But after the 'magnificent album' that was Bridge Across Forever, and the tour that followed, Transatlantic split up. This was purely down to Neal Morse, the co-founder of the band, who had come close to losing one of his family members after an incident. They survived, and the doctors described it as a 'miracle', thus, Morse became a Born Again Christian. He went solo, writing music about God, and such like. Transatlantic drummer Mike Portnoy continued to provide rhythm for Neal Morse on his solo albums, but provided minimal compositional input. This was the case for a good seven years...
However, in early 2009, Transatlantic announced a reunion, during a time when Progressive Rock was at a peak - the highest peak the genre had seen for decades. Morse claimed that God had told him to bring the band back together, and Morse believed that it was 'the right thing to do'. And unsurprisingly, these religious themes that were present in Neal Morse's solo albums make themselves present in Transatlantic's latest release, 'The Whirlwind' (although it's not quite as 'in your face'). The word 'Whirlwind', as you can imagine, is metaphorical. The Whirlwind is very open and multi-interpretable. The 'Whirlwind' itself represents any problems or troubles one has in their life, and rather like a whirlwind, these problems disrupt your life and make things harder. But the message conveyed through the music and lyrics is that hope and a sense of light are present despite these problems. You still live on, and you will get past it. But like I say, it's multi-interpretable, so this could quite easily be an album about an actual whirlwind that's just really getting on these guys' nerves!
It's always fairly simple to convey ideas through lyrics. I feel that lyrics that beat around the bush and aren't extremely literal are the best kind, but even then, ideas can be put across fairly easily. But Transatlantic aim to set such moods in their music to display contrasts between disruption and a sense of hope, and do so successfully. The album opens with the track 'Overture/Whirlwind', and the name of it is pretty self-explanatory. In music, an overture is an introduction of themes and ideas. So in the first track, you'll hear a lot of music that you'll end up hearing later on in the album. The second half of the track, 'Whirlwind' features lyrics, so is the more lyrical overture, if you will, introducing the ideas behind the concept (in this case, the whirlwind and everything it represents).
It's an ambiguous subject when deciphering whether or not The Whirlwind is a concept album or not. The haziness stems from the fact that this album features only one song: 'The Whirlwind', but as I mentioned in the previous parts to this review trilogy, Transatlantic are all about suites (a suite being a string of musical movements that are loosely connected). So 'The Whirlwind' is less of a song, and more of a suite, clocking in at almost 78 minutes in total, and featuring 12 movements. These movements are as follows:
I. Overture / Whirlwind (9:53)
II. The Wind Blew Them All Away (6:09)
III. On the Prowl (6:02)
IV. A Man Can Feel (6:35)
V. Out of the Night (4:22)
VI. Rose Colored Glasses (7:53)
VII. Evermore (4:09)
VIII. Set Us Free (5:03)
IX. Lay Down Your Life (5:10)
X. Pieces of Heaven (2:17)
XI. Is it Really Happening? (8:11)
XII. Dancing with Eternal Glory / Whirlwind (Reprise) (12:03)
Total Length: 77.54
So take it how you want. It could be viewed as pretentious to say that this is a 'song', when the movements are so different that they could quite easily be twelve separate songs. But it is the themes (both musical and literal) that unify the movements, causing them to be linked. I feel that this is the difference between a concept album and a suite - the presence of musical unification. There are many reprises of ideas heard in The Whirlwind, and if you're not really a pro on the Prog albums, you'll be sitting there thinking 'I swear I've heard this bit before' on your first listen.
Now, the single suite itself is brilliant. I feel it is a vast achievement to write a suite of such a length that is consistently fantastic, providing the listener with tonnes of variety, whilst themes and ideas continue to unify the piece. It ranges from the epic opening of 'Overture/Whirlwind' to more mellow moments, such as those in the following track 'The Wind Blew Them All Away', and from funky sounds such as those in 'Evermore' to the mysterious, circus sounds of 'A Man Can Feel'. The suite is beautifully constructed. Even when revisiting sections of the music, it all fits. Part IV, 'A Man Can Feel' is a particular favourite of mine, due to the thick layer of harmonising vocals in the chorus, and the following track 'Out of the Night' as a very Beatles feel to it, before reprising material from the overture of the suite. I feel that every track is very strong in its own respect, but I favour some over others. Track VIII, 'Set Us Free' is a brilliant track. It has a very cool, mellow verse, which contrasts with the distinctive vocals of Mike Portnoy for the chorus, with the others providing backing vocals. Each member is virtuosic in what they do, and there parts blend together beautifully. Portnoy's consistently interesting drumming, Stolt's excellent guitar parts, Trewavas' ever-supporting bass line and Morse's synth enhancements form the music, and it just always sound superb! The suite progresses onto the harsh sounding 'Lay Down Your Life', with two great movements following.
The final part of the piece is 'Dancing With Eternal Grace/Whirlwind [Reprise], and it is a beautiful conclusion. There is raw emotion present in the melodic moments that feature Morse providing soft vocals. The movement is so good that it flies by, and it feels surprisingly short for a 12-minute long track. You hear a lot of reprising of sections, one after the other, as the band sums up The Whirlwind. The final moments are exceptional and very epic and emotional. The entire suite feels like a journey, but a thoroughly satisfying one, and it's apparent, in my opinion at least, that there is something special present.
Progressive Rock has often been criticised for being 'too much'. The music is very ornate, and the auras set are usually quite deep. The Whirlwind is no exception. Pop is...well, 'popular' because it's usually rather on the surface, and that's generally what people want to hear As a musician (and I'm not saying that all musicians are like me whatsoever), I am drawn to Progressive Rock like a moth to a flame. I view things rather artistically, and I am very influenced by it, and Transatlantic fit this criterion very well. It's 'Art Rock' all over again. If you're not into deeper, expressive music, then Transatlantic are perhaps not for you. But I love the band. Again, like 'Bridge Across Forever', the music is vastly different to its predecessor. You'd still recognise the band, but there are qualities that cause it to sound very different. I'd say that it is perhaps even more commercial still, but I still prefer 'Bridge Across Forever', despite really liking this album. I have seen Transatlantic live, and in three and a quarter hours they technically played only six songs, 'The Whirlwind' being one of them. It was absolutely brilliant, and the best gig I have ever been to.
The cover of The Whirlwind is quite jarring in comparison to the previous two albums', and I don't really like it much. It looks amateurish and strange. But it does not speak for the album. The Whirlwind, like the other two albums, is produced by Transatlantic, and the sound quality is great.
Transatlantic are a supergroup. They are originally regarded as 'side project', but the music is just fantastic, and I find it amazing that this remains a 'side project' to the band members. 'SMPT:e' and 'Bridge Across Forever' came only eighteen months apart yet were so different, both brilliant in their own respect. After a hiatus, Transatlantic are back together, and deliver a phenomenal 'come back' album. The Whirlwind is a wonderful piece of art, and should be regarded as a Prog Rock 'great'. It's more than just an album, it's an achievement and an experience, and I loved every minute of it.
Until part 4...
'And from the whirlwind comes the breadth of life...'
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Whirlwind (Part 1-12) (77:56)