You’d be forgiven for thinking that the self-titled debut LP from progressive rock sextet The Sea Within—Roine Stolt, Marco Minnemann, Tom Brislin, Jonas Reingold, Casey McPherson, and Daniel Gildenlöw—would basically sound like the sonic lovechild of The Flower Kings and Pain of Salvation. While that would still result in something wonderful, it would also feel safe and predictable, to say the least. Fortunately, they see themselves as “more of an amalgamation of some serious talents than a regular ‘supergroup’,” and it shows in the sequence. While shades of those bands do remain, The Sea Within is a notably fresh and sundry record that marks its creative unit as more inventive and go-getting than just the sum of its already exceptional parts.
As Stolt tells it (in the official press release), the project began after InsideOut Music head Thomas Waber encouraged him to “move in a fresh direction with new collaborations.” Once all of the cogs in the wheel were in place, it was time to write and record; rather than have set creative leaders, “the vast majority of the tracks have been worked on and developed by all of [them] in one way or another. . . . So, all of the guys did a lot more than you might expect.” As if the six members weren’t enough, The Sea Within features guest appearances from keyboardist Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), vocalist Jon Anderson (ex-Yes), and saxophonist/flutist Robert Townsend (Steve Hackett). Together, they boil many influences—"from prog to jazz to classical, to heavy rock, folk, punk, electronica and pop”—into a musical stew that, while familiar at times, is endlessly reinvigorating, heartfelt, and enjoyable.
The main album houses eight tracks, all of which stand out in their own ways. For instance, opener “Ashes of Dawn” is a thunderously catchy and dynamic gem in which Gildenlöw’s trademark emotive fervor rains over the colorfully monstrous arrangements Stolt’s known for. Townsend’s stellar solo adds some jazzy charm, too, and in general, the track introduces The Sea Within as a remarkable outfit with plenty of distinction. Luckily, that trend continues with the bittersweet quirkiness of piano ballad “They Know My Name,” the multifaceted feistiness of “An Eye for an Eye for an Eye” (whose latter half contains some of the most tense and imaginative instrumentation of the whole set), and the celebratory poignancy “Goodbye” (on which McPherson and Anderson’s vocals add crucial variety and warmth). Of course, the penultimate “Broken Chord” astounds with its fourteen-minute whirlwind of uplifting songwriting and vibrantly intricate arrangements. It’s perhaps the superlative example here of how great these guys are at fusing sections seamlessly and working with a shared mind.
Not to be outdone is the bonus disc that includes four additional tracks. Expectedly, they’re all on par with the primary offerings; in particular, “Where Are You Going?” is subtly bizarre (it even conjures the late and great Beardfish at times) yet movingly commanding, making it among the top tracks of the whole collection. Likewise, the final duo—“Time” and “Denise”—feel like repurposed lost tracks from PoS’ superb In the Passing Light of Day (aka Remedy Lane Pt. II) since they conjure similar senses of urgent tragedy in the face of intense love and mortality. It’s precisely moments like these that cement Gildenlöw as a one-of-a-kind singer at the top of his game, and the rest of the crew support and complement his lead with a perfect blend of flair and restraint.
The Sea Within is an extraordinary work not only because of how good it is in and of itself (especially considering how long some of these guys have been creating music) but also because of how strongly and consistently it upholds its own identity. Sure, traces of The Flower Kings, The Aristocrats, Flying Colors, PoS, and other associated acts are there, but the band truly exudes its own character on just about every piece. As such, they’ve simultaneously crafted one of the greatest triumphs of their individual careers, a stellar introduction to their collective endeavor, and perhaps most importantly, one of the best progressive rock albums of 2018.