metal-edged progressive rock
album review and artist reflections
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Image © 2001 Transcendence
Review, Interview and HTML
© Russell W Elliot 2001
band images from Le Medley
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Original: 08 April 2001 | Updated: 01 June 2004
Three bands opened for Nightwish at Le Medley in Montréal in November 2000. The second, and clearly one that the audience enjoyed the most, was the symphonic metal edged progressive rock group Transcendence. We obtained their debut album Eternal Stream when their set concluded and began our dialog with Christian Bertrand not long after. The live sound has clearly moved on since their first album, and a demo for their new album Labyrinth further illustrates their significant development. In the run up to the final recording phases of this stunning new second album, and following their February live performance in Québec City we interviewed Christian and vocalist Isabel Plant. Read our exclusive interview with the artists and reviews of the band's debut album and demo of their follow-up below.
[Ed. Note: Since the original publication of this article, several members of Transcendence formed the atmospheric progressive rock band Trance Of Mine (feature). Since Transcendence and their website folded during the transition, band links in this article now point to the Trance Of Mine website.]
Musical Discoveries: Please tell about your backgrounds prior to Transcendence and the time between your last projects and this one. Please also tell us about the selection process you went through when choosing Isabel to join Transcendence.
Christian: Well, prior to Transcendence, I played guitars and it was mostly death metal but I was playing on my own. I never had any other band before and never played with anyone else. This went on for a few years. Then I got the idea to start playing keyboards also to be able to make more various music. Transcendence was already formed back then, playing this Swedish-style melodic death metal. They needed a logo and some artwork for a shirt. Philippe got the word of my existence through a mutual friend and contacted me to do a logo. He was also looking for a keyboardist and asked me to join. I could barely play the instrument back then but I learned to use it faster being in Transcendence. After my inception, the band went through many member and stylistic changes. It is then that we decided to do a concept for our music. We also went on looking for a female singer and we found Sebrina, who sings on the first album.
About a year after the release of the album, Sebrina decided to quit to start giving lessons and to concentrate more on her studies of classical music, opera and singing. We went on without a vocalist for some time but at least we had fresh recruits in the band as the first album was done with many session musicians.
We only auditioned one vocalist before Isabel but, though she could sing and had a nice voice, she wasn't what we were looking for and we thought she didn't fit with the music being played. We actually were lucky to find Isabel, as she explains below. Philippe played us her demo and that was it!
It clicked and we fell in love with her voice! Of course, we had to practice with her to make sure she would fit. It really didn't take her long to adapt and she immediately started composing her own melodies and vocal lines. I am happy to say that everyone in the band is more than satisfied to have her amazing talent on our side. She became a primordial element for the sound of Transcendence and there is no looking back now!
Is there another vocalist that still performs with Transcendence? Who is she and what is her role in the band?
Christian: Yes, there is another vocalist now performing with Transcendence, though she's not a full time member. Her name is also Isabel. We actually brought her in quite recently to do session and live work with us. This came as a result to have a better sound live, instead of having backing tracks like Nightwish has. This way, all of Isabel's harmonies can be done live, with the other Isabel doing backing vocals.
As you must have witnessed, the results are great and we plan on continuing this way in the future.
Please tell us a little bit about your background prior to Transcendence. How did you come to Transcendence and did you listen to the others' music before?
Isabel: I have always been surrounded by acoustic instruments; I played piano and sang my own French songs at contests and special occasions. I also was a vocalist for two years in a tribute band to a well-known folkloric group in Quebec during the 70's, which helped me develop confidence on stage. I have always liked music that breathes, with vocal harmonies and acoustic instruments such as violin, flute and saxophone.
Even though I enjoyed creating my own music, I was looking for something else when I met Philippe Coupal (from Transcendence) in August 1998. A common friend introduced us at a party, knowing that Philippe was looking for a singer. Phil gave me Transcendence's first album to listen, and I gave him my demo. When we met later, I was impressed by his passion for his project and all the conceptual history behind his trilogy-to-be. I liked a few parts of Eternal Stream, but what convinced me was the music of Labyrinth, which will be the second album. I liked where the group was going musically, and I appreciated that Philippe gave me the liberty of composing the vocal melodies of the songs. It was a great opportunity to combine our different influences, and it clicked right away.
Eternal Stream. The debut album from Transcendence (Gaïa Disk (Canada) Gaïa 001, 1996) is a sypmphony with tracks entitled "Prologue" and "Epilogue" embracing four movements each comprised of two tracks--the CD actually combines the tracks "Prologue" and "Shades Of Time," the introduction to the first movement.
