If nothing else can be said about the 80’s, it was a time where music was allowed to evolve in a host of different ways. The year 1988 in particular, saw the release of many groundbreaking albums in both the realm of mainstream traditional metal, as well as the soon to be dominant progressive scene. Certain bands such as Queensrÿche and Fates Warning were at the forefront of this trend, although by today’s standards what they created at that time would fall more into the realm of “power-prog”.
Emerging on the 80’s metal scene as quite a phenomenon, and delivering a groundbreaking mixture of glam and power metal with a progressive twist to it, Crimson Glory were a band that obviously never got the recognition they deserved. They formed in 1979 under the Pierced Arrow moniker but changed their name to Beowulf in 1982, before finally settling as Crimson Glory in 1983. Their original line-up consisted of Midnight (vocals), Jon Drenning (guitars), Ben Jackson (guitars), Jeff Lords (bass), and Dana Burnell (drums). While Dream Theater was still under the name of Majesty, and Fates Warning was still essentially an Iron Maiden clone, this band was writing some very interesting prog-oriented heavy metal material. Their self-titled debut released in October of 1986 brought them huge acclaim from the fans, to whom they would refer to as The Crimson Militia. The album’s success was not surprising – the synergic collaboration of heavy, yet melodic guitars, brilliant drumming, and amazing vocals brought a truly fantastic effort to the heavy metal soil. But the band did not rest after the release of their debut and immediately begun working on a follow-up. And so, thirty years ago – in 1988 – Crimson Glory‘s finest achievement was born….
“Transcendence” is an indispensable metal album on any scale. It really has nothing to envy of its contemporaries like “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” and “Operation: Mindcrime” save for the commercial wide-spread appeal, as this has everything from stellar vocals to spot-on melodic songwriting to a production job that is sparkling clean and yet still retains its metallic dignity. Those who know what this album is about will agree, while those who don’t know will just get an idea of their artistic merit, and a well-deserved standing beside the aforementioned giants. The heavy metal of the 80’s had blossomed into several offshoots by the time this record launched; true metal curators finding thrash now well established by the big four, while others eagerly lapped up the sugar of the popped-out strains (read hair-metal). In the midst of all this came the biggest shift in musical focus and popularity, sleaze metal. Crimson Glory’s “Transcendence” is all of this and much more.
The production is spotless, feeling very wintry and frigid, with a kind of sleekness and gloss to it that recalls glistening, just-formed ice on a vast landscape. The band sampled drummer Dana Burnell performing live drums into a synclavier without any cymbals and then re-recorded the cymbals live later in order to have complete separation of drums and cymbals. Guitarist Jon Drenning explained at the time “It was a very arduous and time-consuming way to do it but at the time it seemed like something we wanted to try to achieve; a pristine, clean sound and true separation of all instruments“.
“Transcendence” can easily be considered an apotheosis of inspired heavy metal. From the rousing opening riff of “Lady of Winter“, with vocal lines from another planet, to the beauty that has the atmosphere of the title track to close, listening to the album is a journey into the grandeur of this music and indeed transfers you to a transcendental dimension. Heroically withstanding the test of time, the songs included in this album seem insurmountable in many ways, as compositions, melodies, guitar work, and above all as the unique charisma of Midnight’s register, who in addition to his incredible high-pitched screams also delivered very convincing and rawer mid-range vocals (listen to his pretty fierce delivery on “Red Sharks” for an example of that). With “Transcendence”, the band didn’t wander off drowning in technical experimentation, yet maintained a melodic driven hook and amazingly crafted high-class instrumental sections, that was bound to captivate. Both the rhythm section and the two guitarists delivered their parts with raw bite, conviction, and a burning passion, that left no doubt that these guys meant business. And that was one of Crimson Glory‘s great strengths: no matter how melodic and catchy their material could be there was always a good balance between that part of their sound and a harder-edged and more aggressive beast just lurking beneath the surface.
After the album’s release, Crimson Glory took up several tours alongside artists such as Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Queensrÿche, Anthrax, U.D.O. and Doro. Their final show promoting the record took place at the Metal Hammer Festival in Dortmund, Germany, in front of more than 20,000 screaming fans in the spring of 1990. Crimson Glory shared the stage with Metallica, Ozzy, and Queensrÿche. In 1991 the band released the follow up “Strange and Beautiful“, which was a big step forward for Crimson Glory‘s music – the epic progressive metal stylistics were confronted with blues and hard rock elements. Although not all fans appreciated this combination, the album was still successful and proved to be a valuable part of Crimson Glory‘s discography. Unfortunately, after its release, the band broke up and it wasn’t until 1999 when a new album saw the day of light. “Astronomica“, recorded with a new singer Wade Black and ex-Savatage drummer Steve Wacholz, was a return to the epic progressive/power metal vibes present on the first two albums. Enthusiastically greeted by the fans, it remains the band’s last offering to date.
In 2006 Midnight re-joined the other four original members for a reunion tour in Europe to later continue his efforts to re-launch his solo career. Sadly, on July 8, 2009 he died of a stomach aneurysm at the age of 47. “He was not always understood, but his talents were undeniable and transcended far beyond the bounds of our weaker imaginations,” the band said in a statement. “As is the case with all truly great artists, Midnight was hounded by his demons.” The surviving members joined forces with Todd La Torre, and after he performed as a guest vocalist at ProgPower USA X on September 12, 2009, he was formally announced by the band as their singer and frontman in May 2010, replacing Wade Black. In November 2011, it was announced the band was working on a new album with La Torre, however, in February 2013 he announced he had parted ways with Crimson Glory due to the band’s inactivity. La Torre does consider Crimson Glory to be “the catalyst that exposed me to the world as an undiscovered vocalist” somehow paving the way for him to later become the Queensrÿche frontman.
Although Crimson Glory never gained the highs they certainly have the talent for, they undoubtedly created a record which will be forever lasting as a true epitome that pushed conventional boundaries with a vision surpassing their own generation. Commonly agreed to be an album close to perfection, filled with excellent guitar work, dazzling melodies and extraordinary vocals, “Transcendence” is a prize item in any progressive/power metal enthusiast’s collection.
“In death I’ve found the answer …
In death I live again …
Fear not the reaper’s blade …
It does not mean the end …
It does not mean the end, no …
It never really ends …”
The album was just reissued this month on vinyl!
Indeed it was Greg. We’ve been waiting for a label to pick this one up for a vinyl reissue and it finally happened!
Brilliant article about a superb band and front-man.
Apart from all my KISS albums, this one kept me off the the trouble-torn streets of Belfast for many days.
Thanks for the memories.