Review Summary: Truly mind-blowing.
There are just some bands who absolutely love to cross the boundaries of musical prowess or creativity, whether a record's revolutionary or just plain amazing. Cynic, Death, and Atheist were a bit of a "Big Three" of progressive death back in the early 90's, but why? Why would they be there, other than being early? Many reasons could come up, but those 3 simply had more creativity and talent at the time. Most technical metal bands today rely heavily on overly clean recording techniques and lots (and I mean lots) of sweep picking and shredding. They almost lost that sort of experimental edge of the early days.
The thing is, Cynic's first release, Focus, embodied that aforementioned experimental edge perfectly and struck a balance between the baffling and the rewarding. So many progheads were astounded at the level of technicality and emotion that went into the record, as well as individual prowess. Plus, the other thing that Cynic (along with Atheist) had that most others don't is the extremely high level of jazz fusion put into the album. The record simply did not disappoint, and it brought in newcomers of progressive music, as well as metal, and remains a legend to this day.
Traced in Air is a bit of a successor, but more of spiritual successor than an actual sequel to the original. Released 15+ years after the original, hype was high, but Cynic knew how to cater to (most) fans while bringing in new ones as well. Cynic knew not to make an easy cash-in, especially after 15 years, as fans would become ridiculously enraged at such a sight after so much anticipation. So what did Cynic do for Traced in Air?
They topped the original.
One thing that received mixed opinions was the level of accessibility this album has, and it is indeed more accessible to listen to. However, that doesn't detract from such an experience as this. The instrumentalists are still top-notch, as is their quality. Paul Masvidal's odd robotic vocals have been swapped for better, more regular vocals. The growls are cleaner as well, and drums are as technical as ever. Now think of that, and, on top of that, cleaner production. You basically get a recipe for success.
The influences on this album are more diverse as well. You'll get some King Crimson here and there, a bit of Rush, some Porcupine Tree, and so on. Cynic spreads these influences out and put in their own signature sound, creating something truly unique and never seen before in progressive metal.
Of course then, you'd need a strong opening, right? Well, the beginning is MUCH different from the one seen previously in Veil of Maya. That one bursts out of the gate, while Nunc Fluens offers more of a traditional prog intro, but has unique synth effects and tribal drumming. The track is somewhat mesmerizing and offers an excellent introduction to the album.
The following songs contain a phenomenal amount of quality, as well as new crazy twists and turns. "The Space for This" has such a dreamy intro with the vocals aiding to that effect, before it builds into an epic riff going to the verse. The same structure goes for "King of Those who Know," one of the highlights of the record. It has female-type vocals to begin, and builds up to an amazing verse.
"Evolutionary Sleeper" is unique all its own, and features some of Paul Masvidal's best vocals as it clocks in at 3:34, one of the shortest tracks. More power to it, as the concise feel of the song is very tight in instrumentation and production. The growls are also featured here, as well as in other places. The chorus is quite dreamy, and then a jazzy solo ends the song. Great stuff.
Now's time to talk about individual talents. First of, it seems that Paul Masvidal has improved tenfold on this album, and it shows. The vocals are a huge plus here, especially on "Integral Birth," which has a bit more of an accessible feel to it. Gone are the weird robotic effects, and now semi-normal vocals take place with the assistance of a digitized "octave voice." His guitar solos are now more concise as well, and still very excellent.
Sean Reinart just destroys the drums here, showing his best performance yet. On "The Space for This," his technical drumming permeates the whole ordeal, while never being too overbearing. He has such a unique and fresh drumming style. The other members keep up as well, too, providing a nice pace for Masvidal and Reinart to shine.
Overall, this album is an odd entity, and one that is truly mind-blowing. Any fan of progressive metal/rock should not miss this, and it's taken a lot more as an experience.
For Traced in Air, Cynic were:
Paul Masvidal – vocals, guitar, guitar synth
Sean Reinert – drums, percussion
Sean Malone – bass, Chapman Stick
Tymon Kruidenier – guitar, death growls
Amy Correia – additional vocals