Female lead vocals and ethereal voice are by Sabrina Lipari and lead male vocals and guitars and bass are by Philippe Coupal. Christian Bertrand provides further vocals and keyboard while Michael Kosow plays guitars and bass. Further guest musicians contribute to the project. Material for the album was written by various combinations of the group members.
The first album of a trilogy--Eternal Stream--is meant to be a gathering of all the major art disciplines (poetry, music, painting, drawing and literature) blended with a variation on the theme of humanity, set within a fictional story which contains important events surrounding the main character. Dolric is a reflection of humanity. What happens to his life is symbolically significant to what has happened to humanity. Simply stated, he is envisioned as humanity's guardian. Eternal Stream introduces the concept and focuses on the origin. The front and back cover painting as well as the drawings of the mythical characters within the album's booklet are stunning examples of the group's artistry.
"Pawn of Prophecy" includes several of Sabrina's lead vocal passages. Running over eight minutes in length, this metal-edged progressive track features dynamic solo guitar work, dramatic variations in the instrumental arrangements, and combinations of male and female vocal parts. We especially liked Sabrina's soaring vocalise at the conclusion of the track. The band's symphonic splendour is immediately evident in the brief introduction to the second movement. With a melody driven by heavy guitars, the epic "Beyond Soaring Winds" includes a melodic chorus featuring Sabrina's soaring vocal work contrasted by backing parts sung by the male singers.
An album of temendous variation--from light acoustic folk ("Dernier Souper") to the heaviest of metal sounds ("Ageless") complete with grunts--Transcendence actually finds its stride in symphonic progressive music including flute and violin contributed by guests Dave Orenbach and Arie Itman (from Quo Vadis) respectively. The album is as varied vocally as it is in its arrangements with sounds ranging from grunting to melodic male vocals to the ethereal contributions of Sabrina Lipari whose lovely parts gently drift in and out but never actually dominate the tracks.
"Rivière Nocturne" is significantly more atmospheric with light and dark variations derived from the gentler orchestral guitar, string and keyboard arrangements. Accompanied by flute, "The Pool Of Skies" continues to develop the musical theme, with heavier solo guitars and Sabrina's evocative vocals rising above a male choir singing a melody similar to that in "Beyond The Soaring Winds."
The final movement opens with "Dernier Souper," a lovely track where effects join atmospheric keyboards, gentle acoustic guitar and vocalise. "Ageless" is a classic symphonic, yet metal-edged, progressive track continuing to build on musical themes introduced earlier in the album. It is full of contrasts, perhaps most evident by comparing the flute part and Sabrina's gentle vocal with agressive guitar parts, dynamic percussion and traditional heavy metal grunts. "Epilogue" contains a sensual sample of Sabrina's work within a highly atmospheric and symphonic context. The album is an excellent introduction to Transcendence.
Who are your favourite artists/bands? Who else do you find yourself listening to all the time?
Christian: Naming names is quite futile as I listen to so many artists. I mostly listen to metallic sounds, especially from Europe, from death to black to gothic to power and so on. I like also some prog, some new age and ambient, some classical, movie scores and celtic. Quite varied but when it's good, it's good! Keyboardwise though, my biggest influence and total god is Vangelis, without a doubt.
Philippe Coupal listens to many various things also. Take my description and add more prog and alternative music. Philippe Laroche is also very proggish in his tastes, likes some power and prog metal also. Michael Kosow, who is on the demo you have, is no longer a member of the group.
Martin is a Rush/Genesis freak--of course, he's the drummer!! He also likes DreamTheater and Meshuggah to name a few. André is more rock and groove oriented, excellent for a bassist!
Isabel: Prior to Transcendence, I listened a lot to Tori Amos, Sara McLachlan and Loreena McKennitt. I also enjoyed the acoustic sound of Dave Matthews Band, with his line-up of sax, flute and violin.
In the last year, I have been discovering and listening mostly to European and Canadian bands, like Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Delerium and The Gathering.
How did you develop your vocal style? Please elaborate on your your musical training and education.
Isabel: I have always sang; my mother once told me that I enjoyed singing at church when I was only two years old. Following the recommendation of my music teacher and to help me develop discipline, I started to take some organ lessons when I was eight. I also learned classical piano for a few years, and then became a teenager. Practicing piano was not appealing anymore and I gave it up for a few years, but I continued to sing. I started young, imitating others, and singing harmonies on the songs that were playing on the radio.
