Believe it or not, 'Heavy Metal' is a term that turns most people off. I know, I don't understand it either but it's true. When I try to turn people on to a new band that I think they might like, I need to be careful what I say if the term 'Metal' exists anywhere in the description. Such is the case with Cynic.
One album and one tour and the band broke up. There were other 'post Cynic' projects that featured some of the members, but it wasn't until 2006 that the band got back together in name to play live. In 2008, they recorded the long overdue follow-up to 'Focus', 'Traced In The Air'. Again, this was a technical prog Metal album with both vocoder enhanced and 'aggressive' vocals.
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Over the next few years, the band toured with many bands they had influenced: Opeth, Meshuggah, Between The Buried And Me, Devin Townsend and Scale The Summit. Towards the end of this tour, they started experimenting with reworked versions of the 'Traced' songs that were less Metal and more what they called 'sci-fi prog rock' or 'psych rock' with a minimalist restraint. Aha, now we're getting somewhere.
In 2010, after the tour, Cynic released an EP of these songs (plus one new song) called 'Re-Traced In The Air'. It was this EP that signalled a change in direction for the band away from Metal with a capital 'M' and more towards a unique Cynic sound that blended elements of world music, prog and electronica, while leaving a little bit of Metal.
Okay, so that's the history lesson, where's the review of the new EP? Here it comes...
With 'Carbon Based Anatomy', Cynic has managed to bring their music to an entirely different realm, beyond category. The music is hauntingly beautiful and has more in common with Radiohead or The Cure than Meshuggah or Death.
The vocoders have been replaced with Chinese(?) female chanting during the intro, which is your first clue that you'll be hearing something different. On the title track, the bass flutters beneath like helicopter blades and then stops to reveal shimmering guitars and plaintive multi-tracked vocals that would be at home on a Pat Metheny Group record. It's still heavy, but in a way that's free from Metal cliches. 'Bija' is another short Asian or Indonesian-inspired transitional piece that features bells, cymbals, sitar, tablas and piano.
'Box Up My Bones' builds to a crescendo like an old Jane's Addiction track and soon engulfs you with swirling guitars and angelic voices, before settling into a trance-like groove with two separate vocal lines. These are entwined like a Gordian knot, one sung and one spoken, creating a hypnotizing effect that's broken by the powerfully melodic chorus. Now, at this point, you may have forgotten you were listening to a Cynic record. If you're like me you don't care, you just don't want it to stop...but it does, and all too soon.
'Elves Beam Out' probably comes the closest to sounding like the Cynic of old, but only in the complexity of the instrumental lines. The production on the closer 'Hieroglyph' creates an expansive shoegaze soundscape that almost defies classification. I guess you might call it loud ambient. The female voice that opened the EP returns, but in English now, and it sounds like something from a Porcupine Tree album...a narrative of an acid trip perhaps.
Music this good should break free from any anchors of the past and soar freely to be heard by the masses.