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Ah the sequel album if you will. Just like movies, they can be tricky. Sky high expectations (only to come crashing down) are the main reason for people saying that they can’t hold a candle to the original movie or debut album (which would happen with Crimson Glory’s later albums, but we're not here to talk about that now. But having said all that let me assure you that they absolutely meet all expectations and in some instances I daresay they surpass them. One hell of a goddamn heavy metal iconic release right up there with all the Maiden and Priest classics. Think of this album as the debut on steroids as far as sheer intensity and power is concerned, though both albums are pretty much cut from the same cloth. Of course both the debut and Transcendence are classics and I’m sure that no one with a pair of functional ears would even try and argue with that. The cover art is bizarrely questionable but let’s not get into that for the time being.
These guys sure as fuck realize the importance of a killer opening track and honestly what better choice can there be other than the fist-pumping epic “Lady Of Winter”. The way he screeches “LAAAAADYYY OF WINTAAAAAAR, TUUUURNING TO RAAAAIN!!” plus the catchy-as-fuck opening guitar lick of the song itself makes it an instant winner right from the very first listen itself. Goddammit this stuff is addictive. Yeah don’t worry, I’m still talking about the song here folks. If you're looking for the more straight-up heavy metal cuts on this album, "Where Dragons Rule" (with an amazing catchy chorus riff), "Red Sharks" (with some super-awesome high pitched vocals) plus the killer riffage of "Eternal World" will suit you just fine not to mention prime cuts like "In Dark Places" (ignore the cheesy lyrics) and "Masque Of The Red Death" have a mid-paced/doomier and more varied twist on the usual template of heavy metal that really makes these guys stand out from the pack. Plus the epic title track has an almost oriental intro with the clean picking and acoustic rhythms. Very interesting indeed and one heck of a grower after the first couple of listens. The riffs are pure gold with sublime lead harmonies, reminiscent of what makes the genre of heavy metal so amazing. Just like Queensryche and Judas Priest, these guys can also rip it on the ballads with absolute class and finesse without sounding cheesy or overbearing in the least. Kindly listen to "Painted Skies" and "Lonely" (A sublime melancholic touch with a cracker of a solo to boot) to see what I'm talking about. The latter ballad actually reminds me of Queensryche's epic "I Don't Believe In Love" Sadly with Priest, Maiden and Queensryche mainly leading the charge in the 80s, these guys seem to have fallen through the cracks.
If you read the last sentence of the previous stanza properly, you clearly need to remedy the situation and get this album if you haven't already. A heavy metal classic with amazing diversity and absolutely fucking mandatory for every fan of metal across the board. It's just as simple as that.
I think Transcendence is a great album. It's my second favorite album of all time.
Some twenty-eight years after its release, I'm hardly alone in finding Transcendence to hold up as a compelling fifty-minute ride. One need only look at the praise in the preceding reviews here, those of other sites, or the album's general status as a cult classic and progressive metal landmark to see that it's generally held in high regard among a select crowd. Since so much of that exists already, I want to take a bit of a different angle to analyzing Transcendence.
Much as I love the album, I've always found it interesting, even puzzling to an extent, that it's seen as such a landmark release for progressive metal in particular. Perhaps it's ahead of its time in some respects, but there isn't much on Transcendence that's all that strikingly progressive. Two years prior, the band had released their debut, which is also well-liked but doesn't carry the same sort of prog cred, but, unlike, say, Dream Theater or Symphony X, Crimson Glory is not a band that made radical changes or jumps in their sound between their first two albums. Transcendence is not out of place cast as Crimson Glory: Expanded Edition.
And what are the sound and style at play here? To put it succinctly, imagine Journey had a huge Iron Maiden influence (or perhaps, Maiden had a huge Journey influence) and the Steve Perry in this incarnation could also do spot-on Halfordian wails. Now, both Journey and Maiden cannot be said to be purely in-the-box musicians for their respective genres, but fusing the two results in what might be termed "arena power metal" more than anything (at least overtly) progressive. Sure, unlike the debut, Crimson Glory stretches out a bit on "In Dark Places" and "Burning Bridges," but around them, you've basically got Journey-style anthemic balladry ("Lonely," "Painted Skies") and Maiden-style classic/power metal ("Masque of the Red Death," which, as some have noted, sounds an awful lot like "Powerslave"), and some hybrids, none of which exceed five and a half minutes or explore any particularly novel territory for the genre. Compare that to the other heralded 1980's prog metal pioneers (e.g., Watchtower, Fates Warning) and the music here comes across as looking more backward than forward. There certainly is little here that foreshadows the later prog metal titans (Dream Theater and beyond).
