Review – Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version) by John Wenlock-Smith

This February sees a new album from the Neal Morse/Mike PortnoyTransatlantic realm of progressive activity entitled ‘The Absolute Universe’. This is a little different though in that this album exists in two main versions, this review covering ‘The Absolute Universe – Forevermore (Extended Version)’.

We are informed that each of the albums are different entirely. Rather than being just extended versions, these are different animals that share the same DNA. So it will be interesting to do what we used to do in English at school i.e., compare and contrast them.

This 2CD or 3 vinyl version has more tracks and an additional 30 minutes running time over the single CD/2 vinyl version titled ‘The Absolute Universe – The Breath of Life (Abrdiged Version), both are housed in Digipak sleeves with seriously impressive artwork and graphics. For Transatlantic money is apparently no object, seeing as they are a flagship group for InsideOut, one of their ‘jewels in the crown’ and a proven seller. This album will probably sell in copious amounts and I’m sure both versions will be highly sought by the faithful.

The album starts strongly with Overture, a thunderous 8-minute mini saga all on its own. Unsurprisingly it is everything that you would want and expect, it certainly impressive sounding and a good set up for all that follows. The album has several themes, Neal Morse states that some of it is autobiographical about his own ego in his early years and also comments about the state of America, along with thoughts about how the world is handling the current pandemic.

Heart Like A Whirlwind is a sprightly little number with a jaunty keyboard sound and some sweet guitar embellishments from Roine Stolt. Transatlantic really bring their choruses to life here and Neal Morse is also on great form, in fine voice and really belts this one out. This is a class song by any standard. Higher Than The Morning has Roine singing along with some great bass from Pete Trewavas and delivers another fine chorus along with some more great guitar from Stolt.

This release has a mixture of pieces, some longer, some shorter but all woven together in a symphonic Tour De Force, it is an album that needs time to appreciate all that it contains and is seeking to convey to you, the listener.

The tracks continue to impress with some seriously good playing throughout as things proceed. We come to the final track of Disc 1,The World We Used To Know, which is another lengthy workout track where the whole band can show off their fantastic ensemble playing, a sinewy snaking guitar line from Roine sitting perfectly alongside some powerfully evocative piano from Neal Morse. The song is looking back fondly to how things were and a yearning for those times to return once again, a sentiment that is probably common to us all at the moment!

Disc 2 opens with The Sun Comes Up Today, it offers stacked vocals before Neal offers some great Mellotron sounds for Roine Stolt to solo over. Exceptional, strong Hammond work from Neal is offset by elegant riffing from Roine, subtle running bass from Pete and energetic thunderous drums from Mike Portnoy who is spot on here. It has another strong chorus and is a fabulous shorter song. This leads into the brief prelude to Love Made A Way, that we will hear as the final track of the album, all propelled by acoustic guitar from Roine and some smooth keyboards from Neal. The interestingly titled Owl Howl then follows with a very meaty riff (that is not unreminiscent of Steve Morse’s work with Deep Purple), with Roine asking “Blackbird, Blackbird What Have You Done?”. Without lyrics, it’s hard to discern what the song is on about but it is certainly one of the harder hitting tracks on here with some interesting sounds and timbres deployed. All in all, a very interesting song with great growling bass and some odd keyboard moments. It actually makes for a song that is fairly odd overall but certainly entertaining, I must add!

Overall, the playing throughout the entire album is strong and impressive, I especially like the interplay between Neal and Roine and also enjoy the rhythm section who support all the fireworks that the others create so admirably. I’ll say one thing, this album is certainly musically challenging, like all the best albums tend to be.

Solitude is the next track, it is about being alone and appreciating the moments as the author is asking questions about how things are now. This song also includes a refrain of the Love Made A Way theme in it and very effectively used it is too. Belong opens with wailing and crying noises before Roine’s liquid guitar opens the music in tandem with Pete Trewevas’ elegant bass, strong organ sounds abound on this shortish track. Lonesome Rebel is next and is another acoustically led piece with Roine on vocals. This one is strong on imagery in the lyrics, politics are in a mess, Roine sings, as he assesses the state of the world.

Looking for The Light (Reprise) begins with an exciting organ solo, backed with some superb bass, powering the track along ferociously. This song is really an instrumental that gives rein for each member to play wildly and express their own talents. Having said that, there are vocals towards the latter part of the song but, mainly, this is soloing by all the band members. We lead into the penultimate track, The Greatest Story Never Ends, which carries on in a similar vein to Looking For The Light, although the vocals come in pretty much right from the off. There is more impressive organ on this one, sounding both full and epic and, again, some good guitar/keyboard interplay here too. It is all extremely exciting, one wonders how this album will translate to the live arena, it certainly has great promise for a lively and engrossing show.

