Releasing June 22nd via InsideOut Music, brand new act The Sea Within is more an amalgamation of some serious talent who simply wanted to work on a musical project together than the typical “supergroup.” The result is as vast in its content as the metaphoric ocean for which they are named. Each track on this album boasts a restless quality, suggesting that the songs were yearning to get out.
Recorded at Livingston Studios in London in September last year, the record is undeniably a group effort. Stolt attests that the majority of the material is collective band composition, which speaks to the simultaneous diversity and unity of the project members. You’ll certainly hear a lot of variety on this release – everything from classic prog to jazz to folk to pop to metal. There’s also a raw element to this record, which owes a lot to the extended live takes of the band jamming and improvising that made it into the final track cuts.
Unsurprisingly, each musician in the lineup boasts some incredible credentials: Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings and Transatlantic (guitars, vocals, keys); Jonas Reingold of The Flower Kings, Karmakanic, and The Tangent (bass); Tom Brislin, who has toured with YES, Camel, and Renaissance (keys, vocals); Marco Minnemann of the Aristocrats (drums, percussion, vocals, guitar), Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain of Salvation (vocals, guitars); together with Casey McPherson of Flying Colors and Alpha Rev (vocals); and special guests Jon Anderson of YES (vocals on “Broken Cord”); Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater (grand piano on “The Hiding of Truth”); and Rob Townsend (saxophone on “The Ashes of Dawn”). It’s the kind of lineup that seems too good to deliver what it promises – one that might drown in its own enormous potential – but this debut is rich, inventive, and heavy-hitting. The band’s chosen name, The Sea Within, conjures imagery – in Stolt’s words – of the “vast inner oceans of thoughts, dreams, poetry, music, love, fear etc that we all carry with us, within, every day through a lifetime.” In other words, the richness of character and personhood that is a composite whole of external and internal factors, imagined as a body of water.
The album’s opening track, “Ashes of Dawn,” gradually fades in before the central lick explodes into the mix. The verses of this piece have a fascinating structure, almost a call-and-response between Gildenlöw’s vocal stabs and the band’s instrumental ripostes. Any project with Roine Stolt at lead guitar doesn’t typically project as much bite as this song does, but his intelligent leads pair well will the edge of the additional guitars. Townsend’s raspy sax work on this piece really channels Mel Collin’s era with Crimson – invoking “20th Century Schizoid Man” – and the band’s collective efforts make this track an obvious “single.”
Track two, “They Know My Name” is a pensive, simple piece with rich instrumentation and vocal work. On the verses, Brislin’s keys nicely parallel the vocal lines; his synth lead stands out as well on the final refrain, nicely supplemented by Reingold’s rich bass. The intro to “The Void” is gentle, acoustic guitars and bass, and reminds me in form and melody of Pain of Salvation’s “1979” from Road Salt One (reimagined on Falling Home). A great lyric here is “the world is sleeping with a monster most mechanical”; meanwhile, “the devil is begging for much more time,” which makes the song’s overall sentiment of not taking anything for granted a warning against vague, self-deceiving perceptions of peace. Brislin’s hauntingly dissonant synth lead at the song’s halfway point is one of my favorite instrumental passages on this record.
The raucous “An Eye For An Eye For an Eye” is simply an enjoyable, high-energy track, ironically one of the more graphic in its imagery (“rip all the flesh from your bones”): the piece moves in rapid, anticipated 4/4, boasting stacked vocals, driving bass, and organ underlay. The half-time instrumental stretch at the heart of this piece is another highlight moment for me, containing a signature Roine solo that shifts to a new meter and an extended keys solo by Tom Brislin. “Goodbye” is the first piece on the record with Casey McPherson at the microphone. The restless 7/8 groove of Reingold’s bass and guitars creates a great foundation, and the instrumental hook is one of the more memorable on the album. This melodic piece is anthemic Flower Kings coupled with some Aristocrats groove, and is the perfect compliment for McPherson’s voice, which is so comfortable in this kind of progressive environment thanks to his work with Flying Colors. The lyrics draw in all kinds of water metaphors to illustrate, along with the atmosphere of the song, a strong sense of freedom.
The short little instrumental piece, “Sea Without,” gradually builds on a rhythmic progression and truly represents the band’s cohesion. “Broken Cord,” the album epic (14+ minutes), intros as a piano ballad with some gospel overtones, then transitions to a 60’s pop tune with back-and-forth vocals and a lighthearted groove. The piece turns a corner with Gildenlöw’s isolated vocals, noting that “you can tell that something’s wrong,” moving the song into more focused intensity. The identifiable segments of this piece feel intentionally disjointed, indicative of its thematic content, that “the system is broken / all tangled in frenzy and fear.” The complete breakdown at the center swirls with ethereal sounds and Jon Anderson’s guest inserts on the microphone before transitioning back-and-forth between Gildenlöw and McPherson’s leads, continuing the repeated refrain: “You can feel it: something’s wrong, something’s broken, something’s gone.” Gradually, the piece begins to restructure itself, climbing – raging – out of the ethereal section into a gospel segment fronted by 12-string acoustic guitar, and comes to a full-circle finale that ends with eerie, lyrical reversal (“nothing is broken / nothing is . Ultimately, this piece is about the isolation of individuals in societies that seem to exist at the expense of the people who comprise their population, and calls for the kind of global healing that can only come by identifying the plights – the “black rivers” – that must be healed of their pollution.
The album’s final track, “The Hiding of Truth,” fades in in the heels of the previous piece. This lush number features Jordan Rudess on the grand piano and McPherson at lead vocals, moving in a wide, half-time groove with a soundtrack feel. This piece is a great punctuation mark to conclude the record, with strong input from each member of the group.
But wait! There’s more! The Sea Within also contains a second disk of four additional tracks. I’ve seen some reviewers complain about this “unnecessary” addition, calling it superfluous, but those same people didn’t seem to appreciate the rest of the album either (considering the content of disk one bloated as well). Take them or leave them, but these are some quality pieces of writing, and while they’re not quite enough in terms of quantity to make this release a double LP, they were certainly too good to just leave on the cutting room floor. The first, “The Roaring Silence,” begins with the sounds of a distant thunderstorm but swells into a meaty, 8-minute piece that channels classic Flower Kings vibes. “Where are you Going?” warbles with guitar and vocal effects, capturing the bittersweet recollection of hard choices that must be made without looking back. “Time” is a dark and pensive track with a strong focus on stacked vocals over sparse instrumentation, while “Denise” closes this subset collection with a remorse-filled piece about an individual scarred by the experiences of war.
I assume many will dismiss The Sea Within as a label gimmick, but it is truly a great album. Its compositions are unabashed about the parts that comprise its enormous whole, but this isn’t simply a bunch of previously unreleased Flower Kings or Pain of Salvation pieces rehashed to fit a new band. The sound is fresh, the songs are creative, and the musicianship is appropriately astounding. I also appreciate that the prog elements of this record aren’t exclusively in funky time signatures or showy virtuosity: each composition has an organic life of its own, transcending traditional song structures and exploding into the kind of raw outpouring of creativity that renders this album so memorable and unique.
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