I’ve been reluctant to attempt a review of Crimson Glory’s 1988 opus Transcendence for a while now. It’s such a powerful and influential album that I feared I couldn’t do it justice. Then I heard the news of former Crimson Glory vocalist Midnight’s untimely death. I knew the man was struggling with alcoholism (I saw firsthand evidence of this at the ProgPower USA festival in 2006), but I don’t think anyone expected this. I’ve been listening to Midnight’s three albums with Crimson Glory – particularly Transcendence – a lot since I heard the news, so this seems like the appropriate way to pay tribute to the album and the man.
I guess the main elements of Transcendence’s (and Crimson Glory’s) sound are traditional, power and progressive heavy metal – in equal measure. Now that’s a pretty standard formula these days, but in the 80’s it was bands like Fates Warning, Queensryche, Savatage and Crimson Glory who were basically creating from scratch the template so many bands would later follow. We got a good feel for Crimson Glory’s unique sound on the band’s excellent 1986 self-titled debut, but it was Transcendence that really defined Crimson Glory.
I still can’t decide if Transcendence is more a power metal or progressive metal album. The instrumentation on display here points in a prog metal direction, but the sheer power and epic dramatic flair of the songs suggests a power metal label. I guess it doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is that albums like Transcendence were among the first metal releases that really showed the world just how far heavy metal could be taken. It was just a stunning display of power, emotion and technical ability. Jon Drenning’s virtuoso guitar work and impeccable songwriting really set the tone for Transcendence, and when paired with Midnight’s contributions, the result was absolutely unforgettable.
Midnight had one of the most unique and instantly recognizable voices in metal, not to mention a vocal register that could shatter glass. He hit notes on “Red Sharks” that I’m pretty sure only dogs can hear. The man’s high-pitched wail was a signature component of Crimson Glory’s sound, as was his considerable songwriting ability. It’s easy to overlook that at first, especially when listening to standard fantasy-inspired numbers like “Masque of the Red Death” and “Where Dragons Rule”, but when you read the lyrics to songs like “Painted Skies”, “Transcendence” and “Lonely”, you really get an insight into the troubled artist behind the silver mask.
Transcendence really is a must have album for all fans of 80’s era heavy metal. It’s a once in a lifetime release, and now that a key member of that lineup is no longer with us, we’ll never see its like again. Rest in peace, Midnight.
Edition Notes: Metal Mind reissued Transcendence in 2008. The reissue – a numbered edition limited to 2,000 copies – comes housed in a digipack with expanded liner notes, digitally remastered sound, and a remixed version of “Lonely” added as a bonus track. The sound quality is the main reason to buy this reissue, as it’s a big improvement over the original. Metal Mind also reissued Crimson Glory and Strange & Beautiful.