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Benediction, formed in 1989, are one of the longest-standing Death Metal outfits to ever come out of Great Britain. Known for the kind of down-to-earth, totally old-school Death Metal sound that’s genuinely British but also quite rare nowadays, they’re often mentioned alongside fellow Brits Bolt Thrower, with whom they share a similar musical style and fan base. As opposed to Bolt Thrower, however, Benediction are much more varied tempo-wise: whereas the former have largely abandoned any particularly fast songs since their first two albums, the latter mix things up a lot more. Another difference is that Bolt Thrower rely heavily on melodic guitar leads, something Benediction, whose sound is dominated by catchy riffs and slightly more complex (but still very basic) rhythm patterns, are not commonly known for.
That’s right folks, Benediction are as purist and stripped down as Death Metal can possibly be, and Transcend the Rubicon is the perfect example: no pompous keyboards, no sappy pseudo-romantic female vocals, no pretentious pseudo-epic song structures – just raw guttural vocals, simple yet very effective drum patterns, and razor-sharp guitar riffs. In other words, old-school Death Metal down your throat!
One particular feature, however, that makes Transcend the Rubicon something pretty special, something more than just another solid Death Metal record, is that it somehow manages to be both monotonous and varied at the same time. Although none of the songs stray from the trademark Benediction formula, this album isn’t predictable at all – alternating between slow, at times almost Doom-like tracks such as “Painted Skulls” and fast thrashers such as “Unfound Mortality” or “Paradox Alley,” as well as throwing in lots of well-placed breaks during most of the songs, the band succeeds in keeping things interesting. Every song is easily recognizable, quite a feat for an album that stays true to the same formula from start to finish.
Another positive aspect is the very competent production, which emphasizes the guitars without sacrificing balance. The guitar tone is nearly perfect – it’s very aggressive despite not being down-tuned as much as what we’re used to from such bands as Morbid Angel or Dismember. The drummer isn’t spectacular, but he gets the job done. The bass player provides a thick low end to the overall sound, although it’s not like you can actually hear what he’s playing. The vocals are another highlight: Dave Ingram, who for a little while also strained his vocal cords for Bolt Thrower, delivers a masterful deep growl that’s pleasantly articulate.
As far as the songs themselves are concerned, there are absolutely no fillers to be found. It doesn’t matter if they play fast or slow, Benediction are always right on the money, making it nearly impossible to pick any particular highlights. I’d like to point out the final two tracks though, “Wrong Side of the Grave” (featuring a couple of guest musicians including Karl Willetts of Bolt Thrower) and “Artefacted / Spit Forth,” which in the booklet are modestly referred to as “live studio jams/outtakes,” but are nonetheless among the best songs on Transcend the Rubicon. Both are characterized by a somewhat rougher, less polished production quality and very straight songwriting, giving them an almost Punkish vibe and making them even catchier than the rest of the album.
To make a long story short, this record is for all those who like their Death Metal the old-school way – straight, raw, and ugly. On the other hand, if your taste is limited to so-called “Melodic Death Metal” bands such as (newer) In Flames or Soilwork, chances are this isn’t a record to wet your (baggy) pants over.