Review Summary: Kellogg’s called, and they want their damned motto back.
Albums like Kindly Bent To Free Us
make me think about what musicians want from their careers. Until recently, it never was too hard to tell what made Cynic tick- the progressive metal troupe always aimed to be impactful. Between the genre-hopping of Focus
and the closely-knit Traced In Air
, both albums were huge in their own way. They sported those songs that just punch the listener in the gut, bolstering an impenetrable coupling of technicality and catchiness. Beyond that, though, Cynic’s first two full-lengths just felt otherworldly. The band represented space to a tee in these releases because they didn’t force it- they found textures that accompanied their musical ideas well, and used them fittingly as a result. I thought the band was content with doing this; it seemed their creative blend of jazz-fusion and progressive metal would keep them creatively appeased for at least a couple more releases. But Kindly Bent To Free Us
laughs off that notion, through a full-fledged leap into… progressive rock?
Convenient as it may be to compare these guys to Opeth- that other
successful death metal band who also totally
hopped on the we-love-King-Crimson train- such a comparison isn’t as fair as it initially seems. While, for better or worse, Opeth successfully recreated the sound of its predecessors, Kindly Bent To Free Us
only occasionally gets that far. The first two tracks on this record wear their ‘70s prog influence on their sleeve, and in the process, show a more uninhibited Cynic than we all know. After those songs, though, the experience becomes exponentially tamer with each passing moment- instead of beguiling the listener into paying attention, Kindly Bent To Free Us
doesn’t even seem to care who’s listening. It lingers incessantly, offering songs that are drowsily and clumsily written. For starters, the songs at hand flirt with musical ideas that seem to only be interesting to Cynic- much of this record deals with sounds we’ve already heard in progressive, and done far more expressively in the past. Furthermore, Kindly Bent To Free Us falls into many of the tropes employed by Cynic clones- flat melodies and painful transitioning. Just listen to the promising introduction to “Infinite Shapes,” and then how it bottoms out into insubstantial riffage. And I don’t feel the need to elaborate on the fact that some of these lyrics are outright abysmal: “snap, crackle, pop”? How much did Kellogg's pay you for that subtle endorsement, Mr. Masvidal?
Back to the music. For being six years in the works, Kindly Bent To Free Us
sounds exclusively written from an arbitrarily chosen Cynic jam session. It just feels too
organic for a band that has always strived to make space-oriented music. Until now they’d always succeeded at that goal- otherworldly anthems like “King Of Those Who Know” encapsulate everything at which Cynic is best, and just from the first few seconds. Instead, this record hands the listener vocoder and overly-textured guitar tones- it’s overkill for music that instead should be offering solid riffs. Note to Cynic: build a solid foundation for your music first, then worry about giving it atmosphere. So while Kindly Bent To Free Us
carries Cynic’s trademark sound, it simultaneously sounds like it could’ve been written by a number of groups. And the most concerning quality of the album is that Cynic loves it all the same- it’s the music they wanted to give to the world. If this is the music that makes Cynic happy, then I haven’t a damned clue what’s in it for us Cynic fans, because this release is the definition of insubstantial.