January 31, 2023

Transatlantic are a renowned, celebrated and occasional four piece (sometimes five onstage) prog rock supergroup, featuring past and present members of bands like Dream Theatre, Marillion, Spock’s Beard and Flower Kings, which means their musical pedigree speaks for itself, and when they find time from their day jobs to get together, they become a musical tour-de-force which doesn’t believe in limits, and they’re perfectly happy attempting to redefine and extend the barriers of prog, with some intense, technical and ambitious musicianship. Each member of the band adds something special to the mix… Neal Morse with his penchant for melody, Mike Portnoy’s extensive drum work, Roine Stolt’s vibrant guitar and Pete Trewavas’ tasteful bass lines; plus they can all handle vocals and their harmonising on tracks like Higher Than The Morning is a bonus to the music.

But, if the runes are to be believed, this release could indeed be the final flight, as the general perception amongst the band members is this gig in Paris, the last stop on a tour promoting what was considered the most audacious album they’ve ever recorded, could well be the last for some considerable time, that’s if it ever happens again. All four musos stress there’re no issues between them, and there’s nothing definite about this but, as Portnoy claimed, ‘with the gap between our albums as long as it is, it means the next album won’t be out till around 2030, by which time we’ll all be in our sixties and seventies, and I don’t know if we could do this again’. Roine Stolt also talked about the issues involved with having to relearn three hours of music he’d not played for a while. For myself, given what they’ve achieved, I can’t believe these four guys won’t miss playing alongside each other in the same band, as good as their day bands are. I often wonder, if Transatlantic was a full time outfit, would this band rule the world?

So, if Portnoy’s right, as a consolation, Transatlantic are leaving you with this release, which will come at you either as a limited 3CD + Blu Ray digipak and a gatefold 180g 4LP plus LP booklet. Discs one and two are a run-through of The Absolute Universe, so, if you already know this album, there’ll be little here which will surprise you – though they include the occasional curveball, like Morse saying, ‘we started Belong differently as we couldn’t remember it’. The performances are majestic and almost effortlessly brilliant, with each man having a stellar mastery of his instrument. The songs are played rather like the album, though tracks like Looking For The Light are pumped up with some fine Roine Stolt playing. They’re known for their lengthy prog pieces but most of the tracks included are relatively short, by their standards, with only four pieces exceeding seven minutes.

The third CD, however, sees the band spreading their wings and demonstrating utter musical dexterity by performing two tracks, The Whirlwind Suite and The Final Melody, with the two pieces running to over 65 minutes. Whirlwind features several pieces from the album The Whirlwind, including Rose Coloured Glasses and Is It Really Happening, and Final Medley, which is based around their first two albums, concluding with Morse’s impassioned Love Made A Way. In between these two epics, we get We All Need Some Light, featuring a full-throated Paris audience singing back the chorus which, as Trewavas says, ‘was amazing’,

I suppose an argument could be made asking, ‘does the world really need another live offering from Transatlantic’, given there’s more live material out there than there are studio albums. And it’s easy to see why some prog fans blow hot and cold over this band because, despite their undoubted talent and virtuosity, there’s always the sense their music consists of a degree of showing off for its own sake. How true this is does, of course, depend on your view of Transatlantic, but it’s a truism that Transatlantic have never believed in half measures, they’ve always gone for it and they never disappoint when playing live. There’s also still a Transatlantic set from 2022’s Morsefest scheduled to be released later in the year, so there’s even more to come.

Even though The Final Flight does have the feel of ‘it’s the end of an era’ about it, Mike Portnoy claims, ‘we all say never say never, though only time will tell whether this marks the end of Transatlantic, but if it is, with the live album, we’ve set a very high watermark. We couldn’t have been happier with the way it ended’.