I’m as leery of self-proclaimed supergroups as the next guy. They almost never work out. Usually, though, they at least have some humility about themselves, and claim they are not in fact a supergroup, but rather just a bunch of chaps who happen to want to make music together. Not so with The Sea Within. In fact, guitarist Roine Stolt (Transatlantic, The Flower Kings) says “Call it a supergroup if you want – I think we can handle that.” Big words! But when your band includes singer Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), he of the sweaty back and lovely man-bun who infamously graced these hallowed pages with his likeness for what seemed an eternity last year, as well as Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani) on drums, Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Karmakanic) on bass, and Tom Brislin (Camel, Meat Loaf) on keys, well, that’s a lot of prog heavy hitters. Can their tastes, influences, and egos mesh well and provide us with an engaging listen, or will this be the ultimate in navel-gazing prog pretension?
I’ll tell you right up front, the only thing lengthier than the name-dropping above is the album itself. Spanning two discs, twelve songs, and 78 minutes, The Sea Within at times borders on interminable. Less would be more here. You might be thinking to yourself, “How can less be more? That’s impossible!” But it’s not. With the five guys in the band bringing multiple tastes and styles to the mix, and the guest appearances by the likes of Jon Anderson, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Casey McPherson (Flying Colors, and who will be their touring vocalist), and more, there’s a lot of potential here, and probably a lot of ideas being brought into play. Whittling those ideas down into a single cohesive album is normally up to the producer, but in this case the band is self-producing1 – a big red flag, and the obvious reason for the bloat. But enough talking. What’s the music like?
“Ashes of Dawn” opens in typical progressive rock fashion, with plenty of multi-instrumental flair, reminding of a somewhat subdued King Crimson. Everyone shines, and there’s even a sweet sax solo courtesy of Steve Hackett’s wind player, Rob Townsend. It all adds up to an excellent song. “The Roaring Silence” is a slick pop-prog number, and Disc 2 closer “Denise” is perhaps the most dramatic moment, with an eerie harmonium underpinning emotional lyrics (and singing) about a father’s final words to his daughter before submitting to the electric chair. “Goodbye” features some groovy Stevie Wonder-esque keyboard work, and “An Eye for an Eye for an Eye” is an uptempo rocker that’s a few minutes too long – falling prey to the Iron Maiden curse of having to let everyone solo.
And therein lies the crux of the issue with The Sea Within. Twelve songs are way too much here. One might say “Just ditch the second disc, it only has four songs,” but those four songs are actually pretty good. The best eight songs here would make for a stellar album, as would cutting a couple of minutes out of otherwise strong songs. “They Know My Name” is five minutes of filler that goes nowhere, and “The Void” is five minutes of melancholic atmosphere. The fact that they are the second and third songs really drags down the opening track’s impetus. I’m all for weepy sadboy prog, of course, but the songs need to be good.
The Sea Within is certainly an interesting project, featuring plenty of input from bands I admire. At times the songs border on excellent, but there’s so much music here that, if one listens to both discs in one sitting, the standout tracks no longer stand out. And picking out my favorite six tracks on a twelve-song record is not a good sign. The Sea Within is a fine project with plenty of potential, but the malady of lack of self-editing has once again risen its lengthy head. Stolt wants the band to continue beyond this debut album: there is potential here, and despite my relatively low ranking I’m looking forward to their second album.