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The name heavy metal trigger acts like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Riot, and stuffs. Talk about twin guitar attack from Downing and Tipton or the holy trio guitar playing of Murray, Smith and Gers but I say this band named Crimson Glory needs to be put in the same plate. This album named In Transcendence gives the ear a soothing, melodic, and a different feeling altogether. The guitar playing deserves mention.
The guitar harmony of Drenning and Jackson is out of the world. The lead playing by Drenning deserves credit. The melodic solos are really a want by any fans of heavy/ power metal and I am very pleased that this band has not disappointed with that. The vocals by Midnight are really next too flawless, the screams and the shrills add a variation to the abilities of his very operatic style of singing. This album begins with the song Lady Winter and the first drum blast beats tells you that it will be a perfect album. And take my word, it's really a flawless album. Be the choruses, the guitar harmony, the solos or the vocals or the surprising acoustic intros of few songs, this album takes your musical experience to a different level. The whole album ends with the title song again the acoustic intros and vocals are too great to put down. A perfect ending to a perfect album. Anything that a heavy metal/power metal listener asks for.
The production is just as fine and the album art deserves special credit. It's the album art really that's enough to carry you in a trance, in a journey out of the world, in a voyage of distant galaxies and add the music in your ears and there you're in a land of paradise. I especially recommend this album to all those Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden fans, who want something more to look forward to after Nostradamus and Final Frontier. The elements of power metal bands like Halloween and Gamma Ray are also as well present. So,what are you waiting for go for this criminally underrated album.
It’s hard to find words to say about Transcendence, as it is such a well known work among 80s metal connoisseurs and it’s even from my home state of Florida! Our very own metal superstars of the golden age! Crimson Glory was a great band, and although they never broke big and released a full canon of albums, they did leave us with the cool debut and then this one, which is just better in every aspect.
Transcendence is a metal essential on any scale. It really has nothing to envy of its contemporaries like Seventh Son and Operation Mindcrime save for the commercial wide-spread appeal, as this has everything from stellar vocals to spot-on melodic songwriting to a production job that is sparkling clean and yet still retains a certain metallic dignity. The production really is excellent, feeling very wintry and frigid, with a kind of sleekness and gloss to it that brings to mind glistening, just-formed ice on a vast landscape. Not every 80s album had production that really gave it an edge – a lot of the time those albums just had to make do with ‘solid’ – but Crimson Glory’s production on Transcendence skyrocketed the quality on display.
The actual music is no less stellar, either, as this was a real band of metal-to-the-bone marauders. The riffs are heavy, pounding and sleek, with that awesome groove that I loved so much on the debut back in full on almost every song here. This is a more melodic and emotive work than the straight-ahead riff-fest of the debut, and the band actually managed to go soft and emotional on quite a large portion of this album and not alienate any of their fans – a feat that would behoove any European power metal band today to try and shoot for. I think part of that is because of the mystique on display. Even when they go all vulnerable and romantic, there’s always a classy noir-esque 1920s sort of smog over it, so that they’re not quiiiite drawing the listener into their sappy diary entries or anything, but instead drawing him or her into a fantastical, mournful world of tall skyscrapers and forbidden loves torn apart by violence and deceit and cloudy shores at the twilight hour where a long-lost lover beckons the gods to lead him to his betrothed…it’s very mystical and atmospheric. And thus, even at their most poignant and exposed, Crimson Glory remain entirely captivating, never pandering to the love-lorn teenagers of the time at all. The compromise between hard-edged metal and emotional soul-searching is fascinating in how seamless it is on this album. There hasn’t been anything like this since.