But it is this very moderation that makes Transcendence so uniformly lauded. What is remarkable about this album is not that its musicians are mind-bendingly talented, nor that they push the boundaries of metal to new, unthinkable heights. The secret of Transcendence's success is that it can be just about everything to just about everyone.
While it may not be the most strikingly progressive work out there, there is certainly a sense of ambition on Transcendence; for one, it's a concept album, albeit a vague one. While the sound and style of the album are fairly consistent, the songs don't blend in with one another--the two ballads are quite distinct, the frenetic "Red Sharks" offers some abrasion, and "In Dark Places" and "Burning Bridges" offer more inventive arrangements. The former epic's main riff, highly evocative of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," is instantly memorable despite its odd time signature, and the latter features a highly memorable stop-start guitar solo from Jon Drenning and two (!) drum solo breaks in its build from folky acoustics to yearning, powerful harmonies. Apparently, that's enough to get the album "progressive" credit, and indeed, Transcendence does have a sense of scope beyond the band's debut or, say, Sanctuary's Refuge Denied (another cult classic from the late 80's with a healthy helping of high vocals). But these motives to get away from a straightforward metal sound are not enough to ever derail the band into territory that isn't song-oriented, so fans of classic or power metal who find post-DT prog to be too wanky can't levy any of those accusations against the music here.
In a similar vein are the vocals of the vaunted Midnight. Retrospectively, many look at Crimson Glory and Transcendence as vehicles for high-pitched wailing, and indeed, there is plenty of that to be found here--Midnight's stratospheric yelps are perhaps the most forceful feature of this album on one's first listen. In most cases, though, they aren't the sheer displays of power of a Halford clone; there is an emotive sort of levity to his high tone on much of the mid-paced material here, such as "Lady of Winter," "Burning Bridges," and "Eternal World," forsaken for a more Halfordian approach on the more uptempo, aggressive tracks. Further, when he isn't reaching climactic highs, Midnight further retains a sense of emotion and longing in his voice, giving it a real hypotic, mysterious sort of aura, punctuated by the reverb-drenched production. Much as it's hard to decry the band''s progressive elements as running counter to songcraft, it's difficult to accuse the singer of doing any sort of disservice to these songs even for those who don't naturally gravitate to this sort of rangy approach.
Speaking of the production, it also walks the line between a few different things. There are some odd choices on Transcendence. First, the drumming here is highly unusual, as Dana Burnell only played the cymbals on the album. For the bass, snare, and toms, the band took samples of his kit and programmed them into a drum machine, and then he recorded the cymbals over that. The drum machine sound is fitting for the late 80's--big, reverbed tones and all--but the use of the machine does make the drums pulse a little robotically in places. Weirder still are the guitar solos on this album, where Drenning's tone almost sounds more like a keyboard than a guitar, with a lot of flange and treble. But the instruments are well-balanced, Midnight's ethereal vocals blend well with the reverbed drums, guitars, and occasional subtle keys, and Jeff Lords' bass cuts through nicely, serving the songs well with basic but effective lines (see the "Lady of Winter" chorus for a particularly good example). Drenning and Ben Jackson's rhythm guitars and harmonized leads also work well, having the expected power metal brightness. Again, here the album is just lo-fi enough to appeal to the hipster crowd, but its production values are high enough as to not reflect badly on the album even in 2016.
So, Transcendence somehow manages to sit comfortably on the edge of several different boundaries. It's prog metal for people who don't like their metal progressive and classic metal for people who like their metal proggy. It's got high vocals for people who don't like high vocals (and people who do!). The guitar soloing is showy enough to appeal to shreddy fans but not excessive enough to alienate those who yawn at Yngwie. The production is clear enough to work but weird enough to appeal to those who don't want their music overly polished. Nothing here sounds particularly unfamiliar, but somehow, there aren't many albums that ever pack as many different elements in as Transcendence. And it is this impressive balance, along with Midnight's unbelievable performance and a truly great set of songs, that makes this album really a timeless metal classic, not just some album to cite to prove one's appreciation for the "ground floor" of prog metal.