I also used to record my voice, which gave me a heart attack each time I listened to it afterwards! But since I am a perfectionist in that area, I learned to correct myself by trying new things, or by inventing some vocal exercises that would help me, I thought.
My interest in piano came back a few years later, as I started to write my own songs, and wanted to participate in some contests. At that time, I really explored my voice and used all my emotions and instinct to sing, since I had no technique. In fact, I recently started taking singing lessons, which will certainly help me get near my voice's full potential.
Transcendence is actually very varied in their style of music. How have other artists influenced the group's sound?
Christian: We have been influenced by Vangelis, Dark Tranquillity, Paradise Lost, Iron Maiden, Fields of the Nephilim, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd and many, many others more. It's quite difficult to pinpoint exactly who influenced our sound as we listen and adore artists that are very distant from what we sound. Like I said, we like many things varied and we also want to create varied music, music with moods and feelings, music that inspires images, kinda like a soundtrack for our concept and story.
It's not like we copy anyone but, of course, I personally take a few hints from Vangelis or Mike Oldfield for sound or keyboard arrangements. Guitarwise, we can trace back maybe Fields, U2 or even The Tea Party! It's getting inspired by how our idols play and on what they play. It's the same process for everyone in the band and for most of the musicians. It's really hard to give you an adequate answer as we never really thought about that. We just want to compose emotional and interesting music for ourselves and people to enjoy. Music with meaning.
Please explain the various sequences you go through when writing your music and tell us a bit about the studios that you use in different stages and the folks that work with you in the recording process.
Christian: First and foremost, we develop the concept. That's the direction we want to got and explore. Then, from the concept, we write the story. The story is full of psychological and philosophical meaning, but it can easily be taken on first degree. Then, we incorporate what we already have of material that can suit a moment in the story and we adapt and arrange the song consequently, adding vocals, violins, atmospheric parts etc. When all that is completed, we compose additional songs and music to complete the picture as the story also gives us new ideas for the music. For the lyrics, most of the time they are written before, inspired by the story or adapted to, and when the vocal line is composed, they are arranged to suit the song.
We didn't get the chance yet to use recording studios often, but we used the Arcane studio north of Montréal for the first album and the demo of Labyrinth. The studio is in the suburbs in a residential area so it's easy to relax there. It's got nice equipment plus it's affordable!
As for the people, well, session musicians usually come and go. Ian Légaré is probably the one who helps us the most, on a technical and musical level. He's quite experienced and good. He's our major tech live also! The guy we record with, Stéphane Alary, works in a bigger studio in Montréal. He's not really used to our style at all I'd say but he's quite cool with everything so it's easy to talk him in if something is not like we want. He should be helping us also for the next session, but more for the technician job.
Do you have a career or work outside music?
Isabel: Yes, I have my own distribution company on the Internet. But what I really enjoy is art, in all its forms: painting, singing, playing music, writing books. I have to stay creative in what I do, otherwise something is missing and I get bored. Being creative and spending quality time with people I love are two must in my life.
Christian: I work in a record store called Freeson (website). We are specialized in prog and metal music. Nice job hey! I am submerged in music 24 hours a day!! Aside from that I take care of my family, read, watch movies and draw, when I have to!
Everyone else has daytime jobs, of course, from selling cars to selling books etc. We all share many interest in various things, but I won't go into details as it's the usual stuff and it could be boring for your readers!
How is the new album coming and when do expect to release it?
Christian: We should be recording late spring/early summer. Many details are still to be arranged at the moment. We still have to find a suitable producer and studio as we want a better final product than Eternal Stream, obviously. Once the recording is done, we still have to decide if we release it ourselves or if we shop it to the labels. It can take some time so I can't say when it's gonna be released. We hope for this autumn, as the sooner the better since we've been gone a long time already. What I can tell you is that work is already in progress for the layout and that some of the songs will sound different on the album. You will still find surprises even if you've heard the demo!
Labyrinth (Pre-Production Promo 1998). The significant transformation of Transcendence is immediately evident in the opening track, "Inside," from the band's pre-production follow-up to Eternal Stream.
Four epics adorn the promo with the longest coming at its conclusion. However, our copy was graced with three additional (un-named) tracks! Isabel Plant's stunning vocal work shines through carrying the melody well above the instrumentals and backing male vocals which have also moved on from the band's debut, becoming much more melodic with a thickening lushness without any loss of the band's dynamic arrangements and guitar prowess. We were drawn to the album from first listen.