I could yammer on about the performances and what not, or go into a track by track, but really it’s already been said on the Metal Archives, and I’d just be bored writing it anyway, so I’ll just go through a few of my personal favorites. “Lady of Winter” is a perfect, A+-grade opener that I never tire of hearing. I just can never get enough of this one – that swirling opening riff, those carefree, sprightly vocals from now-late vocalist Midnight, the groovy bass…it’s a bible of how to do metal right. One of the all time great metal songs. “Painted Skies” is one of the best ballads ever, too – just a spectacular work of music. I love the soft, velvetine timber of Midnight’s voice and the soaring delicacies of the music, so subtle in their inner workings and light melodies. Definitely one of the most atmospheric songs I’ve ever heard in metal, bringing to mind a beautiful shore at sunset, but with a tinge of lovelessness and loss about it, too. The perfect blend of euphoria and the doubt and self-reflection that getting older inevitably inflicts on us all.
“In Dark Places” is the album centerpiece, cranking up a haunting midpaced stomp and some truly ghostly vocals…this is a seven-minute epic that I am always surprised is actually that long, as it really doesn’t feel like it. “Lonely” and “Burning Bridges” form a kind of one-two punch of emotive, reflective ballads that maybe could use a faster song between them to break up the flow, as both are at least five and a half minutes long and having over 10 minutes of ballads in a row gets tiring. But as individual songs, both are just excellent. The sheer emotion put into these songs from everyone in the band is staggering, and “Lonely” in particular is a very good example of how to make a good commercial metal tune.
I’m talking a lot about the slower songs on this album, and that’s frankly because I think those are where the band’s originality shines the brightest. On blazing barn-burners like the awesome “Red Sharks” or “Masque of the Red Death,” the band shows off exceptional control of their instruments and flashes some grade-A lead work, but it’s on the slower tunes that we see where Crimson Glory’s greatest ace in the hole really was. A lot of bands were content with just shoving a generic ballad onto the end of an album or somewhere in the middle, but not these guys. I’ve expounded on the atmospheric qualities of this music already, but really you could wax euphoric about it for hours if you wanted. They just have a knack for playing these excellent towering, ominous, theatric melodies that make the night sky open up to a myriad of shining, far-away stars.
Yeah, I think this about sums up why the album is good. Crimson Glory pittered out after this and never regained their steam, but their first two albums are unquestionable underground classics that everyone should hear at least once. The marriage of melody, power and emotion on here is unparalleled, and the performances are all some of the best that the genre has to offer. But it’s what’s beneath the surface that makes Transcendence special. It’s the deeply-ingrained sense of longing and desire that runs through every circuit, every vein of this work. It’s the spacious, ethereal mist that clouds every pore of this album. Where other bands ran on grassy plains, Crimson Glory flew to the stars just like on this album’s cover. Transcendence indeed.
Continued from Part 1: http://www.metal-archives.com/review.php?id=2100
Now we come to Transcendence, and immediately from “Lady of Winter” we notice a couple of differences from the self-titled. First of all there’s the better production, courtesy of Jim & Tom Morris of Morrisound studios fame. It improves the clarity and tone of the album without negatively impacting anything that made the first album good. Midnight however sounds a little more higher-pitched and nasal this time around, and I’m not sure if that’s a quality of the production or simply a natural development of his voice. Frankly I don’t think he sounds quite as good as he did on the self-titled, but he’s still great and if anything he only got more skilled between 1986 and 1989. Something new is utilization of some vocal distortion, heard on songs like “In Dark Places” (a vocal tour-de-force) and the album-closing title track. This only serves to add to the otherworldly feel, and is used sparingly but to great effect.
Riff-wise we have progression as well; gone are the Iron Maiden-descended gallops, in their place we have speed metal 16th notes and the occasional Iced Earth-ish triplet, which are fine in moderation (something Shaffer could learn from, but I’m sure won’t). Of course this came out in 1988 and Iced Earth didn’t debut until 1990, but they’re the ones who popularized the “triplet” (or more made it infamous, more accurately). Also, if the leads and solos were at “11” before, now we have to make a new knob that goes to “14”, because they’ve cranked them up at least 3 more levels, both in frequency and quality. They don’t even bother stopping for the vocals at all anymore; it’s like the guitarists are too wrapped up in how cool the leads are that they don’t even realize the lead break is supposed to be over and they’re playing right through a chorus. And then Midnight says “fuck you guys, I’m going to sing some really high notes!” I’m sure the songwriting process went something like that (and good lord does Midnight hit some high notes). A lesser singer might be buried, but the only way to bury Midnight is, well, to bury him. “Masque of the Red Death” for example gives the leads almost as much if not more spotlight than the vocals. Drenning’s gotten better, if anything, so I’m more than happy.
