TRANSATLANTIC-THE ABSOLUTE UNIVERSE: FOREVERMORE (EXTENDED VERSION). 

Transatlantic-The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Universe).

Label: Inside Out.

Format: 2CD Set.

When multinational progressive rock supergroup Transatlantic was originally founded in 1999, it was a side project to their full-time bands. The four members were based in three countries and belonged to hugely successful bands.

In 1999, Nashville-born Neil Morse was the vocalist in LA-based progressive rock band Spock’s Beard, while Mike Portnoy from Long Beach, New York, was the drummer in Dream Theater. Joining him in the rhythm section was Middlesbrough-born bassist Pete Trewavas who had been a member of Marillion since 1982. 

Completing the lineup of Transatlantic was Swedish guitarist Roine Stolt who was a member of Kaipa between 1974 and 1979. By then, they were one of Sweden’s most successful progressive rock bands. Five years later, in 1984, Roine Stolt founded a new band The Flower Kings and by the time joined Transatlantic in 1999 they had just completed their fourth album Flower Power. 

SMTP:e.

The newly formed Transatlantic met in New York to record their debut album at Millbrook Studios during June and July of 1999. It was written and produced by the four members of the group and once the recording was completed they decided its title would be SMTP:e. This was a reference to the first initial of each member of the group’s surname and referenced the timecode used in recording studios. SMTP:e was scheduled for release in the spring of 2000.

The progressive rock supergroup released their debut album SMTP:e on the ‘31st’ of March  2000. It was released to plaudits and praise with some critics going as far as to say the album included some of the best progressive rock ever recorded. This was high praise indeed. Despite this, the album only charted in Germany where it reached sixty-six in the album charts. 

Less than a year after releasing their debut album SMTP:e, Transatlantic released their Live In America on the ‘12th’ of March 2001. This was the first of two albums the group released that year.

Bridge Across Forever. 

Transatlantic had spent January of 2001 at Dark Horse Studios, Nashville, recorded their much-anticipated sophomore album Bridge Across Forever. Just like their debut album it was written and produced by the four members of the group. 

This time around, the group made a concerted effort to ensure that each member of the group contributed equally to the album. One criticism of was that SMTP:e was that the album was dominated by the vocal style of Neal Morse. That wasn’t the case on Bridge Across Forever which once it was completed, was scheduled for autumn 2001. 

When Bridge Across Forever was released on the ‘8th’ of October 2001 it was well received by critics. Despite being another ambitious and innovative album of progressive rock it wasn’t a hugely successful album. It stalled at fifty-six in the German and ninety-eight in the French album charts. However, Transatlantic were a popular live draw.

When they toured Europe during November 2001 the group were joined by Daniel Gildenlöw of Swedish progressive rock band Pain Of Salvation. He played keyboards, guitars, percussion and added vocals when Transatlantic played live and was the unofficial fifth member of the group during what was a successful tour that lifted the group’s profile.

In October 2002, Neal Morse left Spock’s Beard saying that: “God wants me to do something else.“  He turned his back on progressive rock and turned his attention to christian music. 

Mike Portnoy announced that: This spells the end of Transatlantic as I wouldn’t possibly consider continuing it without him.”

On November the ‘4th’ 2003, Transatlantic released Live In Europe which was a reminder of the group’s last tour. It looked like it was the end of an era.

Despite that, Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy continued to collaborate in the studio and onstage. When Neil Morse played live a Transatlantic song still featured in his setlist. Maybe it wasn’t the end of the road for the progressive rock supergroup?

Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Ronnie Stolt were reunited on August the ‘23rd’ 2008 at the Three Rivers Prog Fest in Pittsburgh for and played We All Need Some Light and Stranger in Your Soul. Those that were in the audience wondered if the four members of Transatlantic would reunite anytime soon? 

The Whirlwind.

On April the ’16th’ 2009, it was announced that Transatlantic had reunited and begun work on a third studio album. It was written and recorded during April 2009 with the release scheduled for autumn of that year.

When the album was released in October 2009, it consisted of a single seventy-seven minute track The Whirlwind in twelve parts. Just like Transatlantic’s two previous albums it was an ambitious and groundbreaking release that was well received by critics. This augured well for the release of The Whirlwind.

On its release The Whirlwind reached forty-five in Germany, forty in the Holland and fifty-nine in the Swedish album charts. Despite the critical acclaim and the quality of their music, Transatlantic’s albums weren’t selling in vast quantities. However, they embarked upon a tour of North America and Europe in April and May 2010 in support of The Whirlwind.

Transatlantic were still a popular live band and on October the ’26th’ 2010, they released Whirld Tour 2010: Live in London. It was recording of a concert that took place at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, on May the ’21st’ 2010. Transatlantic were back after a nine year hiatus.

Nearly a year to the day after Transatlantic released their third live album, they returned with their fourth. This was More Never Is Enough: Live In Manchester and Tilburg 2010 which was released on October the ’25th’ 2011. It featured the comeback kings Transatlantic during their successful 2010 European tour. 

