Review Summary: As the millennium changes, Transatlantic launches the progressive age of the 21st century with a nicely done debut.
The year is 2000. There was a lack in prominent prog rock supergroups. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer had run dry of ink. Liquid Tension Experiment was only an experiment. Progressive rock had been taking a time travel back to pre-Crimson days yet again, and pop and rap had taken back the most of the music industry.
But that’s not what this story is about. This story is about the movement in which the underground genre of prog rock made one of its first strikes in the 21st century. The first strike came from a newly formed supergroup by the name of Transatlantic, composed of Mike Portnoy, formally of Dream Theater; Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings; Neal Morse, formally of Spock’s Beard; and Pete Trewavas of Marillion. This was an act that would strive on traditional prog rock principles yet embrace the new age. Their first response, would become, S.M.P.T:e.
If you carefully take a listen at this album, you’ll notice the team chemistry is fresh, new, and works excellently. Mike Portnoy is still just as ridiculously talented in his work on the drums and Stolt mixes it up with emotionally moving guitar riffs, solos, and melodies. Neal Morse only adds onto the experience of the newest album, with both the rough and yet soothing vocals, using influential principles from cult acts, such as Gentle Giant. And of course, Pete Trewavas isn’t drowned out by the other members, creating a nice sense of balance. Overall, each of the band members brought in what they’ve done in their own groups and built something meaningful.
Transatlantic’s first album also has some less noticeable disadvantages. One being: the length of the music. The majority of the songs on the album are above 15 minutes, one being as long as 30 minutes. Each song above 15 minutes changes the key and time signature more than five times, can drag on for long periods of time, and require loads of attention. So, if one were to listen to this album completely, they would need to be focused and prepared for long and winding epics.
Transatlantic still has more advantages to the album than disadvantages. One being that there still are a few smaller songs, such as the acoustic ballad, We All Need Some Light, and the catchy, mind bending Mystery Train. Another plus: despite the harsh length of each massive song, each one still sounds musically interesting, containing emotional ballads and intense instrumentals. Much of this has been influenced by what Portnoy and Trewavas have done in Dream Theater or Marillion, but it’s also controlled. In other words, it’s less noticeable, and in most forms, subtle. But this is not album mainly influenced by two bands. It is an album with an incredible amount of influence.
S.M.P.T:e is mainly an album of heavy reminiscence. Need examples? Listen to Roine Stolt’s guitar playing, and you might be able to relate to Steve Howe of Yes. The same could be also said of Neal Morse. His vocal influences seem to point to classic acts such as Gentle Giant, Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson. He also has keyboard playing similar to that of Rick Wakeman. In fact, they most show their reminiscence in a song by Procol Harum, In Held Twas’ In I. The way the song is played, it could almost be mistaken for a Procol Harum reunion studio song if the name Transatlantic was not known or mentioned. The few elements that separate the cover from the original is perhaps the technology used, the vocalist, and the highly complex percussion done by Mike Portnoy.
In the end, S.M.P.T:e was just one of the first calls of the 21st century cult genre, progressive rock/metal. It would also pave the way for even bigger albums such as Lateralus, Space Revolver, Origin of Symmetry, Blackwater Park, and Transatlantic’s next album, Bridge Across Forever. And while S.M.P.T:e was just a simple spark in the beginning of the millennium, it was certainly one that would help continue the tradition of progressive supergroups and progressive rock music that had been striving both above and underground for three decades at the time. Overall, S.M.P.T:e was a great debut.