Keyboards also play a much more prominent role, and can be heard on just about every track; still, they’re kept in the background and just used to underscore key sections, such as on “Where Dragons Rule” during the ascending lead buildup during the climax of the song. We do get some orchestral keyboards occasionally as well, such as on “Burning Bridges”, but again they’re quite tastefully done. Don’t worry folks, they didn’t go all Rhapsody on us!
Compared to the self-titled, the overall bent of Transcendence is much more relaxed and almost mystical in nature. We have a lot more ballads and songs with balladic qualities, and at the risk of alienating my audience I’ll say the romantic or even feminine side is a lot more prominent. Songs like “Lady of Winter” and “Burning Bridges” are very melodic in general without much heaviness, while “Painted Skies” and “Lonely” both start out with lengthy soft and sentimental acoustic intros. The closing title track fills the same niche as “Lost Reflection” on the previous album albeit without ending as bleakly. Picked acoustics and spacey dual-leads float over ambient keyboards as Midnight’s distorted voice sings of, you guessed it, transcendence. Still, the metal is in full force and if anything the speed metal showcased on the first album by “Mayday” is in even greater evidence on songs like “Red Sharks” and “Eternal World” (holy shit does Drenning shred on that last one). “Where Dragons Rule” is also a strong tune, and though more restrained in tempo the swagger of the dual leads simply reeks of balls (in, um, a positive and non-homoerotic way). One could make accusations of commerciality on the ballads, but the songwriting is good enough that it doesn’t bother me.
Now that we’ve taken a look at what makes Crimson Glory’s albums, let’s take a look why they tick, shall we? Well, a mere glance at the lyrics (which are really good, if you couldn’t tell by how much I keep quoting them) reveals a much different take on things; while Queensryche focused on 1984-like oppression and dehumanization, Fates Warning actually dealt with similar overarching themes, albeit with much different conclusions. Buried under mountains of dark and fantastical imagery, Arch struggles with existential angst, life and death and existence and all that. Looking at a few key songs like “Kyrie Eleison”, “Traveler in Time”, “Prelude to Ruin”, “Exodus” and especially “The Apparition”, men search for answers about death and the afterlife and are confronted with uncomfortable truths and (in the last example) confront oblivion explicitly. Crimson Glory on the other hand depict the possibility of ascendance to a higher plane, be it Valhalla or Heaven, through virtuous conduct (as we see in “Azrael” and “Angels of War”); however, they do so without any necessarily religious ideology. Sure, there is mention of angels, but also of Valhalla; they use religious imagery without promoting any particular religion, like with Manilla Road and many other metal bands. It’s also telling that while Crimson Glory mention angels and Odin and various mystical beings, they never speak of God or a creator figure.
