TRANSCENDENCE – Towards Obscurities Beyond (2020)REVIEW

Unjust death cuts through the blood’s stream like septicemia, changing the mind and the body in a matter of days (or, hours) via the pollution of unconscionable, soul-raking morbidity. But life goes on… and the body adapts via modern medicine to prevent total bacterial infest… The mind, however, reaches the point of no return under the effect of its traumatic poisoning — Tragedy, poverty, substance abuse, depression and anxiety represent linear paths toward passive escapism, the denial of death and cultivation of ever-weakening mind. Grief and deepest urge toward violent revenge ideally give way to self-repair, the affected ultimately will discover whatever art might reach the impulse of the left hand path and grant absolution. From optimistic yet defiant die-hard thrasher teenagers to blackened death metal ritualists raising prophetic mirror over water, the long and treacherous trek of living has granted Los Angeles, California-area quintet Transcendence sight beyond past trauma and new dark power to wield as they slaughter forth via an intensely inspired form of blackened melodic death metal sounds. Their debut full-length, ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond‘, is borne of the hell-mouth as if it were spirited directly from Stockholm circa 1993 where death, black, and thrash met gate-crashing melodicism with a serious scorpion sting applied.

Transcendence formed in Huntington Park, California circa 2012, their first EP (‘Morbid Reality‘, 2014) featured more of a traditional death/thrash metal sound resembling a continent spanning examination of ’89-’92 evolutionary traits of the sub-genre hybrid. This was an incredible introduction to the band but for all intensive purposes everything they did before the second EP (‘Hour of the Summoning‘, 2017) was more or less another band entirely in terms of style and membership. Some of the original line-up went on to complete the first steady line-up for Insineratehymn from that point and their replacements came from ex-Hellspawn, Mysticism and Goreified members. This didn’t all happen at once, though, as it seems the gauntlet of 2014-2017 found Transcendence putting in their dues and working hard to realize their own sound as they added the right folks one at a time. The best way to describe this transition is essentially from Grotesque, Merciless and Liers in Wait towards the still-aggressive grandeur of At the Gates‘ ‘Red in the Sky is Ours’, Dissection‘s ‘The Somberlain’ and especially Necrophobic‘s masterpiece ‘The Nocturnal Silence’. Yet the final piece of this transition is the realization of ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’, a shockingly evolved black/death metal record that has all the flair and fury of a lost gem of the early 90’s Black Mark or Adipocere roster.

This is perhaps my favorite lineage of Swedish death metal history as it represents a major boon of inspired teenaged death metal acts inventing everything from sickly sweet melodeath to stoic Wagnerian forms and though I’d love to whip up a three page rant on the understated importance of early Marduk and Merciless ultimately all roads lead to Necrophobic‘s early discography when communicating exactly where Transcendence are aiming. Straight up, if you love ‘The Nocturnal Silence’ as much as I do, you’re going to want to buy this album immediately. Not because it sounds exactly like it (it doesn’t) but because they’ve captured the still-thrashing death metal riff-ranting aggression of that record and its sublime balance of gorgeous melodic breakthroughs. Much of the early No Fashion stuff and their peripheral gig-mates (bigger or smaller) is comparable on some level but few bring such a hammer of pure death metal. That measure of austere ‘South of Heaven’-esque bullet-belted killers and ‘Altars of Madness’-minded death/thrasher structures is vitally important lineage we’re very rarely treated to with any serious artistic intent. I’ll resist the urge to overflow with a hundred obscure album references beyond this point but, I am foaming at the mouth to talk about this stuff and the gist of it is that Transcendence have delivered an inspiring work here, an effect that is certainly amplified by how stunningly traditional it is.

The missing link between the three key Swedish melodic death (and blackened melodic death) records I’d mentioned earlier is undoubtedly the oft-shoved aside mastery of Unanimated‘s ‘In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead’, the single most underrated record of that era and of special interest to anyone obsessed with the textural flair and melodrama of bands like Dawn and Sacramentum. You can draw direct comparisons to those guitar techniques and melodic shaping and the core Transcendence experience and opener “Infernal Resurrection” leads with that dance of forms immediately just as soon as it dips into a “Before the Dawn”-esque tirade. The general modus of the full listen isn’t fully captured therein but the boundaries of ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’ halt just short of say The Moaning in terms of black metal reaping and regularly pull back towards thrashing late 90’s/early 90’s Florida death metal influenced Swedish forms. I know I’ve presented a bit of an overstated labyrinth to start but I want to give a clear idea of why this level of authenticity and attack is important and effective as an apex predator of emergent melodic death metal sophistication that looks to re-imagined Bathory and Slayer influenced works for its general stratospheric musical standard. If the opener’s throttle wasn’t readily apparent enough, “Majesty of Chaos” is even more approachable with its lead-driven melodic foreshadowing, its traipsing and exaggerated main riff and vocalist Tom Patmore‘s acid-snarling blackened rasps. They’ve got this sound down pat but, do they do anything exceptional with it?