Oh, and if you're wondering....-1% because the ending title track descends into a soft, outro-y feel after a very promising dramatic intro. I wish it went somewhere more fulfilling. But who can complain after the sheer brilliance of the nine preceding tracks?
Like probably everybody else, I look at the sky every now and then, but to my great surprise, I have never seen oversized flower vases flying around. Not to mention the naked girls with x-ray eyes that stick to these vases and, aggravating the situation, I also do not know why they outstretch both arms. Maybe this is a kind of galactic crucifixion. Anyway, guess I have to transcend (pun!) the borders of my narrow fantasy. Welcome to the multi-coloured galaxy of Crimson Glory.
The pretty kitschy name of the band is a perfect fit with the equally kitschy music. "Transcendence" is almost painfully polished and the extremely smooth flow of the songs is not everyone's cup of tea. However, some trace elements of edgy metal are integrated as well. For example, the anti-communist "Red Sharks" borders on power metal. Yet the band shows its real strength when performing melodramatic pieces. As a logical consequence, songs with overflowing lines, for example the very melodic "Painted Skies", the sprawling "In Dark Places" (slightly inspired by "Kashmir"?) or the cleverly designed, constantly growing "Burning Bridges", shape this full-length and, by the way, they are the best numbers on "Transcendence" at the same time. At the other end of the ranking dwells "Lonely". Due to its soft and toothless harmonies, the song takes a thorough look into the fathomless depth of meaninglessness. Anyway, this obvious cry for the attention of the mainstream remains an isolated case.
In general, Crimson Glory have written songs which do not lack of substance and variety. For example, how many songs do you know which are fanfare and outro at the same time? The emotional title track surprises with this configuration. Nevertheless, the tunes are rather conservatively designed, complexity does not play a main role. Even the longest track ("In Dark Places") always remains comprehensible. But regardless of the structure, the most characterizing feature is the band's keen sense for memorable melodies that walk the thin line between commercialism and unaltered hardrock / heavy metal. Despite some very polished sequences, the band is not afraid of presenting some crisp riffs (the Edgar Allan Poe reminiscence "Masque of the Red Death") or powerful solos ("Painted Skies"). Do not misunderstand me; with the exception of some masochistic people that call themselves Bonjovi fans, nobody will be blown away by the force of Crimson Glory. Yet nobody can blame them for plastic sounds as well. Well, their lead vocalist (R.I.P.) is not immune against some shrill tones, but this does not mean that "Midnight" (what a shitty pseudonym) delivers a nerve-shattering performance. Instead, he emphasizes the atmosphere of the respective song in an appropriate manner. And by the way, the same goes for the well integrated keyboards. They play an important role without being dominant.
If one likes this form of fantasy metal in general, he will surely fall in love with "Transcendence" (please note my emotional, "crimsonized" wording), because almost each and every song is based on a solid composition scheme. As a matter of course, it is easy to bash bands like Crimson Glory for their mix of metallic and rather non-metallic - not to say romantic - elements, but I am not the police that tells the scene what is allowed and what is forbidden. One thing is certain, the album shines with a perfect production which avoids any signs of sterility and the musicians have put heart and soul into this work. Due to my personal taste, I do not want to listen to vinyls like "Transcendence" the whole day long, but they can be a welcome change from time to time. Besides from the wish to leave the daily routine for more than 50 minutes, one just needs a certain proclivity for strong emotions, heroic triumphs, classic dramas and, yes, metal.
As if Crimson Glory's self-titled debut didn't come off as revolutionary, this went surprisingly even further. They took their already epic and melodic sound and added in even more epicene and made the music sound even fuller. Whereas there were a few moments on the previous album where it sort of felt like a symphony without a group of instruments required, this sounds like a metal orchestra at its finest. More technical guitar work by the guitarists, as well as a richer and more passionate vocal performance, make this album improve from the band's previous work. It isn't quite as dark, actually sounding quite joyful and uplifting at certain moments, as well as sad, seemingly taking influences from other heavy metal acts such as Riot, Vicious Rumors, as well as Helloween. It is a more diverse release. For this reason, some have called this a "power-prog" album. It is still very much an album forged in the progressive metal genre, but it takes influences from other realms. Metal has been diverse before this, but it just hasn't been done this heavily and exceptionally as this, during years before it. Sure, it has been done more recently, but this was far ahead of the times of its release, indeed. It isn't an album that you can disrespect more than you can respect for any reason at all, without having anything that is valid be told against what you say.
