Friday, June 6, 2014

Why do we listen to Music? One group gives us the Answers

Why do we listen to music? To express regret? To get our nerve up? To relive a memory? Crimson Glory delves into feelings of recrimination, love lost, determination, horror and more on their little known masterwork Transcendence from 1988 (MCA Records/Roadracer Records). Caught up under the label of “hair band,” it was partially their faults—they looked the part—this group compares favorably to a better known 1980s progressive metal band, Queensrÿche, who thought enough of the group as to recruit one of their later lead singers when their own vocalist Geoff Tate had a falling out with the rest of the band.

Splitting into several camps during the 1980s, heavy metal evolved the genre with the emergence of speed metal and had forward motion in progressive rock, as well. Crimson Glory took on the mantle that some had thought handed off by Rush at the start of the decade with their more radio and MTV friendly compositions. More than up to the task, Crimson Glory put up amazing effort in Transcendence having an alternate-reality, forward-looking perspective of material with a science fiction/fantasy theme in large part.

Original Crimson Glory lead singer Midnight
looked the part of heavy metal singer
on 1988's Transcendence, but sang
with much depth and emotion.
Crimson Glory showed a lot of prescience in anticipating the explosion of fantasy themes in the media with their song “Where Dragons Rule,” which brings to mind a martial marching number with its rat-tat-tat-tat backbeat courtesy of drummer Dana Burnell. Before there were Lord of the Rings and Reign of Fire movies and other stories of reptilians of lore, Crimson Glory was singing of creatures rising from the lake of fire on wings of steel. And the chorus of all the members of the band answering to lead singer Midnight’s call, “In a world between myth and strange reality | In a world where dragons rule,” they answer, “Mission: Kill”. And in similar fashion, Midnight asks, “We die for the dragon—is there a reason?” This song really stirs the soul, striking a chord of defiance. When that Millennial blaring the latest 50 Cent Hip Hop iTune download comes barreling up alongside you in his daddy’s BMW, give him a blast of Old School Heavy Metal from Crimson Glory to snap him back to the real world.

The band also takes a very literary tack on “Masque of the Red Death,” which encapsulates the entire plot and character development of the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name into a mere four minutes and 15 seconds. We join the king and his guests at the masquerade ball while the pestilence ravages the land outside his high castle walls. But Crimson Glory relates how the personification of disease and death makes his way into the dance and takes all with him.

De rigueur mysterious symbols
accompanied Crimson Glory's
liner notes on the 1988 release
I am sure there must have been other groups that have interpreted other pieces of literature into song, but I would have to believe that Crimson Glory is one of the few groups in heavy metal who has done so. Vocalist Midnight sings of “feeling” the disease flowing through his veins. And you can nearly experience the terror of falling into the bleeding arms of the stranger. Midnight (John Patrick Jr. McDonald 1962-2009) performed exceptionally on Transcendence but perhaps with the most dramatic presentation and dynamic vocal range on “Masque of the Red Death,” hitting and sustaining high notes that would make operatic-style singing archetypes Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford proud.

On “Burning Bridges,” Crimson Glory really channels the emotional side. As a gut-wrenching ode to love lost and isolation, Midnight croons about never wanting to cause pain, never wanting to cause sorrow. Seriously, these lyrics made me misty, nearly bringing a tear to my eye. The metaphor of burning bridges makes a powerful statement of irrevocable loss and irredeemable regret:
Now I feel the bridges burning
Flames reflecting in my eyes
The feelings much too cold to share
Smoke clouds dream I’ve left behind
This song can really get under your skin after repeated listening—but in a good way. You may find your mind wandering to those who you might have wronged in the past. Could small slights lead to failed relationships? They say don’t sweat the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff. This song gives me pause to think that the reverse is truer.

Circa 2011, Crimson Glory now rock on without their
late and previously separated singer Midnight. 
Another outstanding track, “In Dark Places,” uses a sea-as-woman metaphor as an unnamed ingénue entices Midnight forward to a solitary and shadowy world beneath the waves. Clocking in at a little over seven minutes, it’s by far the longest cut on Transcendence and most haunting one, as well. It is really a cryptic hymn about someone considering ending it all by drowning, saying goodbye to the sunlit world for the permanent freedom of the great beyond—in dark places we will be free.

Transcendence seems to have been out of print for some time, but does list an import edition available on an orderable basis, though as of this writing it was temporarily out of stock. There are also numerous new and used CDs from individual sellers and MP3 download files for the entire album. If you are interested in mind-expanding music you missed the first or second time around Crimson Glory’s Transcendence is worth a look.

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener