Review Summary: Despite being nearly twenty years old, The Portal Tapes fit perfectly into Cynic’s current musical direction and should be an enjoyable listen for any modern fan.
When Cynic released their debut album, Focus
, in 1993 the musical landscape was much different. The experimentation that we all take for granted was not so prominent, and metal, in particular, was not to be diluted by any other genres. This left Cynic and their blend of death metal, prog, jazz and new age in a very tough position. When it came to Focus
, the average metal fan was totally lost and even their label didn’t know how to promote them. Obviously, nobody at Roadrunner Records has ever admitted to their completely inept attempts at marketing the band, but there could be no other explanation for sending them on tour with artists such as Cannibal Corpse -- and not the current incarnation; we’re talking the Chris Barnes-fronted “I Cum Blood” version of the band. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn the band’s next step was to simply throw their hands up in the air and give up. This led to a majority of the band ‘reforming’ as Portal – a collaboration that lasted just long enough to record a demo before disbanding.
Anyone that has ever had the chance to hear the demo knows old-school Cynic fans would have been shocked if it had been released back in 1994. Oddly enough, though, following behind the release of Carbon-Based Anatomy
, The Portal Tapes
album actually blends seamlessly with Cynic’s current direction (almost sounding as though it really did come afterwards). It continues the band’s focus on creating otherworldly soundscapes through the use of cold layers of synth, progressive/laid-back guitar melodies and chill, almost abstract, vocal deliveries. It also continues to display drummer Sean Reinert’s ability to dazzle with his percussive abilities despite the mellow nature of the music. There is also what one could call a progression from Carbon-Based Anatomy
to this release (despite the latter coming before the former) through the band’s increased use of female vocals. When Portal was conceived, female vocalist Aruna Abrams was brought in to do the majority of the vocals and she is a perfect fit. Her crisp vocal delivery is the perfect complement to Paul Masvidal’s relaxed approach. Her vocals are just as mellow as his are, but with his voice occupying the middle range and hers moving more towards the upper register, they combine to create a full, rich vocal experience.
Given Cynic’s current musical endeavors, it’s hard not to look at The Portal Tapes
as the next logical progression in their sound -- this despite the fact The Portal Tapes
are nearly twenty years old. It’s almost as though the band have finally come full circle and they ended up exactly where they wanted to be way back in 1994. The music is relaxed and very atmospheric, relying as much on the varying layers of melody as on the dual-vocal approach of Paul Masvidal and a female vocalist (just like now). It also makes as much use of experimental sounds and ideas as it does the core guitar/bass/drum approach (just like now). Also, the metal and death growls have been relegated to the past in favor of a much more pure, progressive formula that does its best to not be forced into any particular genre (just like… okay, you get the point). And last, The Portal Tapes
maintain the band’s high standards and quirky approach to their own unique style of music – just like now!