The album closes with the full version of Love Made A Way, opening with gentle piano and guitar runs from Roine Stolt. This is a more ‘Christian’ Neal Morse composition as he sings about how God has changed his life for the better. I know that this might put some folks off, however, the whole song is full of optimism and gratitude. It also has more of that epic chorus and fine guitar runs from Roine whose instrument is wailing throughout the song, and indeed the whole album and he delivers a typically fine, histrionic guitar solo 2/3rds of the way through. This leads us to a very ELO sounding closing section with lots of climbing peaks and cymbals crashing, before everything ends on fading synthesisers and then silence…

This is an album that will make you smile and will definitely tide you over until lockdown has finished, giving you hope for the coming days, being Transatlantic to the max. You did not really expect anything else really, did you? You knew this was going to be wonderfully over the top excess surely? This is what we want and expect from the band and if that is what you get then it will not disappoint in any aspect!

If symphonic progressive rock is your thing, then this album, in whichever form you like, is most definitely for you. Get ready for a great listening experience, hopefully coming to a stage somewhere near soon too, very highly recommended indeed!

Released 5th February 2021

Order from Burning Shed (when back in stock!) here:

The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version) (burningshed.com)

TRANSATLANTIC – launch video for ‘Overture / Reaching For The Sky’/ first single from ‘The Absolute Universe’

TRANSATLANTIC – the Prog Supergroup of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt & Pete Trewavas – are pleased to announce their fifth studio album ‘The Absolute Universe’, set for release on the 5th February 2021. Representing the band’s first new music since 2014’s ‘Kaleidoscope’, with ‘The Absolute Universe’ the band have done something unique and created two versions of the record: ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’ & ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’.

Today they have launched the video for ‘Overture / Reaching For The Sky’, taken from ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’. 

Mike Portnoy comments: “’Reaching For The Sky’ is the first single off Transatlantic’s latest Magnum opus ‘The Absolute Universe’. It’s a great introduction to this epic album as it sets the tone in traditional TA style: proceeded on the album by an extended Instrumental Overture and then launching into this upbeat first song.

I love that it features one of my favorite qualities of the band in the sharing of the lead vocals…in this case: Neal singing lead on Verse 1, myself singing lead on Verse 2, Pete & Neal sharing the Chorus with myself and Roine on backups and Neal taking the glorious Bridge…all leading to Roine’s distinctive guitar solo. 

 Also interesting is that this version exclusively appears on the Abridged 1CD Version of TA5 (“The Breath Of Life”) while the Extended 2CD Version of TA5 (“Forevermore”) opens with the alternate version ‘Heart Like A Whirlwind’ which has different lead vocals and lyrics .”

Each album will be available on CD, LP & Digitally. But there will also be what has been called ‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’, which collects both versions together in one lavish package that includes 5LP’s, 3CD’s & a Blu-ray that includes a special mix that combines both versions into a third unique version in 5.1 surround sound with visuals and a behind the scenes documentary. All editions have artwork created by Thomas Ewerhard featuring the airship by Pavel Zhovba. 

As Mike Portnoy explains: “We’ve got two versions of this album. There is a two CD presentation, which is 90 minutes long, and a single one – that’s 60 minutes. However, the single CD is NOT merely an edited version of the double CD. They each contain alternate versions and even in some cases, new recordings. We wrote fresh lyrics and have different people singing on the single CD version tracks as compared to those on the double CD. Some of the song titles have also been changed, while others might remain the same, but compositionally what you’ll hear has been altered. You must appreciate that what we have done is unique. We revamped the songs to make the two versions different.” Pete Trewavas adds: “We did write some new music for the single CD, what’s more, there are also differences in the instruments used on some of the tracks across the two records.”

