By Sam Graham
The Transcendental Signified is Manchester-based death-metallers, Not Above Evil’s second album, and from the very beginning it’s easy to see that a lot of hard work went into creating it.
The opening track, Crossroads, begins like a lurking evil, and you just know something heavy’s about to happen in a moment. When it does come, it comes hard and heavy. Guitarists Damien Levette and David Gwynn bust out some truly technical riffage while vocalist and bassist Sideeq Mohammed treats us to some gut-churning vocals that most could only dream of. And this is only one minute into the album. One freakin’ minute! The best part of Crossroads comes just after the short break. A more rhythmical section shows off their musicianship skills before going back to the heavy as hell verse/chorus section. What a song to kickstart the album.
After a short, but candid drum roll by Daniel Mucs, the second song Legion kicks in. While I’m not a regular fan of blast beats, I do believe they work well in bursts. Bridging from the intro to the verse, they work very well and honestly, it just wouldn’t be death metal without them. Legionis actually better than Crossroads, and it’s at this song where I became a fan of them.
The Lamb of God-esque riffage is by far the defining feature of this song and it’s in the verses where it peaks for me. Mohammed shows off some depth to his vocals as he occasionally drops deeper, Randy Blythe style, and just over half way, Levette treats us to some lead-guitar work that shows he’s as good at shredding as he is riffing, if not better. This song has a lot of different sections, but because of the way it’s crafted, doesn’t feel like a gratuitous riff-archive.
Capture The Dawn is all speed. While the drums may take a half-time feel to them at parts, it’s the only section that does. While not as musically complicated as the previous two songs, this song is awesome for a different reason: it shows that they aren’t a one-trick-pony. Before you know it, you’re listening to Gwynn shred his way to a brief pause before the second half of the song starts. Different to the first half, and very TestAmenT in the way it’s unashamedly chuggy, this section feels like a minute-long coda, like they felt the song was a little short, so they whacked this on at the end. That’s not me having a go; in fact I thought it was cool as.
Against The Tides doesn’t muck around with an intro; by the time you realise, it’s already started. The simple, but heavy music puts me in mind of Slayer’s debut album Show No Mercy. Mohammed’s vocal pattern puts me in mind of Venom’s early works too with the way it comes in short and sharp in the verses. Mucs’ beat in the verse makes it complete as if it were any faster, or frenzied, would have diluted it as opposed to framing it.
In fact as a whole, this song comes across as a brilliant homage to the early days of heavy metal, because of its simplicity and structure. Towards the end in Against The Tides comes another Gwynn solo that doesn’t disappoint, before the song ends much how it began.
Nexus begins much like one of Toki Wartooth from fictional band Dethklok’s acid-trip dream sequences, sounding kind of happy and uplifting, but with an underlying evil intent, like a musical Ted Bundy. After the intro, I have to note that as heavy and as death-metal as this track is, it almost sounds like a ballad, and it works as one too. I’m talking about the music of course; even now we’re five songs in, I’ve not understood a word Mohammed has said. There’s brutal sections, but there’s also a lot of sombre sounding passages and the main solo that comes in just after the half-way mark is one of the most stadium rock guitar solos I’ve ever heard. It should be played on the edge of a mountain or from space or something. Seriously, I found myself rewinding it back to the start of it over and over again.
All in all, Nexus is perfectly placed to break up the pace of the album. The first few tracks are the attention-grabbers, and this one is there to show they don’t just know how to play death metal. It may lack the complex riffagery of the first couple of tracks, but still stands out as one of the more thought-out on the album.
Death and Transformation brings the complexity back. Guitars counterpoint all over the place while the drums and the vocals feel like they’re the only ones keeping the song on its feet. I wasn’t keen on the staccato pattern to the verses, but can see why people like it. Aside from that, this song is pretty tip-top. It’s got plenty of things going on to keep any fan enthralled. Levette takes lead guitar duties in this song and shows that both he and Gwynn have two very different styles. Whereas Gwynn sounds more straightforward, Levette here shows some licks that sound a little off-centre, but work as they’re coming over that staccato rhythm. Levette’s style puts me in mind of Glenn Drover when he played on United Abominations (2007) by Megadeth.
As The Curtain Falls is the aptly titled penultimate track on what’s been so far, a positive and driving album, and forget what I said about Capture The Dawn being all speed, it’s this one. A pure headbanger from start to finish, the song never lets up- and I don’t want it to either. Mohammed puts his best work into some held screams here that really show off his prowess for that kind of style. What more can I say? It’s thrashy death metal, and it certainly does it for me.
The final track is The Transcendental Signified’s epic one, coming in at just under eight minutes. Have no fear, there’s six- yes SIX- guitar solos in it. Like every other song on the album, it’s expertly done. There’s enough nuances in the music to keep it fresh and prevent it from stagnating and sounding generic.
The solo’s. Well, guitarist Damien Levette told me they go like this: Dave, me, Dave, me, Dave, me.
When they do come in, it’s at that perfect mid-tempo for some hair windmilling. The solos are broken up by a short bridge a-la Hangar 18 (there was no way this many solos could escape the comparison I’m afraid), but after a few of those, Mucs kicks it into a thrash frenzy and Levette shreds his final solo like a madman. After a couple of choruses, this song and this album fades out to the longest scream on the album.
I must confess, I wasn’t expecting to like this album as much as I did. Not being a big death-metal fan, I wasn’t sure I could properly do it justice, but after spending over a week listening to it keenly (and loudly), I found a great deal worth celebrating on this album. For ready fans of the genre, you’ll love this album from the get-go. For others, give it a listen and I do reckon you’ll catch on. I do have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of the vocals, but then given I’ve just said I don’t readily listen to death-metal, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fans however will like it, and I can still appreciate it, and Sideeq for his skill at it.
For guitar geeks, this album is like a copy of Playboy. It’s got mixes of modern and classic 80’s metal and while there may be a lot going on at all times, it doesn’t feel bloated or up itself. The quality is great, and gets better as you turn it up louder, the music is well-crafted on all instruments, and the vocals are beefy as hell. All in all, a cracking album.
If Not Above Evil were playing in my area soon (which they are), I’d definitely go see them (which I will).
Devil-Horn rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \n