Review Summary: Nine years after a hiatus, Transatlantic is back to music and creates a brilliant concept album.
It’s difficult to create a concept album that’s really well done. Green Day tried it twice, and couldn’t keep it twice. American Idiot was good, and 21st Century Breakdown was, well, bad. While there are some genres that do have great concept albums, most bands that do create the best ones are often progressive rock artists. That’s where Transatlantic comes into the picture. The prog rock supergroup had it going pretty well with S.M.P.T.e and Bridge Across Forever and then stopped…for almost a decade. Then came 2009, and Transatlantic returned with their newest concept album: The Whirlwind.
The concept behind this album is more difficult to grip than any normal given concept. Take for example: it was easy to find out the concepts behind The Lamb Lies down on Broadway, Scenes from a Memory, and 2112. But the concept on this album takes on more of a personal, yet honorable approach. It revolves around the struggles faced in life, not just in ours, but in other’s lives as well. Many running themes that will rule the album are the whirlwind, the ship, and the lives that are affected by the whirlwind.
Part One: Overture, is a brilliant start to the album. The reason can be heard through passages from some of the next songs. It not to mention effectively presents each of the themes in this album, but sets the concept up so well. With time signature changes, mood changes, and incredible talent, the first instrumental half starts off superbly. The balance between the vocals and the rest of the band is nearly perfect, and sets the first track on good sails. But what’s even more important is the story itself. And it’s how it’s musically explained that matters even more. Transatlantic does a really good job interpreting the story format and putting it into music. And each example of a struggle within the story is explained in more than adequate detail. Every theme is incorporated into a certain mood of music. Take for example, Part Two; The Wind Blew Them All Away, which impersonates more of a moody tune. It’s pretty well executed and no real flaws are made. And as the album carries through, the musical impersonation only gets better. From jazzy and groovy style in On the Prowl, which handles with anarchy and chaos, to the ever dramatic and slightly apocalyptic A Man Can Feel, the setting is really well set in stone.
Another great advantage about this album is that the concept album is split into 12 parts, making some of the songs more accessible and easier to take in. That was an element that was missing from the two other early albums, which tracks, on average, sprawled between 10 minutes and a half an hour. This allows more examples to be incorporated with the concept, and more satisfying material to work with. It’s also the balance between the vocals and the rest of the band that enhances the material. One reason would be that Neal Morse and Roine Stolt share the vocals equally and in a lyrically enhancing experience that sharpens the concept. This allows for Mike Portnoy, Pete Trewavas, and Stolt to bring more highly complex instrumental works into each track. This helps create an upbeat song in Part Five: Out of the Night, and an emotional ballad in Part Six: Rose Colored Glasses. This is very important advantage that was gained in making this album.
The suspense created in parts seven through nine builds onto the concept, which already keeps the listener’s mind thinking. This begins the intensity that builds into Part Eleven: Is It Really Happening. The proof behind this is the themes that each part is about, and the power of the instrumentals. Carrying from the cohesive fast paced mood of Part Eight: Set Us Free to the rash and unforgiving Lay Down Your Life, the tensions, built in the first ten tracks, explode with a shocking, yet brilliant climax. The foundation which the concept was laid down, on this album was so well built that this type of climax only makes the album sound more outgoing, bombast, and powerful. It’s the virtuosity that also counts from here on.
The way The Whirlwind is wrapped up on this album is such a beautiful tribulation that carries through with a glorious ending. It concludes with the end of the whirlwind and the beginning of a new life. The lyrics are more difficult to understand, but if proper look is taken into them, the understatement is the main protagonist finds the good in struggles, brings it all together, and solves the problem, which plagued the human race for the whole album. That is the spectacular flavor of Transatlantic.
Take note that Disc Two is actually a bonus disc. It's one half originals and the other half is covers. I personally enjoyed it myself, but is just a nice bonus to the already impressive first disc.
All in all, many improvements were made to this album and it only got better in the process. Overall, the album was more accessible, better balanced, and laid a great foundation for the concept to lie on. None of these elements were as well contained in the past two albums, but there are possible reasons for this. One: Transatlantic as a band sees the advantage of letting the whole group properly indulge themselves as well as each of the musicians as individuals. Two: the evolution of the concept art that each of the members worked with. Mike Portnoy has excellent experience from Dream Theater’s concept epic, Scenes from a Memory, Pete Trewavas worked with Neo Prog band Marillion on semi-famous albums such as Misplaced Childhood and Script for a Jester’s Tear, and Neal Morse and Roine Stolt learned to improve from concept albums such as Snow and the Garden of Dreams (it’s not that they’re bad, but they weren’t superb either). Three: the band returned with the motivation to create a brilliant album. After eight to nine years of waiting, they built ideas, got back together, and really made an album in the process. In the end, they succeeded.