The full list of formats is below, and you can pre-order now here: https://transatlantic.lnk.to/TheAbsoluteUniverse

The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’

Available as:

Single CD Edition, Gatefold 2LP+CD, or Digital Album 

Track-listing:

1.     Overture

2.     Reaching For The Sky

3.     Higher Than The Morning

4.     The Darkness In The Light

5.     Take Now My Soul

6.     Looking For The Light

7.     Love Made  A Way (Prelude)

8.     Owl Howl

9.     Solitude

10.  Belong

11.  Can You Feel It

12.  Looking For The Light (Reprise)

13.  The Greatest Story Never Ends

14.  Love Made A Way

 ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’

Available as:
2CD Edition, 3LP+2CD Boxset, or Digital Album

Track-listing:

Disc 1:

1.     Overture

2.     Heart Like A Whirlwind

3.     Higher Than The Morning

4.     The Darkness In The Light

5.     Swing High, Swing Low

6.     Bully

7.     Rainbow Sky

8.     Looking For The Light

9.     The World We Used To Know

Disc 2:

1.     The Sun Comes Up Today

2.     Love Made A Way (Prelude)

3.     Owl Howl

4.     Solitude

5.     Belong

6.     Lonesome Rebel

7.     Looking For The Light (Reprise)

8.     The Greatest Story Never Ends

9.     Love Made A Way

‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’

Limited Deluxe Clear 5LP+3CD+Blu-Ray Box-set – contained within a foil-finished lift-off box with extended 16-page LP booklet & 60x60cm poster. Includes both versions of the album over 5LP’s and 3CD’s, plus a Blu-Ray with 5.1 mix & documentary. 

Blu-Ray Track-listing:

1.     Overture (5.1 Surround Mix)

2.     Reaching For The Sky (5.1 Surround Mix)

3.     Higher Than The Morning (5.1 Surround Mix)

4.     The Darkness In The Light (5.1 Surround Mix)

5.     Take Now My Soul (5.1 Surround Mix)

6.     Bully (5.1 Surround Mix)

7.     Rainbow Sky (5.1 Surround Mix)

8.     Looking For The Light (5.1 Surround Mix)

9.     The World We Used To Know (5.1 Surround Mix)

10.  The Sun Comes Up Today (5.1 Surround Mix)

11.  Love Made A Way (Prelude) (5.1 Surround Mix)

12.  Owl Howl (5.1 Surround Mix)

13.  Solitude (5.1 Surround Mix)

14.  Belong (5.1 Surround Mix)

15.  Lonesome Rebel (5.1 Surround Mix)

16.  Can You Feel It (5.1 Surround Mix)

17.  Looking For The Light (Reprise) (5.1 Surround Mix)

18.  The Greatest Story Never Ends (5.1 Surround Mix)

19.  Love Made A Way (5.1 Surround Mix)

20.  The Making of The Absolute Universe (Documentary)

Initial tracking began in September 2019 when the band met up in Sweden to write and arrange the new material. As Portnoy explains: “Over a period of 10-14 days, we mapped out the songs. Then we all went back to our home studios and did the recording. That’s the way we always do it. At one point, though, it was suggested that instead of doing what was by that time going to be a double album, we should just be content to do a single CD.”

“What happened was that everything kept expanding and expanding,” recalls Stolt. “Therefore we decided it made sense to make it a double album. It was Pete and Neal who then came out and said they felt this would be too long, and we should reduce it to one…But we were already recording, and it didn’t seem feasible to cut it back. There were so many pieces that each of us loved in what we were planning and didn’t want to lose. That’s when we ended up in discussions over the best way forward.”

This album also marks a return to the concept album for Transatlantic. “Well, the idea of Transatlantic deciding to do a concept record this time around won’t shock anyone, right?” laughs Portnoy. “What we have is essentially one giant composition, split into chapters. The storyline is about the struggles facing everyone in society today.” “We didn’t start out with the idea of this being conceptual,” admits Stolt. “The way things work with us is that we have a load of ideas, and these are developed spontaneously when we meet up. Everything happens in the moment.”

So, how does this new ground-breaking album compare to Transatlantic’s previous four albums?

“I always try not to compare albums as much as possible,” insists Morse. “It’s very difficult when you’re trying to be creative, because your natural instinct is to constantly compare. But in order to create you have to kind of step away from that. Having said that, I would say this would have more in common with ‘The Whirlwind’ album  (the band’s third, from 2009) than others that we’ve created.” 

For Trewavas, ‘The Absolute Universe’ is a momentous project.“I think it is right up there with the very finest albums we’ve done. As the others have said, it compares very well to ‘The Whirlwind’, which I believe represents Transatlantic at our best. As on that album, we took our time to write and arrange everything, and that shines through. I am very excited for people to hear it.”

Transatlantic were originally formed in 1999, releasing their debut album ‘SMTPe’ the following year as well as its follow-up ‘Bridge Across Forever’ in 2001. Following a 7-year hiatus, the band reconvened to record and release the much-acclaimed epic 77-minute, single-track album ‘The Whirlwind’ followed by a world tour in 2010 which included an appearance at High Voltage Festival in London where they were joined by legendary Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. The band’s fourth album ‘Kaleidoscope’ arrived in 2014, going on to win ‘Album Of The Year’ at the Progressive Music Awards.

