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Transatlantic - The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life

Label: InsideOut Music
Format: Download
Released: 2021
Reviewed By: Jack Mangan
Rating: 8.5/10

Mike Portnoy cannot be stopped. He will not be stopped. To use soul-crushing office cubicle jargon, he’s “spinning a lot of plates” these days. One of the smartest and most impressive plates he has in the air right now (metaphor breakdown) is Transatlantic, the supergroup he’s running with Neal Morse and a few other geniuses (no short shrift here: Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings on bass and vox and Pete Trewavas of Marillion on drums).


This is Heavy Prog to the bone, with epic-length opuses, meticulously crafted changes, extended jam noodle solos, a sprawling, expansive, detailed, intelligent, deep, high-concept concept, and mildly enjoyable, unobtrusive, bespectacled lead vocals (from Neal Morse, who I believe does not wear glasses).
While Portnoy is famous for his iconic role in the much louder Dream Theater, he is merely phenomenal throughout “The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life.” He doesn’t bring any boom bap to the kit here; he just hits the right pieces at the right time. Really, this is closest in tone and feel to Spock’s Beard - - Morse’s first major band. In short, don’t show up expecting Dream, expect Spock.
Like any good amusement park ride, you know basically what you’re going to get when you sit down for “Absolute Universe” and snap the bar into place, but you still get a bunch of wonderful thrills throughout, with the rush and the wind and the turns you saw coming that still felt surprising. It’s a rich, heady,, hard Rocking musician rush that’s designed not for the dancefloor or the moshpit, but for the reclining chair. To call highlight songs would seem to be missing the point, but I will single out “The Sun Comes Up Today” for its Beatles-esque vocal harmonies. Chef’s kiss.
Fans should be aware: there are two distinctively different versions of “The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life”: The 90-minute Ultimate and the 60-minute Abridged. The abridged version is not merely the same recording pared down; it’s a completely different 60-minute take on the same material. Another plate that Mike is spinning? Not quite, but definitely some extra toppings on the Transatlantic dish.
If you want speaker-smashing heaviness, mosh pit cycling intensity, danceable happiness, Punk abrasiveness, or hair-sprayed frivolity, then look elsewhere. If you want contemplative, smart, thought-provoking depth with some sunshiny optimism to it, and your old Spock’s Beard records are worn out, then the new Transatlantic is worthy of a few hours of your life.

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