When the atmospheric keyboards begin to feature in introduction of the clambering tremolo riffs that kick off the title track the slightest hint that they will reach beyond auld mastery is well seeded, but this doesn’t mean they’re going to bonk out into some ridiculous Old Man’s Child-esque polka swing (which I also like, anyhow) at any point. Instead they buckle down in modulation of vocal range and melodic variance. Some pieces deal only with variations on a theme that might expand into one or two tiers of presentation, and these often feel too brief on the first half of the album as they hit the sweet spot and move on before it wears out. This is the doom-brained black metal obsessive within speaking to exaggeration of drawn-out forms, and to fully go there would violate the classic death metal formality of the record. As Side A grinds into the pure Swedish death metal shotgun “As the Maggots Feast” and its main riff I become briefly split between wanting something even more straight-forward (such as early Centinex) to kick my skull in a bit harder and feeling like Transcendence might be more effective embracing the elevated dramatics of their melodic black metal side instead. Forget that thought, though, it may not be the most poignant and affecting piece on the record but “As the Maggots Feast” transitions nicely into the major impact of key centerpiece “Drowned Screams of the Departed Souls”, essentially the big Dawn-esque moment I’d been anticipating beyond the second track. The five-to-six minute ranged pieces on the ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’ all carry a similarly grand moment therein, representing the most heavily anticipated points of blissful impact as I spun the full album on repeat beyond numbness.

The notable consistency of intended black, death, and melodic variant forms and their learnable (but not entirely predictable) modulation is the main reason I found this album so easy to bask in on repeat. Point to any one track and it has its own incredible death metal riff attack delivered with a thrashing abandon or galloping consonant austerity that demands attention. In reflection of the full listen and you might need 4-5 spins to isolate the major killers and this speaks more to the less ‘famous’ spectrum of early 90’s Swedish black/death metal. Side B pulls into more of the poignant black metal side of things whereas Side A is much more on the attack in general, grinding out the most prominent and exciting death metal riffs. For my own taste this is a perfect ratio of overall stylistic balance without creating neutral, samey musical statements and keeping the length of the album around ~38 minutes makes for a succinct sitting with appreciably dense yet evocative ideas explored. Not every melodic statement finds its point of resolution but this is period appropriate in some sense that feels more like a specific point of view than the typical general approximation of Swedish melodic black/death metal ideals. Is ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’ worship or iteration? In the most literal sense I’d say it is a perfectionist’s hand applied to every detail that made a certain niche in a classic era a special, unforgettable event. By invoking that extreme-yet-sophisticated force without blandly imitating it Transcendence manage an uncanny bout of authenticity that, again, is too rare to glance past.

Your results will vary of course, as I am just the exactly the right mark, the sort of nutcase that owns every pressing of albums like ‘Unbound’ and ‘Nær Sólen Gar Niþer For Evogher’ who has spent decades scouring all archives for more of this stuff. If you are more or less of a classic melodic black/death metal fan so would my recommendation vary accordingly. From an entirely objective point of view there is much more potential to be nurtured here but it occurs to me that celebrating what a majestic presence of being ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’ is, is far more important than peering into any supposed black horizon. Beyond the stylistic fervor and accomplished purity of the music itself I am likewise impressed with the physical presentation of the album with its Adam Burke-rendered scarp of Hell and Eldritch gateway with its floating ghasts and saddle-backed dark dragons. The full Transcendence experience is exactly the sort of wicked drug I thrive in awe of and as such, I can give a very high recommendation of this well-fought debut.

Very high recommendation.

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Towards Obscurities Beyond
LABEL(S):Blood Harvest Records
RELEASE DATE:September 25th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal
Blackened Death Metal

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