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The Whirlwind
Artist: Transatlantic
Label: Radiant Records
Time: Disc 1 - 12 tracks/77.41, Disc 2 - 8 Tracks
Note this review contains spoilers.

In April 2009 the members of the progressive rock supergroup Transatlantic descended on the Nashville studio of singer/keyboardist Neal Morse (ex-Spock's Beard) to record an album.  Drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), guitarist (and sometime vocalist) Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), and bassist Pete Trewavas (Marillion) met Morse in the Nashville International Airport excited about the prospect of creating a follow-up to their 2001 release Bridge Across Forever.  By the time the members of TA were picking up their luggage the internet was abuzz with reunion rumors after Trewavas and Stolt were spotted en-route to Nashville by eagle-eyed fans in several airports.  A press release was issued during the recording session announcing that after 8 long years of silence Transatlantic was back and focusing their ample creative energies on recording a third studio album.

And WHAT an album it is!  Transatlantic swings for the fences on The Whirlwind, and clobbers the ball WAY out of the park.  After hearing, savoring, and absorbing The Whirlwind for the last two weeks I can tell you that the long wait has brought a great reward: a 78 minute progressive rock tour-de-force with enough amazing music to keep fans happy for a long while.  And if there is any musical justice in this world hopefully create new fans in the process.

The Whirlwind is Transatlantic's wild ride.a thrill-filled adventure packed full of remarkable musical passages, powerful vocal bits and harmonies, and instrumental wonderment.  The four members of Transatlantic are gifted musicians, and they bring their A-game to The Whirlwind.  Don't be daunted by the length of the 78 minute title track; the piece works well in several ways: as a whole, the natural break at the half-way mark (cut six ends "side one" if you will), and as individual songs (The Whirlwind is broken up into twelve tracks varying in length from two to twelve minutes).

The Whirlwind features everything fans love about Transatlantic dialed up to eleven.  Award-winning drummer Mike Portnoy turns in an astounding percussive performance with enough color, powerful riffing, and cymbal interplay to keep the listener's interest piqued.  Morse adds one of his most powerful vocal performances to date and lends keyboard textures that are at once imaginative, classic, and unique.  Stolt paints broad strokes of guitar texture with distinctive tones (and lends solid vocal turns as well).  Trewavas brings crisp, rolling, staccato bass to The Whirlwind.

What about the songs?  The Whirlwind begins with "Overture/The Whirlwind," a brief symphonic overture quickly joined by the full band setting up several musical themes that will be heard (but not overplayed) throughout the album. In these uncertain and trying times a timely lyrical message is introduced by Stolt on the stanza, then Morse on the chorus:

Catch your breath as you watch your step
Head spinning round as you hit the ground
Present tense, time is of essence
Hold the second hand going round the dial

And we were caught in the Whirlwind
Torn by the storms of our lives
We counted, counted on something
That never could hold up our lives

The songs on The Whirlwind are far from predictable.  When the listener hears the beginning of a song and seemingly starts to "figure" it out it moves into a unique, surprising direction.and sometimes several directions. "The Wind Blew Them All Away" begins with a gentle acoustic stanza sung by Morse then heads into a smoldering crescendo with jazzy guitar flourishes from Stolt, fine vocal harmonies, and tasty Trewavas bass licks.  "On The Prowl" begins with a rolling Pink Floyd reminiscent bass line, jazz-fusion guitar and, rhodes piano, and happy finger snaps; it then builds to an ominous sounding tune with raw Morse vocals: "Break the banks - fill them with fear / Make it so there's no one they can turn to here / Listen to the wind, a bark and a howl / Changing voices from a moan to a growl / You best stay in because the wolf's on the prowl."

Other highlights include "Out Of the Night," a jaunty power-pop track that is introduced with a Stolt vocal and Beatle-esque guitar tone (ala' "Getting Better").  The song features all four members of Transatlantic taking very cool turns at lead vocals.  And just when your ears start grooving to the upbeat pop of the song it veers headlong into Morse singing a strains of a longing ballad with acoustic guitar (and Stolt adding electric guitar with meaty leslie tone).  You'll have to pick up The Whirlwind to see where it goes from there.  Morse sings "Rose Colored Glasses," a touching ballad that begins with some ringing acoustic guitar sounds augmented with bell samples and then joined by Mike Portnoy on echo vocals (sounding very much like vox from classic Chicago!). 

Side two features some startling instrumental band interplay (and great Stolt lead vocal) on "Evermore," the groovy/funky "Set Us Free" with solid Morse/Portnoy vocals, and the heavy rock, falsetto vox of Morse on the threatening "Lay Down Your Life":

When it feels like mayhem may reign
When your mind is cold and confusion swirls in shades of grey
When nothing's black - nothing's white
When you shiver in the darkness
Retracting from the light

You've got to lay down.
You've got to lay down your life
Like rain in Spokane
You've got to fall through the sky

The instrumental magic of "Pieces of Heaven" then bridges into the very cool "Is It Really Happening" from Pete Trewavas, a slow burn piece that begins with Morse/Trewavas vocals and a trance-like bass that heads into a cracking Transatlantic jam.  The Whirlwind ends on a hopeful note with a Morse sung ballad called "Dancing with Eternal Glory": "This is your life, this is not by chance / When the giver of life / Is asking you to dance" capped by a reprise of The Whirlwind theme.  Wow.  And that is just disc one!

The Whirlwind is a progressive rock masterpiece filled with hope and wonder. But it is not for prog fans alone, the album is accessible, melodic, and never too densely packed.  Enthralling time signature changes, inventive instrumental sounds and interplay, and vocal harmonies are in abundance on the project.  And special kudos goes to Jerry Guidroz for a sparkling job at engineer/soundboard duties.The Whirlwind sounds great.

Barry Nothstine

Highly recommended!

Please note there is a Special Edition with a second full CD featuring four original tracks and covers from Genesis, Santana, Procol Harum and more!  However, the recommended version is the special priced Deluxe Edition with both CDs and a DVD documentary of the making of The Whirlwind.

Visit Transatlantic online:

Barry Nothstine hosts Soul Frequency ( ) a weekly FM radio show showcasing progressive rock, instrumental rock, power-pop, psychedelic rock, rock classics and more-great rock for the ages!  Nothstine also took pictures and video during the Transatlantic Whirlwind sessions in April, 2009.

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