Review Summary: An absolute classic.
Cynic. What does that word make you think of? Cynicism? Maybe. However, if you are a metal or prog fan, chances are that it refreshes your memory of a prog metal group that made the extreme metal wonder Focus. It just happens to be a striking combo of jazz fusion, prog, technical death, and even some classical, resulting in a ridiculously ambitious album. Focus sure baffled many people at the time of its release, the ripe year of 1993. The question is, will it still hold up by today's standards, with so many new metal and prog bands emulating the album's style?
You see, while trends come and go, it's hard to deny Cynic's impact on the prog community upon release. The group, led by Paul Masvidal (who previously worked on Death's fourth album, Human) goes through so many twists and turns that it's seriously hard to deny their originality. Also, while those aforementioned twists and turns are definitely technical, Cynic also dives into slower, more experimental passages, all while maintaining excellent quality throughout.
One of the biggest aspects of this group is (or was) Sean Malone. His crazy bass playing is so effortless that the only bassist that could really match him in the metal community (mainly underground) is Steve DiGiorgio of Death and Sadus. That's not to say the other members aren't talented; Paul Masvidal became a bit of a legend in death metal circles with Human, and it shows here with excellent guitar work, while his robotic vocals are quite mystifying and fascinating; Sean Reinart is amazing with his drumming, offering powerful variation and creative technique; Tony Teegarden's growls are respectable, while Jason Gobel provides a good rhythm and backbone, as well as great solos of his own.
The first thing you notice when playing the album is that "Veil of Maya" almost throws you of guard, pushing you into the music without the chance to back down. This is creative method of doing things, because while many progressive bands give you time to warm up, this catches you from the start. And from there the album flows freely, blowing away any limitations that restricted many bands before, such as heavy free jazz elements. Case in point: The slowed down passage in this song is quite peaceful, and yet odd; One can begin the part with ease, of course until the odd robotic vocals take the person back to reality. Of course, then, the death metal growls come in, and they never feel out of place.
The rest of the album pays the same attention to quality, while learning a few new tricks along the way. "Textures" is personally my favorite track, and the one that seriously takes the cake in terms of instrumental prowess. It starts off much more peacefully than many other songs here, and actually is quite pleasant throughout. Obviously of special mention is Sean Malone's fretless bass solo, which is the highlight of the song. It just sounds so free-flowing and smooth as a solo, referencing the free jazz portion of Cynic.
A more agressive piece would be the 3:30 "Uroboric Forms." It starts out with a bit of a thrashy riff, but it doesn't take long to get into yet another prog interlude before the robotic vocals make another appearance. The calm portion in the middle keeps the listener satisfied until the thrash riff destroys the peace, but of course doesn't destroy the song.
One recurring factor of the album has been the vocals. The vocals are quite odd, and yet intriguing. One half of it's Paul Masvidal's robotic vocoder vocals, while the other half is Tony's death metal/thrash grunts. The vocals aren't too terribly great, but at least they're pretty unique. As Bartender said, you just have to get used to the robotic vocals, and they'll stick with you.
Overall, this album is very tough to describe, and yet it's so excellent. It's a 5/5 for me, seeing as there doesn't seem to be much of a flaw here, and the elements are executed so perfectly. If you are a technical metal/prog metal/jazz fusion fan, you owe yourself to pick this release up, as it's a living legacy on its own, as well as stroke of genius.
For this album, Cynic was:
Paul Masvidal: Lead guitar, "robot" vocals
Jason Gobel: Guitar, keyboards
Tony Teegarden: Keyboards, Growls
Sean Malone: Bass
Sean Reinart: Drums