Cynic’s comeback takes enthralling turn on ‘Carbon-Based Anatomy’

As a fan of most major sports, I’m pretty used to the comeback. Some of them go pretty well. Mario Lemieux every time he laced up the skates again. Brett Favre in his first year in Minnesota. Michael Jordan after his ill-advised run as a baseball player. Some of them don’t go so well. Favre in his first year with the Jets and second year with Minnesota. Each time Eric Lindros tried to best his concussion problems. Jordan with the Wizards. Tiki Barber hilariously trying to get back into the NFL.

Music has had its fair share of returns, and just like sports, some are worthwhile and others aren’t. One of the comebacks that has gone the best is the rejuvenation of Cynic. The band helped pioneer the prog-tech-death sub-genre and was one of the most important and influential groups of the early 1990s (Between the Buried and Me basically owe them a ton of gratitude, and I’m sure they’d agree) until they disbanded in 1994 after releasing their groundbreaking record “Focus.” In 2007, the band was revived, and Peter Masvidal on guitar and vocals, Sean Reinert on drums, Sean Malone on bass and stick, and Tymon Kruidenier on guitar and aggressive vocals recorded the group’s second full-length “Traced in Air.” It was noteworthy how less death metal and how more prog rock the collection was, but it worked for the band and certainly was a breath of fresh air. Who am I kidding? It was excellent! Their EP “Re-Traced” was a reimagination of some of the “Traced” songs, and it was a cool stop-gap effort but certainly not an essential find.

Since then, the band has been reduced to Masvidal and Reinert as full-time members (bassist Brandon Giffin, and guitarist/vocalist Max Phelps join them in live settings), but that hasn’t gotten in the way of their productivity. The band is back with a new EP “Carbon-Based Anatomy” that takes what they started on “Traced” and goes even further away from death metal and way more into spacey prog rock. Masvidal doesn’t rely on a Vocoder at all on this album, so his singing takes on a more natural, human, Earth-based personality, and the rest of the music is more lush, organic and welcoming to a larger audience. In a way, it reminds me of the drastic step Opeth took on their new album, where they left death metal behind but still maintained a sound you knew was them. Same goes for Cynic on this mini-effort, and those who were upset they took the thorns out of their work probably jumped ship a couple of years ago anyway and won’t be lured back by this one. That’s too bad, because Cynic are an amazing band who make incredible music, and the path they’re on in the second half of their career is introspective and exciting.

The EP opens with “Amidst the Coals,” a quiet, woodsy song that is more folk-like than anything they’ve done before. Country singer Amy Correia (who worked with the band on “Traced in Air”) takes on all of the vocals, coming off like a haunting ghost here to lure you in with her gorgeous chants. That leads into the title cut, a juicy, fluid slab of prog-rock goodness (a reinterpretation of Æon Spoke track “Homosapien”) that finds the band quite aware of their fragile existence as people, especially when Masvidal croons, “The longing never ends/Not while you’re human.” “Bija!” is almost like an interlude, with thick percussion and spiritual ambiance; “Box Up My Bones” is a thrilling song that sounds like it’s soaring free in the atmosphere, allowing the listener to feel a freedom to explore both here and in their personal lives; and closer “Hieroglyph” is awash in shoegazey fog and noise, going into heady, cosmic territory, with Masvidal noting of his protagonist, “He’s been blown to all corners of the universe.” That statement also could be applied to the band’s current sound.

Cynic remain one of the most free-thinking bands in all of heavy rock, and they refuse to be bound by genres. This may not be metal by definition, because it really isn’t very heavy at all and won’t make you want to start a circle pit. But for those with an open mind, who can be enraptured by melody and great songwriting, “Carbon-Based Anatomy” will prove a refreshing, colorful, imaginative collection that will open up the doors for your personal daydreaming. I’m quite thankful to have Cynic back and in the throes of a creative explosion.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “Carbon-Based Anatomy,” go here:

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