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The early to mid 90s are looked upon fondly insofar as death metal is concerned, particularly if the locale is situated in Florida, New York, or Sweden. By contrast, the original land of heavy metal otherwise known as the U.K. generally tends to be left by the wayside, despite fielding some very impressive acts during said time period. Sure, most of the best known bands have had a heavier impact on the grindcore/goregrind scene (Napalm Death, Carcass), but apart from Bolt Thrower, death metal tends to leave this region wanting, and it's not for any lack of quality. Bands such as Cancer and the subject of this review Benediction, put out some solid material that rivals much of the influential material that came out of Sweden at around the same time.
While all of Benediction's early 90s offerings are to be cherished as strong examples of how death and thrash metal continued to co-exist within the same bands even as a greater number of bands were going for something more brutal and less rhythmically precise, "Transcend The Rubicon" has a particularly special place. The ingenious and vivid cover art alone is worthy of consideration, as Dan Seagrave essentially tapped into the same brilliant approach that gave Dismember's "Like An Ever Flowing Stream" it's instant appeal and even surpasses it in terms of how detailed the imagery is. And interestingly enough, the musical contents contained within to speak to a similar overall sound to what both Entombed and Dismember were putting out before the former went into death n' roll territory and the latter met the mid 90s.
Much of this album is dominated by thrashing mayhem comparable to the characteristic style of the mid to late 80s death/thrash sound of "Scream Bloody Gore" and "Schizophrenia". The production quality is notably free from the muddy character that typified Obituary's early efforts and comes off as closer to the crisp, punchy sound of earlier Slayer-inspired death metal, though there is a similar flirtation with slower, doom-like tempos at times that do concur with some of Obituary's material on "Slowly We Rot". When dealing with the nimble and riff happy character of up tempo songs such as "Unfound Mortality", "Paradox Alley" and "Violation Domain", it's very easy to hear the commonalities with early Death, though vocalist Dave Ingram has a deeper growl that's a little closer to Glen Benton and the solos are not quite as fancy.
However, Benediction does a solid job at varying up the formula a bit and comes out with a few surprisingly good upper mid-tempo and even some down-tempo material that seems to flirt with the recently concocted death n' roll sound that Entombed went to on "Wolverine Blues", though thankfully this proves to be more of an occasional device rather than an entire album of over-simplified, slowed down grooving. "Nightfear" and "Face Without Soul" are solid examples of how a grooving, almost Metallica-like riff set can function well with a constant stream of mid-tempo double bass work and a garbled shout, but the real song where things get into 90s death n' roll territory is "Painted Skulls". At times this song takes on a slight "The Thing That Should Not Be" feel to it, but it takes care not to drag out for too long, though it definitely takes it's time to get going.
There is a lot to be said about the seminal offerings of bands like Bolt Thrower, Deicide and Suffocation and how their sounds shaped the ongoing ebb and flow of death metal in the 90s, but bands like Benediction are definitely entitled to some much needed attention for adding to and reaffirming the same ideas that continue to define the style. This album is pretty much exclusive fodder for old school fans as there is very little in the way of modern brutal or technical elements to speak of. It speaks more to a crowd that doesn't dismiss albums like "Seven Churches" and "Morbid Visions" as being glorified thrash albums and isn't as into the current wave of flashy or otherwise messy modernity surrounding the sub-genre. But more importantly, it's an album marked by a delicate balance of consistency and contrast that is not as widely heard of lately. Regardless to whether one prefers elaborate temple cities to flesh consuming zombies, this is an album in need of a larger audience.