Transcendence – Towards Obscurities Beyond Review

Riffs are really fucking important. It’s my job around here to write an additional seven hundred-ish words on top of “riffs good” or “riffs bad,” but when it comes to metal music, riffcraft is always my priority. It’s only when the riffs fail to stand out that first impressions require a deeper dig; if the “what” of the music fails to satisfy, perhaps the “why” can provide some solace. And that’s where California’s Transcendence vexes me. It’s rare that I struggle to come to terms with why a work of music was created in the first place. With Towards Obscurities Beyond, I’m no closer to a legitimate answer after five spins than I was at right-click-extract-all. I can only justify it by hypothesizing its conceptual thesis: “Necrophobic, but make it boring.”

To Transcendence’s credit, I don’t actually find myself actively disliking Towards Obscurities Beyond all that much. It’s bad, sure, but the band carries itself well enough that I don’t find myself questioning the validity of the musicians. This record has a cohesive style that can be immediately picked out as Transcendence’s own; its collection of unassuming black and death metal riffs, and the melodic philosophy that carries them, are consistent throughout. The melody-minded guitar work invokes black metal in its patterns, delving into death metal chuggery with regularity so as to keep each genre on equal footing. And while the proceedings are largely mid-paced, the tempo spikes into blastbeat territory with enough regularity to keep the songwriting dynamic, if nothing else.

Consistency, ultimately, means nothing without taste, and there is nothing about the way Transcendence has flavored this dish that piques my interest. Towards Obscurities Beyond plays out like Necrophobic on a death rock kick, perhaps in a bid to buy into the Tribulation / Cloak market, with silly, noodly scooby doom riffs and stiff, limited drum patterns paving the way. This wouldn’t be as bad if Transcendence didn’t laughably recycle the same two riffs for the record’s duration. Inevitably, by the time I hit track four or so, the invading thought of “Really? We’re trying this again, huh?” has become a per-song ritual. The limited ideas seem engineered precisely to avoid activating the part of my brain that should be committing them to memory, yet after several listens, I still cannot recall a single guitar passage without having immediately listened to the thing. For a record that hinges strongly on its melodic ideas, that is a very bad sign indeed.

Towards Obscurities Beyond actively resists the idea of putting forth something – anything – interesting, to the point where it feels like it’s at war with its best ideas. “Drowned Screams of the Departed Souls” sees an acoustic overture kicking into a soaring black metal theme a la Wormwitch, and bits of “In Silent Procession” kinda sorta invoke Skeletonwitch’s blackened thrash, but each ultimately falls back on the same lazy melodic and rhythmic crutches. “And Darkness Shall Be” shows promise as the most death metal minded pick of the bunch, but Transcendence traps its aggression within yet another take on that endlessly looping lead riff, kneecapping it before it can properly take life. The reluctance towards anything imposing extends to the production, which, while not terrible, feels timid by design. The guitars and drums lack any semblance of force, and the harsh vocals come across as thin, barely hanging in the air before being blown away in a gust of reverb.

I really, truly wanted to understand Towards Obscurities Beyond. I gave it more chances to hook me than I do most records of its quality level, because it shows markedly more competence than most of them. It sports a cohesive sound, a distinct melodic identity, and some pretty killer artwork to boot. But when that sound is used in service of what amounts to roughly a single song’s worth of decent ideas, even the album’s lithe thirty five minute runtime seems wildly bloated. At this early stage, Transcendence fails to convey heaviness, drama, or technicality. These are defining attributes to metal music at its core, yet I could not begin to guess as to which of them the band is actually striving for. If they can zero in and hone even one of these traits, their inherent talents may very well allow them to transcend. If not, then towards obscurity they will go.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Blood Harvest Official | Bandcamp
Releases Worldwide: September 25th, 2020

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