme occurs.

Transatlantic has placed themselves in the upper echelon of the great rock supergroups of all time. How good are they? Good enough for me to drive eight hours to Philadelphia to see them live in concert back in April. What a show! After they played this entire album through, they took a break for intermission and then played songs from their first two albums. Before leaving the stage for intermission, a sweaty Mike Portnoy stood next to his drumkit and said, “Well, that was our first song. How’s that for an epic? A 75-minute opening song!”

It is indeed epic, and worthy of many, many listenings.

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