Review Summary: What the hell was that.
Sometimes a band's name tells you everything you need to know. The phrase "dying sun" brings up images of the infinite expanse of space and the slow collapse of a star, its light fading and the planets around it descending into blackness. The word "transcendence" refers experiences beyond the physical realm. Both are excellent descriptions for the music contained herein.
This is a difficult album. Difficult to listen to and difficult to review. It's easily amongst the densest albums I've ever heard, which is incredible for a three man band. Everything is caked in reverb and distortion to the point that all the instruments blend into one mass. It's not "muddy" or "messy" by any stretch, but it is nearly impossible to pick the instruments apart in this mix. Even the drums somehow blend into the strings, making each track an agonized, and unified, howl into the dark. The vocals are pushed back in the mix and overdriven and echoed beyond recognition. The guitars are absolutely massive in sound. When opener "Generating the Sphere" starts up, you'll be left trying to figure out what's even happening. Is it music? Is it noise?
Some albums are very carefully produced so each instrument can be clearly heard, Dying Sun does the exact opposite. The first time there is ANY separation of the elements is at the beginning of "Weight of Time", and it gives the listener a greater appreciation for the style present. The drums stomp and crash at a glacial pace with a cavernous echo, and the sounds behind it are given a distinctly industrial flair (there are keyboards as well, but hold on), and when the quote-unquote "clean" vocals break in they're still nigh impossible to understand thanks to the treatment they've been given.
Categorizing Transcendence is tricky. The best I can come up with would be atmospheric industrial doom. The songs move at either a menacing lurch or an agonized crawl, but never drag. There are so many elements at work here it's almost absurd, but are never for anything but atmosphere and ambience. The monolithic band takes front and center, but all around them there are synths, strings, monastic chants, vocals and instruments are given extra post-production so they stutter and jitter, bouncing from side to side.
Of course, none of the above would matter if it weren't all carefully composed to fit its stylistic choices. Reducing instruments to a nebulous cacophony would mean nothing unless every song was written with that in mind. Because you can't hear the plucks of strings or individual notes and chords beneath the morass, the melodies are larger and more tidal, moving along as a unit. Each track's sound is the accumulation of all of its elements rather than separate melodies and harmonies.
After a solid six tracks of exhausting sonic horror, things take an odd break with the minute and a half long track "We Don't Belong Here" which, if I were feeling snarky enough, I would accuse of having a title that accurately explains its place on the album. It's a brief moment of rather directionless noise, with an indecipherable sample behind it, sung vocals, a synth line, and then it just stops. Taken on its own, it's a meandering track, and it doesn't add much to the album (and knocks off that half a point), but in the scope of the full album doesn't detract from it.
The eponymous album-closer is actually a perfect distillation of the album as a whole, with its monumental instrumentation and buried screams that swell and dissipate for a mid-song breath before coming back in full force again and fading into a piano outro, and then the album is over.
A single listen isn't enough for Transcendence simply thanks to the sheer density of it. Coming into it expecting a metal album made by clearly delineated instruments with this member doing this and that member doing that will leave you feeling like you've just been through a hurricane, water and wind pounding your flesh into oblivion. Then you'll come back for it again, and again.