Sound: An oddity if there ever was one, Floridian's esteemed hippies Cynic have been keeping busy since their enthralling comeback album "Traced In Air". While creative output has been minimal since then, they've hit the road hard, showcasing their discography, flinging business cards every which way, getting stuck into life as working artists again. It's helped them become a little more industrious, I'm sure, but "Carbon-Based Anatomy" is so mellow that it's hard to imagine that anything resembling hard work has gone into it at all.
It has, of course, but the meditative, spiritualist side to eccentric frontman Paul Masvidal has really come to the fore on this, their third (!) major collection of original material. While the size is light and the style even lighter you can forget about this EP sounding much like "Traced In Air", yet alone '90s death metal gem "Focus" the placement of unusual mood tracks makes it a serious listen. Exotic washes of ambience mark the beginning, middle and end of this 23-minute affair and are coloured by, among other things, spoken word ("Hieroglyph") and warbling Latin chants ("Amidst The Coals"). What may be decoration on most full-lengths (and superfluous decoration at that) becomes an important factor in a short release, and these three tracks give the EP a prevailing air of peace, despite the harder hitting stuff elsewhere. Dismiss them as filler at your peril.
The bulk of the material though, and the material most recognisable as Cynic, is explorative prog rock. While most metal elements are toned down, the technical exuberance of the band actually comes through in a new way, emanating more psychedelia than the jazz fusion they built their name on. Without compromising identity, this slickly and commendably bridges the gap between the space-rock wastrels and the drugged-up academics that shared a stage in the 1970s. To forge such a sound through technical and meticulous playing is a credit in particular to drummer Sean Reinert, whose contributions are as much a trademark of the band as their vocals or glistening guitar tone. // 7
Lyrics: Perhaps due to the weirdness being dialed up elsewhere, Masvidal has slimmed down on the vocoders and other processing effects put on his voice. Coupled with the absence of death growls, this marks a fairly significant change in the way Cynic's lyrics are communicated, and it pays dividends on "Box Up My Bones". The song exercises all that's good about the band in the 21st century, and the human quality of the voice adds to its euphoria, delivering Masvidal's story of self-realisation with more potency than he could ever have dreamed of before. // 8
Overall Impression: Despite the stylistic framing that tracks like "Hieroglyph" provide, "Carbon-Based Anatomy" does feel incredibly short, and not necessarily because we don't want it to be over. Perhaps it's that the tales of transcendence are not mirrored by a clear sense of direction over the course of the record; in fact the alien territory covered can leave you with the feeling that you don't know where you've ended up, and that you don't really know where you started either. That is this EP's only major flaw, but one that is easily overlooked when so immersed in its positive glow. Whether it's an isolated adventure or just the tip of the iceberg remains to be seen, but either way the future is bright for Cynic. // 8
- Duncan Geddes aka duncang (c) 2011