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Benediction, as the underdogs of the British death fucking metal scene, reached what I consider to be the apex of their career with this album. At first glace, it looks like standard issue brutal death metal. The beautiful cover art by Dan Seagrave, the classic-looking logo, the cool yet seemingly meaningless album title...but when one pops this monster into the CD player and hits "PLAY", a wild ride ensues. You see, folks, the problem with both of the band's previous albums were that while the music was decent (in some cases, brilliant!) the production was never able to suit their sound. Okay, okay...the god-awful production did grant an unsettling atmosphere to the "The Grand Leveller" CD, but with this album we really get to see Benediction's true power for the first time - with a production that genuinely sounds "good", because I always felt that some of the reason Benediction are rarely mentioned in death metal circles today, is because the poor production values of their early albums kept them from reaching the cult status of their peers.
Anyway, what we get here is a pretty decent mixture of old and new. Benediction's slightly punk-influenced (mostly in the drumming) style of death metal remains fully intact, but with some notable changes, some of which forewarn the listener about the direction the band would go with their next album (the majority of "Painted Skulls" and the breakdown in "Violation Domain" have hardcore written all over them), and others hint at a surprising degree of technicality and musicianship that brings to mind what Death was up to at the time, on the "Individual Thought Patterns" album. While Benediction were never a solo-based band...and that remains on this album for the most part, with only four of the album's nine songs containing a guitar solo...the solos really take on a life of their own here. I get a very sharp Chuck Schuldiner vibe from the melodic shreddings of Darren Brookes and Peter Rew, and considering Death is my all-time favorite band, that is a compliment!
Dave Ingram grunts on this album, and I believe his voice on here was his crowning achievement. His voice on the next album totally sucked, and let's be honest, "Honor-Valor-Pride", while a masterpiece, is not a very good representation of Ingram's style either. Here he delivers a very powerful vocal performance that fits Benediction's musical style like a hand fits a banana, comparable to the likes of Karl Willets or Barney Greenway (both of whom he has replaced at some point in his career), but with his own spin on things (very important to add that!).
The real crowning jewel here (outside of the killer riffs, solos, drums, vocals, and everything else that is also killer), are the lyrics. I say this because while seemingly nonsensical, they give off a very disturbing atmosphere of genuine insanity. I won't post any sections of lyrics in here, because you'll skip over that, but if you're interested check out the lyrics to "Nightfear", "Paradox Alley", or "Painted Skulls". These lyrics are simple and to the point, and seem at first to be devoid of any noticeable pattern or meaning (he goes from singing about "abysmal roars" to little girls with razor blades in a single line), but contain some really killer and memorable lines ("PREYING ON THE SKULLS OF MAN - SOFTLY AFTER DAWN!!!"). For this reason, I suggest the listener pick up an original pressing, because not only does he (or she) get a copy of the killer album cover, but also the lyrics are printed within.
The drumming is simple but effective. If you are into blast beats or whatever...you will hate this album, because there is not a single blast beat on the entire album. The drums have a distinct punk/thrash flavor which I feel enhances the killer riffs. Oh, and the riffs...I almost forgot to talk about the riffs! Just go check out "Nightfear", with it's unforgettable opening riff, or "Violation Domain", with the absolutely evil opening chords, which are followed by what is without question one of the catchiest riffs in all of death metal. If you check out those moments, I needn't say more about this album's merits in the riff department. Oh, and 1:00 in "Blood From Stone", and the death metal anthem that is the unforgettable "I BOW TO FUCKING NONE". The "fucking" is not part of the actual title, but it might as well be, because that is what I scream in the faces of random bystanders while I play air-guitar to this album in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
All in all, "Transcend the Rubicon" is a very worthy purchase for all old-school death metal aficionados. The album has everything that an old school death metal fan could want in an album, particularly if you are a fan of bands like Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Master, Massacre, or "Harmony Corruption"-era Napalm Death. If you are a Benediction fan, and you don't own this album, don't think twice about snatching it up.
NOTE: As far as pressings are concerned, do not get the Nuclear Blast re-issue with "The Dreams You Dread". The original album art is not in the sleeve, no lyrics (a website is listed for lyrics available for free download, but the link is dead), and while I cannot comment on this particular album (as I have the "Subconscious Terror"/"The Grand Leveller" one), but the one I have is filled with spelling errors (including the album titles on the CD itself, and the logo printed on the CD is too big for the cd, and is cut off. All in all, the extra money for an original press is worth the money.