TRANSATLANTIC — the multinational progressive rock supergroup featuring vocalist/keyboardist Neal Morse (SPOCK'S BEARD, THE NEAL MORSE BAND), drummer Mike Portnoy (SONS OF APOLLO, DREAM THEATER), bassist Pete Trewavas (MARILLION) and guitarist Roine Stolt (THE FLOWER KINGS) — will release its fifth studio album, "The Absolute Universe", on February 5, 2021 via InsideOut Music. Representing the band's first new music since 2014's "Kaleidoscope", with "The Absolute Universe" the band has done something unique and created two versions of the record: "The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)" and "The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)".
As 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 songtitles 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."
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."
Each album will be available on CD, LP and digitally. But there will also be what has been called "The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition", which collects both versions together in one lavish package that includes 5LPs, 3CDs and a Blu-ray that contains a 5.1 Surround Sound mix with visuals and a behind-the-scenes documentary. All editions have unique artwork created by Thomas Ewerhard.
Initial tracking began in September 2019 when the band met up in Sweden to write and arrange the new material. As Portnoy explains: "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."
"What happened was that everything kept expanding and expanding," recalls Stolt. "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."
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?" laughs Portnoy. "What we have is essentially one giant composition, split into chapters. The storyline is about the struggles facing everyone in society today."
"We didn't start out with the idea of this being conceptual," admits Stolt. "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."
So, how does this new groundbreaking album compare to TRANSATLANTIC's previous four albums?
"I always try not to compare albums as much as possible," insists Morse. "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 [the band's third, from 2009] than others that we've created."
For Trewavas, "The Absolute Universe" is a momentous project. "I think it is right up there with the very finest albums we've done," he says. "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."
TRANSATLANTIC formed in 1999 and released its debut album, "SMPT:e", the following year. Sophomore effort "Bridge Across Forever" followed in 2001, but the group went on an extended hiatus after Morse left SPOCK'S BEARD in 2002 to focus on his newly launched career in the Christian music industry.
The group reunited in 2009 and released third album "The Whirlwind", which consisted of a single 77-minute track, that same year. A fourth album, "Kaleidoscope", was recorded in 2013 and released the following year, when it debuted at No. 6 on the German top album charts. The band has also released several live albums and live videos, most recently 2014's "KaLIVEoscope".
Portnoy and Morse are frequent musical collaborators, having recorded more than a dozen albums together outside of TRANSATLANTIC, including three FLYING COLORS releases, three by THE NEAL MORSE BAND and seven Morse solo albums.