You can still hear the echoes of jaws dropping late last year when the lineup for The Sea Within was announced. Roine Stolt had been hinting about a new band project for a while but when the artists involved were finally revealed, there was a collective gasp from the progressive rock community. But on further inspection, was it really that revolutionary? Three-fifths of the band had already played together for three years in the Flower Kings (Roine, bassist Jonas Reingold and vocalist Daniel Gildenlöw), so this wasn’t a completely new band concept. Still, it is likely that the addition of drummer extraordinaire Marco Minneman caused the hairs to raise on the arms of prog afficionados, not to mention revered keyboard Tom Brislin who has made a name for himself with Yes, Renaissance and several others. The potential synergy of these powerhouse artists was already leaping off the initial press release. One could almost imagine the songwriting and performance possibilities, with epic impact.
So you are understandably waiting with baited breath to know: does this studio release live up to the expectations? What does it sound like? Does this combination of players work? Is this a melding of the soundscapes of the bands the main players come from, or does it go a different direction completely? Yes. The answer is, Yes, to “All of the Above”.
Opening track “Ashes of Dawn” is a perfect lead-off song. Aggressive, emotional and concise, this is a gem which encapsulates what many may have hoped for in this new band: an amalgamation of The Flower Kings and Pain of Salvation together in one song, in the best of ways. Marco’s frenetic drumming doesn’t let the listener take much of a breath for the entire 6 minutes (indeed, how does he breathe while drumming?). And as if enough wasn’t already being thrown at the listener, out of nowhere comes a passionate soprano sax solo from guest Rob Townsend. One track in and we’re already launched into the stratosphere.
If the start of the album gave the impression that listeners would be in somewhat familiar territory, that notion doesn’t last for long. The next several songs widen The Sea Within’s palette considerably. The brooding “They Know My Name” features an evocative foundation established on the piano and a wonderful chorus, though perhaps too much restraint in the guitar soloing department in the middle of the song. Roine finally kicks in at the end, atop the hypnotic progression and groove that the band lays down. Acoustic-based “The Void” is next, which sees Roine bringing a satisfying solo toward the end of the piece. Tom Brislin’s understated keyboards and Daniel’s passioned vocals take center stage on both of these songs. “An Eye for An Eye for An Eye” kicks up the energy again, proving that this band has a killer rhythm section in Jonas Reingold and Marco Minneman. This number will scorch live, but it’s not all fast-paced. Halfway through we slow up for an atmospheric guitar solo, followed by a two minute piano/bass/drum jazz romp, before coming back to the main theme.
Twenty three minutes into the album and there is no question that Daniel has fully owned this band on a deeply emotional level, displayed in a variety of styles. So it comes as a surprise that on the fifth track “Goodbye” we have Casey McPherson crooning at the mic. Suddenly, it’s a new band…but still supported by a familiar sound emanating from the musicians, especially Roine’s strong slide guitar playing. As it turns out, Casey takes lead vocals on two and half songs on this album, and he fits in seamlessly with the band. But it’s hard to get around the fact that having an entirely different voice – and one that is known for fronting the popular Flying Colors – takes a period of adjustment for the listener. Perhaps The Flower Kings fans will be more experienced with multiple lead vocalists than your average audience, but the transition here is still quite pronounced. Fortunately, “Goodbye” is an excellent, accessible five-minute song that is as strong or stronger than anything else on the album, a warm welcome for Casey. But placing it a bit earlier in the track listing might have made for an easier adjustment to the second excellent lead singer in the band.
There is one lone mini-epic on the album, “Broken Cord”, which follows the shortest song on the album, instrumental “Sea Without”, a play on the band’s name. “Broken Cord” starts off in a playful, Beatlesque bounce that will be familiar to those acquainted with TFK‘s style, and truthfully all of this song will be deeply satisfying to fans of that band and of Transatlantic. Jonas is a joy to behold on bass, whether pulsing through a flurry of notes, or deftly executing his warbling fretless slides. Halfway through the song the vocal torch is passed from Daniel to Casey, as a more etheric atmosphere is invoked. Jon Anderson is listed as a guest vocalist on this song too (thanks to his connection with Roine), but curiously his voice doesn’t shine through in the mix. There are certainly sections that sound very Anderson-esque, so the listener can nonetheless feel his presence. Repeated listenings will likely make this song an album favorite, as it encapsulates much of what makes these musicians so beloved.
The album proper ends with one more Casey-sung track, “The Hiding of Truth” which is good singer-songwriter material set to a prog backdrop. On the grand piano we are treated to the flourishes of Jordan Rudess as a special guest. Roine‘s guitar soars around the cascades of Jordan‘s playing for a sumptuous solo section. However, it’s not the best song to follow the epic “Broken Cord” which easily could have closed the album.
As is all the rage these days, a second “bonus” disc has been added with four more songs. The particularly strong “Where Are You Going” certainly belongs on the main album, featuring vocorder-vocals (perhaps sung by Tom?), an intoxicating lead vocal from Daniel, and a killer performance from the whole band. “Time” opens with a deliciously haunting vibe, but this track and closer “Denise” veer perhaps too closely to Pain of Salvation songwriting to qualify as unique The Sea Within material. Still, they will certainly thrill fans of Pain of Salvation, as a continuation of In the Passing Light of Day.
And there we are: seventy seven minutes later, a new band has been born, familiar and fresh at the same time. Next we will wait and see if The Sea Within is ready to make waves on the live circuit; initial festival appearances have been announced for Night of the Prog this summer and, fittingly, Cruise to the Edge next February. However, for the time being it has been announced that Casey will be the live lead singer, while Daniel is beholden to Pain of Salvation commitments. What else is in store remains to be seen. Regardless, after several listenings to their debut, this just may become a contender for your favorite progressive-rock album of the year.
Released By: InsideOut Music
Release Date: June 22nd, 2018
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Marco Minneman / Drums, Percussion, Vocal, Guitar
- Jonas Reingold / Bass
- Tom Brislin / Keyboards,Vocals
- Roine Stolt / Guitars,Vocals, Add. keyboards
- Daniel Gildenlow / Vocals & additional guitar
- Casey McPherson / Vocals (Broken Cord, The Hiding of Truth, Goodbye)
- Jon Anderson / Vocals (Broken Cord)
- Jordan Rudess / Grand Piano (The Hiding of Truth)
- Rob Townsend / Soprano Saxophone (The Ashes of Dawn)
“The Sea Within” Track-Listing:
- Ashes of Dawn
- They Know my Name
- The Void
- An Eye For An Eye For an Eye
- Sea Without
- Broken Cord
- The Hiding of Truth
- The Roaring Silence
- Where are you Going?
The celebrated melding of prog-rock heroes fulfills its promise. This debut album succeeds in expected musical directions but also explores new terrain which is singularly the domain of The Sea Within. Beautifully produced and executed, this surely will be embraced by fans of Transatlantic, Pain of Salvation, The Flower Kings, Flying Colors and Karmakanic