The Sea Within is the latest “supergroup” offering from premier prog rock label Inside Out Music, featuring musicians who have been at the forefront of the progressive music revival since it began in the 1990’s. I hesitate to call The Sea Within a ‘band’ as such, as many of the supergroups to come out in recent years have rarely ventured past one or two albums, and the ones who do go for longer tend to repeat themselves by their fourth. That’s why I’m taking a different approach with this review, analyzing it as a collective work by a group of great individual artists, rather than as the debut by a new band.
The core line-up for The Sea Within consists of guitarist Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Kaipa & Transatlantic), bass player Jonas Reingold (Karmakanic, The Flower Kings & Steve Hackett), drummer Marco Minneman (The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani & Steven Wilson) and keyboard player Tom Brislin (Session player for Yes, Meat Loaf & Deborah Harry), with lead vocals mostly handled by Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain Of Salvation) and a few tracks sung by Casey McPherson (Flying Colors), who will be filling in for Gildenlöw on future live performances.
The common thread for all musicians involved seems to be a quirky, alternative approach to music, rarely following the ‘norm’ of contemporary pop or rock. The album definitely reflects this mentality, with very few rock clichés and a variety of styles to ensure the album flows at a steady pace. Indeed, when listening to the album the first time through, time seemed to fly by for me, but it was only on second listen that I was able to pick up on more of the inner workings of the compositions.
Album opener “Ashes Of Dawn” is very reminiscent of Gildenlow’s PoS work, but also plays to the strength of ‘classic prog’ enthusiasts Stolt and Brislin. The result is a tune that has a lot of metallic energy but also enough majesty and jumping chord progressions to appeal to fans of classic Yes and King Crimson. There’s even a sax solo where Hackett collaborator Rob Townsend lets loose and channels his inner Ian McDonald.
“Ashes Of Dawn” is followed by “They Know My Name” and “The Void”, which fall under the softer category but still have enough varying dynamics and instrumental intricacy to keep the album moving along. “They Know My Name” features a great shuffle beat from Minneman and haunting piano from Brislin, while “The Void” has Stolt reinterpreting the gentle acoustic arpeggios found on classic Genesis albums.
“An Eye For An Eye For An Eye” is the most catchy song on the album, with an up-tempo rhythm in the vein of Yes tunes such as “Sound Chaser” and “Tempus Fugit”. Brislin’s Hammond organ fills in whatever space is left by the other instruments, and Minneman is certainly having the time of his life on this track, with tons of varying beats, fills and ghost notes. This is definitely a well-constructed prog-pop tune, and the song’s title lends itself well to a rhythmic hook which is sure to stick in your head long after the album is finished.
“Goodbye” definitely feels like the beginning of the second act, as it comes at roughly the halfway mark on the album and it’s the first song to feature McPherson on lead vocals. McPherson and Gildenlöw have similar qualities in their voices, but McPherson has a much smoother, soulful vibe owing to his pop-rock background with Endochine and Alpha Rev. The song itself opens with a Squire-esque bassline from Reingold and is a perfect fusion of traditional prog rhythms with contemporary pop melodies.
The grand climax of the album is three songs all segueing into each other, creating one massive twenty-two-minute epic. The 2LP vinyl edition has these songs cut up and split across sides 2 and 3, which is unfortunate as I think they work really well as one continuous piece. It begins with “The Sea Without”, a two-and-a-half-minute instrumental which quickly builds in intensity, almost as preperatory music for a big battle in a Hollywood blockbuster.
This is followed immediately by the fourteen-minute “Broken Chord”, beginning with three minutes of Beatle-esque bliss and going through several moods before ending with a grand finale to rival “Supper’s Ready”. “The Hiding Of Truth” immediately follows and acts as a sort of epilogue, closing out the album with an embracement of modern power ballads, featuring piano from Jordan Rudess and a brief lead vocal appearance from Stolt.
The four tracks that make up the bonus CD (and side 4 of the vinyl) have some charming moments but are mostly too experimental and ultimately forgettable. “The Roaring Silence” is the only track I like as much as the music on the main album; “Time” is a poor man’s “Ancestral” from Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. (Which Minneman played on) and “Denise” is based around a slow techno beat which just lays stagnant. Fortunately, the musicians were able to see which tracks were strongest and they don’t take away from the amazing quality of the fifty minutes that made it onto the main CD.
“The Sea Within” has been one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, and it didn’t disappoint. Bonus tracks aside, it’s nothing short of a triumph, with all the musicians’ individual talents used to their full potential to create a soundscape of beauty on scales both grand and small. If you’ve been dissatisfied with recent ‘rock music’ and want something with more emotion and variation, this is definitely a good starting point.
ORDER “THE SEA WITHIN” VIA INSIDE OUT MUSIC HERE!