There are songs that focus on sounding mystic and atmospheric and they make up pretty much the whole first half of the album. I would say the album cover actually justifies that more than it does the other half. I would say that the only exception of this would be the first ballad of the three ballads of the album, "Painted Skies", which still sounds atmospheric, just not quite as much. This does not count against it in any way at all, as it is actually quite a big highlight for me. The second half of the album is mainly made up of emotion-driven music that is quite soaring in sound, with some of the superior vocals to the rest from Midnight. Not that the rest of the vocals aren't amazing as well. It's just not quite as much as it is on here. It would have made absolutely perfect sense if "Painted Skies" was a piece of the latter half of this record. I'm not saying that it should be, it just sounds like it would fit in. It just adds to the diversity for it not to be. Yes, this is an album that can be diverse within itself. There are other albums that are just that, but very few are also diverse in general. More than not, it's more along the lines of, "We'll make a few fast songs, a lot of mid-paced songs, a ballad and a song with a groovy beat". Certainly more of that then than there is in the present time.
I have six highlights that I feel I have to mention. I know that it can be considered to be quite a lot of tracks, but there are a quite lot of positive things that are able to be stated and a lot to enjoy when you listen to this masterpiece. One is the opening track, "Lady of Winter", which contains quite a gothic and mysterious atmosphere, but it also sounds a bit like the music is crying, especially when it comes to Midnight's absolutely soaring vocals in the chorus. It has a sound that is quite pleasing. Another highlight is the following track, "Red Sharks", which is by far the most aggressive song on the album. With some lyricism that is on the anti-communist side, some quite gritty lead vocals, as well as some of the more basic riffing here, this is a fast track that doesn't let you rest at all. My next highlight is "Painted Skies", which is a passionate ballad with some rather cheesy lyrics, but it doesn't exactly count against. I also love the vocals on this track. They sound very soulful. My fourth highlight is "Where Dragons Rule", which has a basic chorus, but that very chorus makes up for this with its bombastic energy. The song contains some very deep and heavy drumming and an amazing solo. My next highlight is "Lonely", which is the cheesiest track on the album, but as I say with some other material like this, the cheese has a great taste. Midnight gives us his most passionate vocal performance EVER here! He must have shocked everyone else who had heard him in the studio. Take this along with some beautiful twin-guitar harmonies and you receive a splendid progressive metal ballad. Actually a great rock ballad in general. My final highlight is "Burning Bridges". This one right here is a love song done right. It doesn't get too sappy for its own good and it has a backbone to it. Sure, it tries to be somewhat catchy, but that isn't the only thing it does. I love the acoustic intro to the track, by the way.
Let me discuss Midnight here. I thought that the vocals on their previous release were mind-boggling. This is superior to even that. He puts even a good deal more depth into his voice here and like I have said before, he sounds more passionate, soaring over the music more. He isn't quite as hunting as before, but he makes up for that by giving it his very best here. He shows that he can do more with his voice than what he had in the past, which is surprising, considering the fact that he showed a good deal of vocal diversity on the last album. Sure, the way he sounds here is mainly geared one way, but it also takes out some side-targets. You cannot do too much differently on each and every song on an album which longs for credibility, otherwise, it is in very great danger of inconsistency. With what he does here, he is absolutely perfect. I also feel the need to mention the guitar work that is given. The guitar playing done by the double team of Drenning and Jackson is absolutely stunning. The riffs are powerful and they manage to sound big, without being too heavy. The solos are just as melodic as they are catchy and technical. I also feel the need to point out that the production has improved, being just as clean as the music, which is what this album deserves. It sounds a little reverberated, but that is because some of the drums were recorded live. That gave it a nice sound and I respect the hell out of them for being able to pull it off,
as I'm sure that it must have been difficult.
This is not something that was heavy ahead of its time, but it IS something that was diverse and technical ahead of its time, or at least in the realms of heavy metal music. This is my second favorite progressive metal album of all time (my favorite being "Images and Words", by Dream Theater) and it well deserves the praise that it gets. I wish that Crimson Glory would be able to release something as exceptional as this, but judging from the untimely death of Midnight, I don't see that as possible. But who knows? There have been even better vocalists than he. Hopefully, fate will be in favor of these guys sometime in the near future, or anytime at all before they all so tragically ultimately decide to just give it all up and call it quits.
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.