A warning label should come with Transcendence (Roadrunner, 1988) stating: This music is highly infectious and limited exposure could change your cellular wisdom forever more! One time through is about all it takes and the songs just "unpreventably" keep sinking in further and further, irrespective of whether you are currently listening to the music or not. That-- to me, is the ultimate hallmark sign of something representing true art. The songs are dark, majestic and melodic; delivered with a gentle sense of theatrics, mystery and a perspective that "at times" is almost hard to believe that an American band actually penned and published them.
The music, which is an extremely well played prog/power metal hybrid style, has many elements and layers of influence, both subtle and otherwise. It should be noted that Transcendence is not "progressive" in a pure instrumental sense; rather it earns that distinction through a graceful and feminine delivery of musical and lyrical themes that defies rigidity and embraces open exploration similar to the ideals of Queen.
The main composers in the band are Jon Denning (Lead guitar) and Jeff Lords (Bass) who interestingly create many of the songs around layered harmony lines; similar in sound to Brian May of Queen, as opposed to constant power chords. When they use the latter, it's usually in the form of voice leading techniques for maximum melodious impact. Just listen to "Masque of the Red Death" ignoring (if you can) the rip on the Powerslave riff that makes intermittent appearances after the end of each line in their respective verses and you can hear how those harmonies comprise the chorus and the instrumental section that follows it at around 2:03. Also, check out the chorus to "Lonely", the instrumental breaks and chorus in "Burning Bridges", etc... Through harmony the band very cleverly packs the songs with extra lyrical depth and provides breathing room throughout that increases and maintains interest while reducing auditory fatigue. Whether by omission or commission the formula is brilliant to say the least. This unconventional thinking is what allows them the privilege of being in the company of other so-called "progressive" bands without ever being a showboat. It is just so much more mental if you know what I mean. Also--the lyrics, primarily composed by Denning, Lords and Midnight are a comprehensive collection of the supranormal, anomalous and the broken hearted. This is an interesting mix to say the least, which also adds an aura of mystery around any easy definitions of this band's musical & lyrical paradigm.
On to the vocals…Midnight is blessed with a vocal range that most others could not fathom. Let's put it this way: If he was ever captured in a doorless glass prism; all he would have to do is scream and he would be instantly freed!! He also possesses another great ability—that would be his immense capacity for emotional output. Two of the recordings best vocal moments are "Lonely" and "Painted Skies" where you find his empathetical concern actually affecting his vocal inflection; creating incredible dynamics and metaphorical voicing in which expressive value is added to each successive syllable! Such attention to detail is accomplished through spontaneity (believe it or not) because no amount of training can teach you to do something that has to be a part of your soul to accomplish with such fluidity!
If there is one issue that I have with this recording is that I absolutely believe the percussion is mostly performed (if not completely) by machine and not Dana Burnell. This defies contemporary thinking about this recording, but if you listen objectively to "Masque of the Red Death" it is painfully obvious. I have also watched the drum performance on the scope, which I might add, is way to even for those days and many of the drum rolls are a dead giveaway as well. In the end it doesn't amount to "jack" because Transcendence is phenomenal on its own terms and Dr. Rhythm is not going to change that!
Although the band never achieved the ultimate vision they had for themselves, they certainly created something that will be forever lasting as a true archetype that pushed conventional boundaries with a vision transcending their own generation. That, my friends, may be "the purest form of reward!"
1. Lady of Winter
2. Red Sharks
3. Painted Skies
4. Masque of the Red Death
5. In Dark Places
6. Where Dragons Rule
8. Burning Bridges
9. Eternal World