Review Summary: Kindly bent to free us/The joy, the sorrow and the pain
Trying to write a review for any Cynic album that doesn't delve into Focus'
mammoth influence on the metal genre is certainly no easy task, and the fact that the act have had two excellent releases after a fourteen-year break since is undoubtedly not to be sneezed at. Having said that, Kindly Bent to Free Us
is a work which needs to be regarded in its own space in order to be appreciated. Despite claims that the legendary metallers have abandoned their previous sound, Kindly Bent to Free Us
follows a logical progression in sound from 2011's Carbon-Based Anatomy
, and showcases a band newly aware of the advantages of restraint and leaving some breathing room for songs to flourish.
To begin with, Kindly Bent
showcases a newfound pleasantness and flavour to Paul Masvidal's vocals that, vocoder or no, could be strongly lacking on past releases. Masvidal sings with passion on these songs, sometimes more than one would expect given the questionable nature of the lyrics (we'll get to those
later). With the harsh vocals appearing for a grand total of about 4 seconds on the album, Masvidal is left for the first time to carry the vocal department entirely by himself on Kindly Bent
. With the use of some beautifully executed backing vocals eg the bridge of "True Hallucination Speak", some more reliance on his natural singing voice, and some fantastic melodies (see the chorus of the title track) he succeeds with flying colours. He also has a good idea of when it is best not to overwhelm the listener with his vocals, as seen in closer "Endlessly Bountiful"; by sticking to a simple falsetto and making an effort to not write mountains of his infamous jumbled spiritual phrases, him and the band excel in creating the space for this song to breathe (pun intended).
This is certainly for the better, as Kindly Bent
is by a distance the most vocal-centric album Cynic have released. The unbelievably talented rhythm section of Malone and Reinart have in no way lost their touch, but on Kindly Bent
they are rarely brought into the foreground and instead used to lay the foundation upon which the songs can build their atmospheric flourishes. While this is understandably bad news for most fans, it's ultimately rewarding to hear the trio of Masvidal and the Seans putting aside technical ability for the moment and instead focusing upon working together as a unit. In fact, some of the best moments to be found on Kindly Bent to Free Us
come from this newfound restraint; take the elegant bridge of "Moon Heart Sun Head", wherein the instruments abruptly drop out of hearing completely to give prominence to a quiet piano and spoken word section. Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is the jazzy, groovy interlude which pops up at the end of "Endlessly Bountiful", almost akin to a cheerful wave goodbye to the listener as the album ends and the ambience of the track gradually fades.
In fact, although it may seem a generalising statement, it seems almost deliberate that on Kindly Bent
the most jaw-dropping moments are saved for the bridge of each track. "The Lion's Roar" is saved from being essentially a pop song by the use of some stunning choir vocals in the bridge which seem to lift the song up into an ethereal high. Largely technical solos are absent from Kindly Bent
, with their place seeming to have been usurped by fantastic bluesy pieces which showcase Masvidal's talent just as nicely. The title track utilises one of these (complete with some quiet scatting) as does "Infinite Shapes"; quieting the pace of the songs before leading back explosively into their respective gargantuan choruses. Having said all that, these stunning moments are admittedly few and far between in Kindly Bent
, but are always supported by a solid framework and structure to avoid seeming incongruous.
It has to be said at this point that Masvidal's lyrics have always needed to be digested with a pretty hefty bag of salt, and on Kindly Bent
they are even harder to take seriously than before. In fact, they fall so far short of any sort of spiritual or philosophical value whatsoever that they often end up being fairly funny in an eyebrow-raising sense (I'm sure we can all get a good laugh out of "An extremely yang solution to a peculiar problem"). The biggest problem that Kindly Bent
faces, however, is not Masvidal's lyrical ramblings but rather the flat, dull production, which frequently undermines the talent of the band members and the atmosphere that they are evidently endeavouring to create on most songs. Ultimately, it seems clear that Kindly Bent to Free Us
is an album which would truly come alive on the stage, but as its own piece of work, separated from the daunting discography which Cynic will now have to outlive, it has the legs to stand by itself.