Transcend – Balance I
Progressive Metal | Progressive Rock
Progressive music often seems paradoxically hesitant to make progress. A genre that was created with the intention of pushing the boundaries and challenging perceptions of music now often feels very formulaic. Get some technically proficient musicians together, write some ten minute songs with heavy riffs and noodling sci-fi synths, and you have the perfect cookie cutter “prog” band. On a wider scale it’s a clear problem for the genre as a whole, but on a smaller scale bands can still shine by following a well trod path. Trends and stereotypes become popular for a reason after all, and doing something new isn’t the only path to greatness.
While the new record from Canadian outfit Transcend doesn’t break any new ground, it does excel in what it sets out to do. It’s one of the finest examples of the traditional prog style (now there’s an oxymoron for you) that I’ve heard in recent years. Listening to Balance I I don’t see a well worn formula through the eyes of seasoned prog nerd, instead I experience it with a dash of that same sense of wonder that came with listening to prog for the first time, when everything felt new and limitless.
One of the reasons I think this record manages to stand out so much is down to how concise it is. With just four tracks, spanning just over half an hour, not a moment can afford to be wasted. Besides an unengaging glitchy section just before the five minute mark on ‘Disillusion’, not a moment is wasted, instead it’s like being thrust headlong into an intense and varied prog metal crash course. The guitar on the aforementioned ‘Disillusion’ shifts between bone crunching heaviness and soaring triumphant melodies, and the keys are wild and intricate without falling victim to excess. At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the sparse and airy ‘Machine’, carrying a dark gothic tone, which strips everything away to give the phenomenal vocals chance to shine. ‘Where Are You Now’ sees a bit of menace sneak into those vocals as the track slowly builds alongside dancing cosmic synths and an earth trembling bass tone that dominates the quieter moments in the best possible way. Closing epic ‘A Parallel Reflection I’ opens with traditional mellotron sounds and dabbles in some eastern inspired soundscapes, but really comes into its own in the central instrumental breakdown. The interplay between the guitars and keys just feels so light and playful.
Napoleon once said that he’d rather have lucky generals than good ones, and in a similar vein Balance I proves that it’s sometimes better to have a record that nails the familiar than one which offers you something new but unrefined. This album is like a prog espresso; everything you need crammed into one potent little cup. No messing around, just straight to the good stuff. This is one formula that I will be glad to see repeated. Fingers crossed part two is every bit as concise and compelling as this one to keep the buzz going.