Another theme dealt with frequently and common to all three pillars in this case is what I call the “mystical dangerous woman”, mentioned in such classics as “Queen of the Reich”, “The Lady Wore Black”, “The Sorceress”, “Fata Morgana”, and for Crimson Glory’s first album in “Dragon Lady” and “Queen of the Masquerade”. While there is an undeniable romantic aspect, there is often an element of enchantment involved as well, the woman often leading the male protagonist toward some kind of ominous fate with her siren song. In this regard Crimson Glory put forward a rather more cynical view in their self-titled, bordering almost on misogyny. Still, looking at the lyrics to “Heart of Steel”, we can see that the cynicism seems to stem from past pain. “Cause the feelings come and go/And you never really know/If a feeling’s ever real/So you got to have a heart of steel.” Transcendence on the other hand puts forth a much more favorable view of women, as heard on “Lady of Winter” and “In Dark Places”, whereas “Painted Skies” and “Lonely” deal explicitly with female protagonists who have also suffered shattered dreams and failed relationships, so overall they seem to have matured and become less gender-biased but no less cynical on the second album. It’s little wonder that in Crimson Glory’s world of unattainable love and pointless brute violence (“Red Sharks”, “Where Dragons Rule”) they yearn for escape to some higher plane, be it Valhalla or the mystical world of dreams “In Dark Places”, or even the drug trip which seems to be described by “Eternal World”. The alternative, apparently, is the madness of “Lost Reflection”. Whether or not you actually believe in an afterlife (I don’t), there’s something compelling and undeniably metal about that tragically doomed belief in and striving for escape from an oppressive, inescapable reality. Looking at it that way, Queensryche’s futile struggles to escape from oppressive tyrannical regimes don’t seem too far removed. It doesn’t surprise me much that Midnight was an alcoholic, with his apparent depression and subsequent self-medication likely stemming from being trapped in an existence he apparently found so little solace in. His death is all the more tragic considering his vocal gift was still very much intact despite alcohol abuse as documented in recent recordings, but as is so often the case, his great artistic talent came with great personal demons. Rest in peace; at the very least death does not mean the end for Midnight as long as there are still metalheads around to appreciate his legacy.
“It is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”
- J.R.R. Tolkien
Read my review of the “Lonely” single for information on tracks which appear as bonus tracks on the Metal Mind reissues of Crimson Glory’s first two albums: http://www.metal-archives.com/review.php?id=4456
If nothing else can be said about the 80s, it was definitely a time where music was allowed to evolve in a host of different ways. The year 1988, in particular, saw the release of many groundbreaking albums in both the realm of mainstream traditional metal, as well as the soon to be dominant progressive scene. Certain bands such as Queensryche and Fates Warning were at the forefront of this trend, although by today’s standards what they created at that time would fall more into the realm of “Power Prog.”. Crimson Glory mostly takes their cues from those progressive bands, who in turn took their cues from certain NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden and Angel Witch.
Although the bulk of this album consists of songs with straight-forward structures, as opposed to more adventurous innovators like Fates Warning, Crimson Glory places a good deal of their progressive elements in the overall presentation of sounds and lyrical messages. There is a healthy amount of keyboard work on here, in addition to some rather intricate acoustic guitar work that complements the otherwise Maiden inspired heavy metal. There is the occasional reference to an odd time meter, although not used nearly as often as other bands like Dream Theatre and Symphony X would later on.
The lyrical subject matter and the presentation of the vocals is another element that adds to the progressive nature of this album in particular. The title of the album “Transcendence”, in itself, suggests that there is a lot of introspection going on in the lyrics, something that Fates Warning and Dream Theatre would later specialize in. However, there is a good amount of fantasy based themes as well, which ties more into the realm of Power Progressive outfits such as Virgin Steele and Symphony X. Midnight’s deliver of the vocals is highly dramatic, as he dances back and forth between some rather high banshee screams to a rather somber and strange sounding lower range. “Painted Skies” is probably the most passionate performance he gives on this album.
The lead guitar work on here is also noteworthy, as John Drenning is highly apt at both tearing up the fret board and also providing a rather nostalgic sounding melodic lead. Every solo is perfectly cut and tailored to fit the mood of the song. You don’t see any unnecessary shredding on some of the ballads, for example, something that other 80s shredders would often engage in. My pick for best guitar solo is a toss up between “Masque of the Red Death” and “Where Dragons Rule”.
We kick off the album with an instant classic in “Lady of Winter”, which is a mystical tale about the season of winter personified, and paints a rather sad picture of the changing from winter to spring. This track has a great opening riff, in addition to some rather brilliant vocal gymnastics.
