Fans of The Flower Kings, Flying Colors and the mellower years for Pain of Salvation (Road Salt) will rejoice with this new collaborative progressive rock/jazz –tinged crossover band. I will confess that I am not normally a huge fan of the really mellow brand of prog/jazz rock, but it was impossible for me to ignore the caliber of the musicians involved – the principles being Roine Stolt (Flower Kings), Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation) and Marco Minnemann (drums). But they are very well supported by Jonas Reingold (bass) and Tom Brislin on keys. And with guests like Yes’s Jon Anderson, Casey McPherson (vocals) and Jordan Rudess it is easy to dive into the “Sea Within” with full enthusiasm.
It’s best to take this release as a collection of 12 songs. 8 of the songs feature Gildenlow on lead vocals while Casey McPherson (Flying Colors) is featured on 3 of the songs – shares with Gildenlow on “Goodbye,” leads on “The Hiding Of Truth” and “Broken Cord” (where he also shares with Jon Anderson). “Sea Without” is the lone instrumental track, although there are plenty of instrumental passages throughout – The Sea Within is not a vocally/lyrically dense entity. But if you only listen to Disc 1, then you are really missing the full experience as some of the best songs, for me, are contained on that second disc, largely due to Gildenlow’s performance on those songs. Overall, even as compelling as were those early Pain Of Salvation albums (and even the 2017 release was a really strong comeback album) Daniel sings with such great diversity and passion on these songs that it is impossible to ignore this album, even though this music is certainly not heavy and fits squarely in the prog rock genre.
The mix on this album is quite good – the bass guitar really cuts through heavily – but yet at times, when the band really opens up, that “over compressed shrill” that plagues so many current recordings cuts through. Marco’s drums are surprisingly subdued, and he seems to hold back more here than what we’ve heard on some of his work with Steven Wilson. It’s great, though, to hear his diversity on a track like “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye,” where there is a heavy infusion of jazz.
The diversity here isn’t as overly impressive as I might have expected with this collection of musicians, but it is easy to categorize the music as really good. For me, on the first disc, the best three songs are actually the first 3 songs. “Ashes of Dawn” feels really good with some great keys – it’s a proggy track. “They Know My Name” has a more accessible, poppy vibe but it works really well. “The Void” is fantastic – very unique. But I feel like the McPherson tracks slow things down too much, for too long a period of time, making the last half of Disc 1 just a bit shy of totally engaging. I know many will prefer the 14 minute “Broken Cord” as a prog epic, but it just doesn’t engage me emotionally at the same level as those earlier tracks. As much as I like Casey’s voice, “The Hiding Of Truth” is too much of the same after what the previous few tracks have to offer. “The Roaring Silence” and “Time” (wonderful Mellotron!) are both prog juggernauts – both songs doing a nice job of showcasing not only the instrumental capabilities of these guys, but also the breadth of Gildenlow’s vocal palette. “Where Are You Going?” is a wonderfully trippy song with some cool vocal effects and great keyboards and has an almost Beatles-like quality (Sgt. Pepper). That harpsichord solo over top of Minnemann’s tom accents is outrageous, but it and the guitar solo which follows are brilliant. The lyrics are great too. Disc 2 closes out with the balladic “Denise,” a song which once again features Gildenlow’s toned-down, yet passionate catharsis.
In summary, this is a wonderful debut for these guys. I would have cut “The Hiding Of Truth,” edited down “Broken Cord” and then just put those 11 songs on one 65-70 minute release. But ah, you say, but does it really matter in the digital era? Fortunately, The Sea Within has offered up a very solid debut filled with music lovers of progressive music will find both worthy and enjoyable upon repeated listens.