CYNIC RETURN WITH ELEMENTAL POWER ON TRACED IN AIRIt has been 15 years since Cynic released their first and only full length, Focus, and it seems almost impossible that they could have known what a legend this debut would become. Though I was much too young to have had any awareness of it, I can only imagine what kind of heads were turned when this dropped onto the scene; here a group of Florida death metal youngsters had released a dazzlingly progressive and exploratory work that transcended genres and made every shredhead and blastbeater return to their bedrooms in shame to run more polyrhythm drills and practice those scales a few more times. Focus cemented their place in the heavy metal timeline. After blazing the trail for bands like Between the Buried and Me and Alarum to follow, they’ve finally returned with the long awaited follow-up that they always deserved to make: Traced in Air.

Do not believe for a moment that this is Focus: Reloaded. The distance between and years passed have allowed Cynic to approach their come-back maturely; instead of picking up where the story left off they’ve decided to start a new chapter, breathing new life into a long dead name in metal.

The album is immediately recognizable as Cynic, but even from the first listen it shows a refinement in it’s application. The line between the jazz-fusion auras and the nimble, technical metal that hallmarked their inimitable style has been blurred significantly. The music seems to breathe, exciting our lungs during its heaviest moments and then halting our exhale as it transitions into twinkling, starry atmospheres until suddenly the boundary is erased. The band’s two most distinctive elements had previously been wrestling in a heated love-affair and are now eloped in a startling symbiosis.

It is not quite an even union, however, as frontman Paul Masvidal invokes his oft criticized “robo-vocals” much more often than newcomer Tymon Kruidenier lets loose the death growl. The progression of technology has been a blessing though, as Masvidal’s human voice is much clearer through the modulation. Now instead of sounding like the malicious renegade A.I. of a 90’s B-movie, he sounds more or less the way he always should have, like a celestial presence. The added usage of these vocals during the quieter parts of the album enhances its emotional resonance substantially even as the lyrics deal with the esoteric.

The feel of this album, musically, could be described as Cynic embracing Prog with a capital P. The addition of lyrical and musical hooks and less linear progressions makes songs easy to follow and recognize later. At times, I’m more often reminded of Rush or Porcupine Tree while listening to this album than I am of Watchtower, Dream Theater or their ilk. The instrumental performances are still dazzling but the music shows enough restraint to indicate that every note was intentional. Bassist Sean Malone shows perhaps the greatest amount of self-control as he delivers a decidedly different performance from his up-front approach in Focus, stepping back to lock-in with the always-impressive Sean Reinert to make an unstoppable groove force.

Stylistically, Traced in Air has a much more holistic consciousness to it, with “Nunc Fluens” and “Nunc Stans” serving as song-length book ends to the album. If there is one track that marks the new coming of Cynic best however, it would be the penultimate “King of Those Who Know”: a track that shows all the development of this re-invigorated band but with a nod towards the sublime jazziness that influenced them so many years ago.

Never more to be known as a one album wonder, all the evidence in my headphones suggests that Cynic still have more to show us and every new song will be a daring journey through the stratosphere. Cynic have returned with an elemental power. They are defying gravity at every turn with music that seems lighter than air.

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(4.5 out of 5 horns)


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