“Red Sharks” is the only political piece on this album, which was a bit of a rarity at the time since in 1988 a host of bands, including Queensryche, were almost getting a bit too political. The lyrics depict the modern Communist thugs that were at odds with the west with a good deal of accuracy, as a bunch of tyrannical brutes interested in feeding off the resources of producing individuals. Once they had successfully ripped apart and left a near bare carcass in the better portion of Eastern Europe, these properly named Red Sharks tried to spread out, and thus you had the Cold War. Sadly today the violence of this ideology, whose various incarnations claimed the lives of well over 100 million people, is often glossed over in favor of a modified version of history here in the states. Overall, a great song with plenty of memorable riffs, but its true musical strength is in it’s rather heavily contrasted section.
“Painted Skies” and “Lonely” are tear-jerking ballads loaded with plenty of brilliant acoustic guitar lines. The former is my pick for the best vocal performance by Midnight, while the latter has some very somber lyrics and a good set of melodic guitar leads. The title track has a good deal of acoustic work as well, but is far more progressive and delves into heavily introspective subject matter, enough so that it rivals the work that Fates Warning did on No Exit. “Burning Bridges” has a more generalized approach to the issue of love gone wrong, and takes my pick for the most heavily sad sounding of the ballads, though it lacks the triumphant power of “Painted Skies”. None the less, plenty of great melodic leads on this one, and a good deal of atmospheric keyboard work.
“Eternal World” and “Dark Places” are the heaviest songs on here, the former having a highly dramatic intro that I suspect inspired the intro to “Demons and Angels” off Primal Fear’s latest release. We get a good deal of powerful drumming on the former as well, rivaling the likes of Judas Priest and Riot. The latter has some acoustic work on it, but is mostly a slow heavy track, with a rather evil sounding primary riff.
The tracks titled “Where Dragons Rule” and “Masque of the Red Death” are both great up tempo songs and featuring some highly memorable riffs and lead motives. Both contain amazing solos that truly capture the sense of drama depicted within the songs themselves. The latter is probably the best heavy metal homage to Edgar Allen Poe I’ve heard, even beating out Riot’s “The Tell Tale Heart”, which coincidentally was included on their 1988 release.
In conclusion, this album is a must have for anyone whom likes both Power and Progressive Metal, for all the elements that define both of those genres today are at work here. Sadly after this album the band would take a less heavy route in “Strange and Beautiful”, which would follow with the departure of Midnight and leaving the band in shambles. However, on the bright side, the band has recently reformed as of this year and is working on a new album. No matter how it turns out, Crimson Glory has already solidified themselves, through only 2 studio albums, as one of the greatest heavy metal bands of the 80s.
Crimson Glory were a band that obviously never got the recognition they deserved. And Transcendence was their magnum opus. Sounding alot like Queensryche at times, and a bit like Sanctuary/Nevermore at others, but ALWAYS sounding like Crimson Glory. Midnight is instantantly recognizable, and his voice puts the Crimson Glory trademark on every song. Alot of people seem to like the first album alot, and sure it's a great album, more straight-forward. But it doesn't have the depth, and replay value of this one. Not to mention the amazing production found on here.
"Lady of Winter" starts the album off an incredibly high note, fast paced, with lots of pinch-harmonics. Some intensely high falsetto's, screaming solo, and a loud pounding bass. This should be CG's trademark song. "Red Sharks" is a menacing speed metal fest, Midnight sounds different on this, his voice is gruff and he comes off sounding alot like Warrel Dane. Another great solo is found in ths one too. "Painted Skies" is a beautiful, yet depressing ballad. This guy really knows how to use his voice, the layered vocals in the chorus are so incredibly well done. Amazingly well crafted song.
"Masque of Red Death" is another fast paced rocker, and has a mid-eastern sounding riff that reminds me of Iron Maiden's "Powerslave". "In Dark Places" paints a nice eerie atmopsher, and has awesome pounding bass driven verses. Some nice lead work found throughout the song. "Where Dragons Rule" has some soaring vocals, and nice riffs, but it doesn't really do much for me. "Lonely" is the albums second ballad, and man this song kicks ass. So insanely catchy, I must have listened to this a million times. Midnight's vocals are flawless, never once hitting the wrong note. One of the most melodic guitar solos I've ever heard, like Midnight, he doesn't play one wrong note. Possibly the best heavy metal ballad ever.