Kaleidoscope.

Two years tased before Transatlantic started recorded their fourth studio album Kaleidoscope in 2013. It was written, arranged and produced by the band and scheduled for release at the start of 2014.

On January the ’27’ 2014 Transatlantic released Kaleidoscope to widespread critical acclaim. It was an album that was a mixture of traditional progressive rock and neo-progressive rock. This struck a chord with record buyers and the album charted in eight countries. Kaleidoscope reached number eight in Germany, six in the Netherlands, thirteen in Switzerland, twenty-two in Finland, fifty-two in Austria, fifty-five in Sweden, seventy-seven in France and 134 in Japan. At last, Transatlantic’s music was reaching the wider audience that it so richly deserved.

Sadly, when Transatlantic toured Kaleidoscope Daniel Gildenlöw was missing. He was unwell and was replaced by Ted Leonard the vocalist and guitarist for Thought Chamber and Spock’s Beard. The new recruit took to the stage when Transatlantic recorded their fifth live album. However, before that the group won a prestigious award.   

On September the ’11th’ 2014, Kaleidoscope won Album of the Year at the third annual Progressive Music Awards. 2014 was proving to be one of the most important years in the group’s history. 

Just a month later, on October the ‘27th’ 2014, Transatlantic released their fifth live album KaLIVEoscope. It documented what was a landmark album for the multination progressive rockers whose star was in the ascendancy.

Transatlantic-The Absolute Universe: Forevermore.

Most bands would’ve been keen to build on the success of Kaleidoscope and KaLIVEoscope. However, five years passed before the four members of Transatlantic returned to the studio to begin work on their much-anticipated fifth album Transatlantic-The Absolute Universe: Forevermore.

This time, the members of Transatlantic headed to Sweden in September 2019 to begin tracking. Mike Portnoy remembers: “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.” 

Roine Stolt recalls: “What happened was that everything kept expanding and expanding. 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.”

Transatlantic decided to release to versions of the album. 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.”

 Bassist 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.”

Mike Portnoy explains that:“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? What we have is essentially one giant composition, split into chapters. The storyline is about the struggles facing everyone in society today.” 

However, Roine Stolt says: “We didn’t start out with the idea of this being conceptual. 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.”

What Transatlantic’s fans will want to know is how The Absolute Universe: Forevermore compares to previous albums? They’ve been hailed as ambitious and innovative. However, Neal Morse said: “I always try not to compare albums as much as possible. 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 than others that we’ve created.” 

Meanwhile, Pete Trewavas said: ‘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.”

Just over seven years after the release of Kaleidoscope Transatlantic made a welcome return with their critically acclaimed fifth studio album, The Absolute Universe. It reached number three in German and Switzerland, four in the Netherlands, twenty-nine in Finland, thirty-two in Sweden, fifty-six in the UK and eighty-three in the UK. This meant that The Absolute Universe was Transatlantic’s most successful album.

It’s a powerful and poignant concept album full of social comment about the world’s struggles during 2020. Transatlantic combine their trademark progressive rock sound with elements of AOR and classic rock on what’s an almost flawless album. The Absolute Universe features a band at the peak of their powers on what turned out to be Transatlantic’s Magnus Opus. Ironically, it’s a very different album to the one Transatlantic intended to make. 

Originally the album was meant to be a followup to Kaleidoscope and Neal Morse had written lyrics in March 2019. However, the lyrics were rejected and it was a case of back to the drawing board.

The second set of lyrics were written by Neal Morse during December 2019 and January 2020. They were inspired by his twenties and by The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness by Russian-American author Ayn Rand, which he called “kind of the mother of Libertarianism” Later he said that when he wrote the lyrics about: “how I went down this road of selfishness basically, and then how the Lord brought me out of it and how much better it is to not be in that place.” Still the lyrics for the album weren’t complete.

In June and July 2020, a third set of lyrics were written. They were inspired by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the America and especially Nashville where Neal Morse was born and brought up.

When Roine Stolt heard the lyrics written by bassist and vocalist Pete Trewavas he said that he felt that they managed to anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic: “The idea behind The Absolute Universe started out as a broad and encompassing look at the human condition. Someone moving though their life, trying to find out who they are, where they fit in etc. This worked well as a concept to hang all the music we had on. It also allowed us to move through all the different subject matter we had lyrically…You find a lot out about people in adverse conditions. Who your friends are for example, how people cope under duress and dealing with stress. All these things get reflected on in different ways on both versions of the album.”

However, Roine Stolt felt that Neal Morse’s lyrics on The Breath of Life version tended to focus more on the consequences of the COVID-19 restrictions on people’s lives.

For anyone whose still to discover Transatlantic’s fifth studio album, The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Universe) is the best of three versions. It’s a two CD set that features eighteen tracks and finds Transatlantic combining social comment and slick progressive rock with AOR and classic rock on what turned out to be a career-defining Magnus Opus. 

Transatlantic-The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Universe).

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