TRANSATLANTIC – invite you to enter ‘The Absolute Universe’ on fifth studio album

TRANSATLANTIC – the Prog Supergroup of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt & Pete Trewavas – are pleased to announce their fifth studio album ‘The Absolute Universe’, set for release on the 5th February 2021. Representing the band’s first new music since 2014’s ‘Kaleidoscope’, with ‘The Absolute Universe’ the band have done something unique and created two versions of the record: ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’ & ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’.

As Mike Portnoy explains: “We’ve got two versions of this album. There is a two CD presentation, which is 90 minutes long, and a single one – that’s 60 minutes. However, the single CD is NOT merely an edited version of the double CD. They each contain alternate versions and even in some cases, new recordings. We wrote fresh lyrics and have different people singing on the single CD version tracks as compared to those on the double CD. Some of the song titles have also been changed, while others might remain the same, but compositionally what you’ll hear has been altered. You must appreciate that what we have done is unique. We revamped the songs to make the two versions different.” Pete Trewavas adds: “We did write some new music for the single CD,” adds Trewavas. “What’s more, there are also differences in the instruments used on some of the tracks across the two records.”

Each album will be available on CD, LP & Digitally. But there will also be what has been called ‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’, which collects both versions together in one lavish package that includes 5LP’s, 3CD’s & a Blu-ray that contains a 5.1 surround sound mix with visuals & a behind the scenes documentary. All editions have unique artwork created by Thomas Ewerhard. The full list of formats is below, and pre-orders start on the 20th November:

‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’

Special Edition CD Digipak

Gatefold 2LP+CD

Digital Album

‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’

Special Edition 2CD Digipak

3LP+2CD Boxset

Digital Album

‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’

Limited Deluxe Clear 5LP+3CD+Blu-Ray Box-set – contained within a foil-finished lift-off box with extended 16-page LP booklet & 60x60cm poster

Initial tracking began in September 2019 when the band met up in Sweden to write and arrange the new material. As Portnoy explains: “Over a period of 10-14 days, we mapped out the songs. Then we all went back to our home studios and did the recording. That’s the way we always do it. At one point, though, it was suggested that instead of doing what was by that time going to be a double album, we should just be content to do a single CD.”

“What happened was that everything kept expanding and expanding,” recalls Stolt. “Therefore we decided it made sense to make it a double album. It was Pete and Neal who then came out and said they felt this would be too long, and we should reduce it to one…But we were already recording, and it didn’t seem feasible to cut it back. There were so many pieces that each of us loved in what we were planning and didn’t want to lose. That’s when we ended up in discussions over the best way forward.” 

This album also marks a return to the concept album for Transatlantic. “Well, the idea of Transatlantic deciding to do a concept record this time around won’t shock anyone, right?” laughs Portnoy. “What we have is essentially one giant composition, split into chapters. The storyline is about the struggles facing everyone in society today.” “We didn’t start out with the idea of this being conceptual,” admits Stolt. “The way things work with us is that we have a load of ideas, and these are developed spontaneously when we meet up. Everything happens in the moment.”

So, how does this new ground-breaking album compare to Transatlantic’s previous four albums?

“I always try not to compare albums as much as possible,” insists Morse. “It’s very difficult when you’re trying to be creative, because your natural instinct is to constantly compare. But in order to create you have to kind of step away from that. Having said that, I would say this would have more in common with ‘The Whirlwind’ album  (the band’s third, from 2009) than others that we’ve created.” For Trewavas, ‘The Absolute Universe’ is a momentous project.

“I think it is right up there with the very finest albums we’ve done. As the others have said, it compares very well to ‘The Whirlwind’, which I believe represents Transatlantic at our best. As on that album, we took our time to write and arrange everything, and that shines through. I am very excited for people to hear it.”

Transatlantic were originally formed in 1999, releasing their debut album ‘SMTPe’ the following year as well as its follow-up ‘Bridge Across Forever’ in 2001. Following a 7-year hiatus, the band reconvened to record and release the much-acclaimed epic 77-minute, single-track album ‘The Whirlwind’ followed by a world tour in 2010 which included an appearance at High Voltage Festival in London where they were joined by legendary Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. The band’s fourth album ‘Kaleidoscope’ arrived in 2014, going on to win ‘Album Of The Year’ at the Progressive Music Awards.