'The Mind' - Transcend (6/10)
Montreal-based progressive metal quartet Transcend are a recent addition to a hideously lengthy list of prog bands looking to build upon the innovations of their influences. Unless you're a newcomer to the prog metal realm, chances are you'll agree that the term has become something of a misnomer, with many of the associated artists looking to the past for their sound, rather than truly innovating something new. Alas, this goes well to define the musical approach on Transcend's debut, a full-blown, double disc concept album that wears each of the band's influences on a silken sleeve. With this perceived lack of originality in mind however, Transcend's take on this well-weathered style remains impressive for other reasons and should be enough to get existing fans of the style excited about them.
As in the case with a vast quantity of contemporary prog metal, Transcend are rooted in the sound of Dream Theater, and- to a lesser extent- Rush. As is the case with much of Melodic Revolution Records' generally neo-prog oriented roster, Transcend's angle on this style is light, polished and focused heavily on the vocals, provided here by the talented Costa Damoulianos. Instrumentally, "The Mind" is an album driven by every prog-power convention imaginable. Guitar and synthesizer harmonies are to be expected in droves, and though there are tech riffs aplenty, listeners shouldn't be surprised when they hear just as much of the album's hour and a half devoted to anthemic choruses and softer passages. The spirit and style of Dream Theater is alive particularly when Transcend emphasize their metal aspect. Transcend's music is almost always based around a lead of some sort. Whether it's Damoulianos' vocals, a synthesizer solo or virtuosic guitar lick, Transcend likes to have a spotlight shining down on someone on virtually any given time. Sounding familiar at all, prog metal fans?
Although I am sceptical of Transcend's painfully derivative choice of style and love of cliché, there's no denying that they execute it well. "Entity Divine" features some pretty mind-boggling instrumental interplay, and the disc-length epic and title track enjoys some fairly cinematic passages. Without a doubt, the most impressive part of the package is the musicianship itself. Although it may be a cliché saying this in itself, Transcend are able to wow and impress from their playing chops alone. The production fits their melodic style as well, although it would have been nice to hear the guitars roar a little more.
I think that years from now, when all of humanity transcends and I am a disembodied brain floating in space somewhere, I will remember Transcend's debut with some warmth. After all, in spite of being part of a genre saturated by likesounding copycats, Transcend have some serious playing ability, and "The Mind" is an apt reflection of their talent and chemistry as a performing act. Sadly, they also have a tendency to embrace just about every cliché and tired convention the progressive metal genre has spawned within the past twenty years. Ambiguously philosophical lyrics, needlessly extended compositions and cheese enough to make a gourmand sick will potentially squander the experience for some, but for other prog metal lovers such as myself, the album makes for a welcome return to the style's roots.