In addition to Isabel Plant on lead vocals, Transcendence is comprised of Philippe Coupal (guitars and vocals), Christian Bertrand (keyboards and programming), Michael Kosow (guitars), Martin Gélinas (drums), André Ledoux (bass); Ian Légaré (guitars) contributes as well. Further instrumentation will be added when the final recording is produced.
From the liner notes, "What you're about to hear is a sample of what will be Transcendence's new album. This promotional CD contains four songs from the second album of the trilogy. The first album was released in 1996 and now Dolric's quest continues into the unknown future ... The Labyrinth. This promo was recorded live and very few overdubs were made to give you a good idea of what it will sound like in the final cut. We hope you enjoy it, and wait to hear it in its entirety." The material was recorded live in August and September 1998. The material was quite advanced when we heard it performed live at Le Medley.
Movements within the promo's second track "Vault Of Stars" are underscored by soaring solo guitar parts, keyboard melodies and whispy male vocals while Isabel's vocals add a lovely and warm texture to the driving symphonic metal sound the band has continued to develop. The epic "Wind Of Passing Years" is the hardest track included on the promo but it is also one of incredible variation. Light keyboard melodies and Isabel's soaring vocal layers contrast agressive guitar solos strong percussion and male grunting. Keyboards add harmony and texture to the dynamic sound of the track.
An early version of the epic track "The Blind Side" concludes the promo recording. Christian told us, "The 25-minute track will be modified and of course there will be vocals--though there is actually one intended as an instrumental to close the album, you'll know which one!" Here you'll find the full splendour of Transcendence, minus of course the vocal parts, but dynamic guitars, keyboard and percussion are performed flawlessly, as the various symphonic movements of this metal-edged progressive rocker develop. A blend of differing styles, including progressive rock, heavy metal and blues, it is superb.
Our promo's fifth track is a good bit lighter than the tracks that preceded it. A stunning track, certainly art-rock in its construction, it is vocally lush with Isabel's part mixed way up above the guitar and keyboard arrangements. Sung in French, it is multi-tracked in the chorus to add texture and depth. The symphonic texture--lush keyboards blending with driving guitar, bass and percussion--of the promo's sixth track is balanced by Isabel's powerful lead vocal and was instantly recognisable as one of the tracks performed at Le Medley. Full of swirling keyboards, our promo concludes with an orchestrally-arranged progressive instrumental. Clearly the follow-up release to the band's debut is going to be worth the wait!
Please tell us about your live performances and the audience's reaction to your on stage personna.
Isabel: This is an interesting question. When you are performing on stage, you obviously know what you are giving, but rarely know how it is received. We performed once in front of a silent crowd, and we are still wandering if they were simply listening or desperately hoping for the next band! On another hand, the crowd at Le Medley, when we opened for Nightwish, was so energizing that we would have played for hours. So it's hard to know what the crowd is really thinking. Our first goal is to give a great performance and to have fun playing together on stage. The appreciation of the crowd is always considered as a bonus.
About my stage persona, well, I used to sing behind a piano, so it's a nice challenge for me to develop this 'front person' side of me. It's not in my personality to dance like crazy and run around on stage, I'll be honest, but I do enjoy seeing the faces of the people in front of me. Hopefully, I will also have the pleasure of hearing them sing with me.
How has the internet influenced your musical career and the promotion of your music. Do you think that your website will bring you many new fans?
Christian: We used to have a website back when we released Eternal Stream. It was immense! We got some feedback for it but back then, the Internet wasn't as common for everyone. The guy handling it once lost his server and he didn't have any back up! So we have been continuing without a website since then. Being low profile for some time now, the internet might have come in handy to keep us alive for the public as some might think after all this time that we must have broken up or something, which is clearly isn't true at all!
We are actually building another website at http://www.tranceofmine.com and while I can't say right now if it will bring us many fans, it is surely a good tool for promotion! We encourage people to visit it when it's done!
Christian updated us in November 2001, "The recordings [for the new album] are underway. Since we are composing absolutely new songs in the studio, it takes a lot of time!" He continued, "What you received called Labyrinth is practically exclusive to you and a few other people and labels. THe album should finally be called Daedalus instead."
Clearly Transcendence has a bright future. Whilst their debut album provides an excellent introduction to the band, clearly their live sound and the follow-up featuring Isabel Plant on lead vocals illustrate a profound transformation. Clearly worth a cross-country journey--and a trip to Canada to see them perform live--this band is a must listen!
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