Monday, June 18, 2018

Album Review: The Sea Within - The Sea Within

These days, it seems that all genres are cannibalistic, but prog perhaps more than any other. The small group of people who love to play it get together in new combinations of the same faces all the time, producing music that ironically begins to sound the same because of the sheer volume of it. The Sea Within is a new such group, combining Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold of The Flower Kings with Marco Minnemann (who has played with nearly everyone), and Daniel Gildenlow from Pain Of Salvation. Given Daniel's stint as the fifth member of Transatlantic on stage, one wonders if this project is an attempt to recreate that band's success.

What I find interesting about The Sea Within is that for being a prog ensemble, they have actually given us an album that is much more concise and song-oriented than might have been expected. Only one of the tracks across these seventy-seven minutes hits the ten minute mark. While the music might take detours of style, the songs stay focused to a startling degree.

"Ashes Of Dawn" would be a straight-forward rocker with a Flower Kings flavor, if not for the saxophone solo that gives the middle eight a dose of jazz feeling. It's those unexpected details that give most of the prog weight to this record. Given how many double albums and twenty minute epics these guys have written over the years, writing a record like this might have been the best way to challenge themselves.

Given how much I disliked the most recent Pain Of Salvation record, I was wary of what influence Gildenlow would bring to this group. For the most part, The Sea Within sounds like The Flower Kings, but with the added heaviness of someone more in tune with progressive metal. It is not that heavy by any means, but the sound is a bit deeper and darker than Roine's usual tones. That works in the band's favor, giving them an identity beyond everyone's histories.

The group I would most compare The Sea Within to is actually Flying Colors. Between Gildenlow's vocal similarities, and having prog musicians largely playing in constrained structures, there is a lot tying the two together. The Sea Within is more prog, obviously, with a looser jazz improvisational feeling to much of their music. To me, it sounds like the band had the basic melodic ideas locked in, then went into the studio and jammed their way to a complete song. That approach can keep things fresh, can lead to interesting detours, but it can also be indulgent in a way that the music is more appealing to the players than the audience. Prog often encounters that issue.

However, while I am by no means the world's biggest prog fan (despite holding Transatlantic in extremely high esteem), The Sea Within rarely takes things too far for me. That means they might disappoint more devoted fans of prog, but I quite enjoy hearing them ride the knife's edge between commercial and artistic. It's more exciting, and adventurous, than making another prog album of giant epics. They could do that in their sleep.

"The Sea Within" is an album I would classify as 'Dave Matthews Prog'. There's a lot of great playing, and plenty of interesting developments, but the whole thing is a bit too slow and somber to work as well as it should. The album doesn't quite get things firing on all cylinders at any point. The music is lovely, and the sound is engaging, but there's a lack of energy that makes the full running time a bit much. I can see why the band members would have enjoyed themselves in the studio making this record, but it's music for the musicians, and that is what I most feared.

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