Sound — 8
The last couple of years have brought some very big names in metal music back from the dead; we've seen the resurrections of, among others, Carcass, At The Gates and Immortal, and all these revivals have been topped off by a delicious sip of Dr. Pepper. However, going even further back than the origins of that debacle, you will come across 'Focus', the debut album of death metallers Cynic. The amount of influence they provided with just eight songs in early 90's Florida is testament to the quality of their music. Fifteen years on, having seen a reunion tour and a couple of new songs surface, we finally have their new album, 'Traced In Air'.
Cynic's classic blend of death metal, jazz fusion and C3PO impressions seemed to work, gaining them a massive cult status. Needless to say though, the 15 year gap preceding 'Traced In Air' means that things are a little different. First of all, this is not a death metal album in any way, shape or form. There are some occasional growls from new guitarist Tymon, but they're mostly buried under the clean vocals. Instead what we've got here is a progressive metal album, easy on the metal. Still lots of high-tempo riffs, lots of complex basslines and there's still Sean Reinert trying to play drum parts comprised entirely of fills, but the whole package has, dare I say it, matured. A top notch modern production does wonders on its own, with infinitely better tone to enhance the perfect balance of instruments they already found on 'Focus'. What I said about Sean Reinert is true though; for all his technical skill, his style of drumming is very dense, as not a beat goes by without him playing something to fill it up. Cynic's guitar riffs are generally built on straight 8th or 16th notes, but where a nice groove would work wonders, Reinert's always trying to match that and that makes some of the heavier sections of the album difficult to listen to at times.
Lyrics — 10
One thing I must say I didn't like about 'Focus' were the vocals, with Paul Masdival's vocoder abuse sending some of the music off into realms of unfathomable corniness. However, on 'Traced In Air', the vocoder effect is a lot lighter, and quite frankly the vocals are incredible. His voice is soft, smooth and elegant and fits perfectly with the rest of the band (see: the beginning of 'The Space For This'). It may be sacrilege for some technicality nerds to say that the vocal performance is the highlight when Sean Malone is on bass, Sean Reinert is on drums and, indeed, Masdival is on guitars, but these songs can't help but be thoroughly uplifted by their lyrics and their vocal parts. The lyrics themselves are also very evocative; plenty of nice rich imagery and cryptic meaning without delving into pretentiousness. Top drawer stuff here.
Overall Impression — 9
'Traced In Air' is a very impressive venture, one which sounds like Cynic, but at the same time sounds totally different; one that still uses the same conventions their debut did, but combines them in a more, ironically enough, focused way. Variety only really comes in the form of alternating between pretty clean chords and heavier riffing, but 'Traced In Air' doesn't outstay its welcome with its 35 minute duration. All in all, Cynic have returned with a fantastic album which is definitely a strong contender for album of the year.