Cynic has always been a band that simply baffles me. Immediately after releasing their debut album Focus, regarded uncontestedly as a modern classic in the progressive metal genre, the band underwent significant internal turmoil and disbanded. After thirteen years the band reformed for some livefestival gigs and went on to record their long awaited follow up Traced In Air, which garnered almost universal acclaim. I can only imagine where the band would be now had they not taken such an extended hiatus. With that said, the group’s newest release Carbon Based Anatomy is a natural and exciting evolution of one of metal’s most enigmatic, intelligent groups.
The proceedings kick off with an atmospheric “Amidst the Coals,” an Eastern themed instrumental replete with a female voice singing along to an exotic melody complete with wind chimes, flutes, and many more similarly foreign instruments. After a small fade/transition the percussion picks up and we begin to get a taste of the new Cynic with the title track. This song expresses a side of the band that has always been hinted at, particularly on the strange 2010 release Re-Traced E.P, yet never fully explored. The band has completely pulled away from their tech/death metal roots in favor of an immersive, avante-garde sound with influences that range from post-rock, progressive rock, and shoegaze. Think of Katatonia’s shift from their death metal roots to their more contemporary sound for a good reference point. This is not the Cynic you are familiar with, but you always knew it was there. Vocally, it’s entirely clean without a trace of the harsh vocals known in previous releases. Unsurprisingly, they fit the new sound like a glove.
The song transitions without a pause into “Bijai!,” another instrumental passage backed by eerie chanting, mellow keyboards and some kind of stringed instrument. This is a particularly fascinating track, and it is impossible not to be swept away to some distant, ancient bazaar. The music really takes you somewhere else. “Box Up My Bones” is a trip of a song. It begins with a soft guitar melody, and as it progresses, a heavy, gorgeously epic riff begins to rise in volume, building momentum, halting said momentum, shifting abruptly into a jazzy segment, only to whiplash back into the earlier momentum building riff. It literally left my head spinning, and the song slows to a near halt before ending on a feedback fade out. This is definitely the highlight of the album. “Elves Beam Out” hearkens temporarlly back to some of their earlier work, at least instrumentally. There are industrial and space effects galore, and some powerful muted guitar chugging that compliment beautifully sung vocal melodies. As the song continues, it slowly increases in intensity, with some dark, almost post-black metal lead guitar lines, before again segueing into the final track.
“Hieroglyph,” yet another instrumental atmosphere piece closes the proceedings. Now, generally speaking I see these little songs as filler to pad out a stop-gap release. In this album’s case, they are all so much more than that. As short as this collection of songs is, the entire affair was clearly written to be listened to from beginning to end. It plays out in such away that with a little tweaking, this could conceivably be viewed as one epic track, the instrumental pieces fitting so well into the overall feel so as to be vital to the listening experience. Production wise, there is literally nothing to complain about. Every instrument is right where it should be, with crisp guitars, warm bass, balanced vocals/effects, and drums that make their presence known without sounding overwhelming. While drastically different from their earlier days, this incarnation of Cynic has the potential to do great, genre shattering things, and I can’t wait to hear where the next full-length sonic experience takes us.