Review Summary: Cynic’s future looks bright.
Call me crazy, ignorant, disillusioned, or whatever else you deem necessary, but Traced in Air
was just not as good as people made it out to be. I know, I know, I’m in the minority here and that album is held in high regard by many, but it felt all a little too hindered by its production, had very little emotional depth, and came off as homogeneous. The songs were undeniably good, but they were also blemished by uniformity - mostly attributed to the production of the record - because everything was buried in a dim shade of color and had an ‘airy’ aura lingering about. However, Traced in Air
was, at the very least, interesting and unique enough to warrant praise for one simple reason: Cynic redefines their sound with each subsequent release. This is a pretty obvious notion, especially when looking to their past. Focus
was one of the most inventive albums of the ‘90s, lauded by many as one of the most important progressive metal albums of its time and of all-time. Saturating their Floridian take on death metal with jazz, Cynic seamlessly weaved these genres and more - alternating between heavy-hitting death metal and more serene, delicate passages - into one cohesive package. Carbon-Based Anatomy
follows this trend of ever-changing-sound and once again sees Cynic branching out into daringly new and exciting territory. With the inclusion of theatricality, ambiance, and brief interstitials reflecting distinct cultural sounds, Cynic have managed to make an EP that challenges some of their best work to date, gracefully pulling away from the fanciful guitar-work and consistent pacing of past releases and instead opting for something much more textural and atmospheric.
Traced in Air
was, as aforementioned, mostly focused on Cynic’s more delicate side; pushing the death growls further back and focusing more on its surroundings. But I digress, Carbon-Based Anatomy
is most akin to Traced in Air
’s euphonious sound: it’s very approachable, light-hearted, etc., except this time Cynic’s sound is awash in brilliant colors. Carbon-Based Anatomy
still retains the lightly toned essence that pervaded every inch of Traced in Air
, but it also feels very different from anything they’ve done before. The death growls Cynic is well known for are absolutely nowhere to be found here, and moreover the EP is sung with mostly clean, unfiltered vocals. The reduction of vocoder was actually a fantastic decision: on “Box Up My Bones” Paul Masvidal shows the beauty of his natural voice as he breaks into a chorus backed by a choir and Sean Reinert’s masterful drumming. ‘Chants’ and ‘croons’ are two words that seem like they wouldn’t fit with Cynic’s repertoire, but it goes to show that this band is capable of branching out in any direction they choose. These lovely vocal croons make the songs almost feel like they were designed to be sung along to, lending guitar hooks and tasteful drumming to elevate a cast of brilliant voices in each song.
hits the mark so unbelievably well at times that it’s guaranteed to satiate and tie-over the many fans clamoring for a new Cynic album, my only gripe with it is there simply isn’t enough. At 23 minutes, this is one of the shorter EPs of their career, but it also makes it that much easier to digest as well. Call it a double-edged sword: nothing overstays its welcome or meanders but it’s also a little bit of a tease -- some of the best moments are fleeting, never truly opening up or evolving into something more. “Amidst The Coals”, despite being a wondrously gorgeous piece of music - utilizing wind-chimes, flute, and an exotic melody - flees before it ever really gets the chance to materialize into something greater. “Much the same, “Bija!” and “Hieroglyph” both don’t take enough time to explore. The former brilliantly places the listener in a middle-eastern bazaar as indistinguishable vocal intonations - evocative of African chant - weave in and out, and the latter buzzes along with harmonies and spoken-word both floating over this daydream-like aesthetic of ambiance. The dichotomy between these brief experimental tracks and the actual songs on the album makes Carbon-Based Anatomy
a thrilling and varied experience, if not a little aimless in direction. It seems like Cynic is toying with some profound and deeply spiritual elements, trying to find a way to integrate them into their sound, so perhaps the unprecedented “Amidst The Coals,” “Bija!,” and “Hieroglyph” are precursors for some masterpiece, but as it stands the ideas need to be fleshed out
While all of this seems fresh and exciting, Cynic’s sound is certainly becoming more streamlined. The absence of growls, the reduction of vocoder - it all points to one thing: Cynic is opening up to a much broader demographic. No matter which way you slice it, these guys are slowly creeping up the ladder of progression most metal bands tend to make, but that isn’t a bad thing, because what’s being done here feels very natural and fluid. However, they’re also squandering brilliance by showcasing some very imaginative ideas that need to be more thoroughly explored. Most of what they’ve thrown at the wall works though, and Masvidal’s vocals feel much more organic and less-polished here, resulting in a short EP that manages to emote more than Traced in Air
. It feels like Cynic is on the cusp of breaking down the fourth wall, and their upcoming record (slotted for an early 2012 release) might just be their tour de force, if Carbon-Based Anatomy
is any indication of the direction they plan on taking. For now, Cynic fans can rejoice knowing that they’re headed in a promising, adventurous direction. It’s truly exciting.
“And I don’t feel scared (I declare)
I have everything I need
This just may be hard on me
Box up my bones; I’m coming home.