"Burning Bridges" is a semi-ballad. A soft accoustic start, leading into a heavy finale. Lots of keys are found in this one, and I have to admit I'm not a big fan of the song. "Eternal War" has some really awesome riffs, and leads. It's kind of a precursor to the big wave of European power metal, it reminds me of Kamelot for some reason, it has that whole mid-eastern vibe to it. The title track is just kind of a weird outro, and I don't really count it as a song.
An amazing album, for fans of US Power metal, in the vein of Queensryche, Fates Warning, Sanctuary, and Nevermore.
Crimson Glory are one of the most influential bands in both power and progressive metal circles, and after listening to Transcendence, I am in awe of why this band did not make it big. This album is probably the benchmark by which all albums in the progressive power metal genre are judged, as this album delivers in every way, from start to finish. Transcendence is one of those albums that come along once in a lifetime, the type of album that influences a whole genre of music, as bands like Conception and Kamelot have been very influenced by this style of music. In fact, this album is so good, it has made me dismiss Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime as overrated (although it's still good, but not as good as a lot of people make it out to be in my opinion). But on to the music.
Basically, the music of Crimson Glory is a cross of the vocal work and rhythm of bands like Queensryche and the instrumental precision of Sanctuary. So what we have here is a power and progressive metal hybrid, although there are not a lot of time changes and classical influence. You won't really find any keyboard work here, but you will find some of the vocal stylings commonly associated with progressive metal, and much of the music found here is in the style of Rage For Order Queensryche and Refuge Denied Sanctuary, especially vocally. Midnight sounds like a cross of Geoff Tate and Warrel Dane (when he was in Sanctuary and prior to Nevermore.) So, in other words, expect great vocal work here. Also expect to find razor-sharp production and guitar work, but don't expect to find a lot of thrash-style drumming. The drumming is very good, but you're not going to hear a lot of double-bass drumming and triple-time blast beats.
"Lady Of Winter" is the first song here, and it features a nice flow, with high-pitched Midnight vocals. How does he hit those notes without rupturing his vocal cords? The guitar playing is very good, as the production of the album shows how etched and refined the riffs are. "Red Sharks" is a song that deals with Communism and the Soviet Union, as suggested by the song title. This is one of those songs that is almost impossible to not headbang to. The intro riffs are good, and the drumming is rhythmic, but very steady and strong. "Painted Skies" is an excellent ballad, with an excellent vocal performance from Midnight, making me wonder how his vocal cords hold up. "Masque Of The Red Death" has almost a thrashy rhythm to it, and falsetto is the norm for the vocals once again here. The best song on the disc is "In Dark Places", which features excellent riffing, and a very driving and to-the-point flow. Once again the riffs are very etched and refined here, and the drumming performance is very steady and strong. And man, the vocals! Midnight is probably one of the top vocalists in heavy metal history, and he shows why here. The lyrics of "In Dark Places" are also top-quality.
"Where Dragons Rule" is another top-quality vocal performance from Midnight, and the riffs are once again, crystal clear. "Lonely" and "Burning Bridges" are two very high-quality ballads that any heavy metal band that doesn't know how to do these types of songs should take lessons from. These are the two top ballads of heavy metal history in my opinion, and Midnight's vocals, this time around, are more on the emotional side. They are still excellent though. There is also some very nice guitar work between the verses of "Burning Bridges". "Eternal World" is a fast mover, and the title track ends the disc with a very nice guitar solo section in the beginning, before moving into a more emotional piece.
Overall, this i a splendid power/prog release. Unfortunately, this album is out of print stateside, so if you find this in an import bin (Transcendence is still in print in Europe), you owe it to yourself to pick this album up.