Cynic EP Carbon-Based Anatomy

If Carbon-Based Anatomy, the new EP from Cynic, is any indication, then the band’s 2008 reunion released, Traced in Air, was just the tip of the sword in terms of what we can expect from their future. While distinctly Cynical, Anatomy doesn’t really feel like anything the group has ever previously released; guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert sound somehow looser and more free than ever before, like a now-wholly autonomous artistic unit with no one to please but themselves. The results are mind bending and achingly gorgeous, if perhaps too brief to satiate the desires of Cynic devotees clamoring for new material.

Yes, it’s sad but true: Anatomy may be even shorter than most EPs. The release’s six tracks run slightly over twenty-three minutes, but, really, only about sixteen of those minutes are devoted to actual songs, ’cause three of ’em — “Amidst the Goals,” Bija,” and “Hieroglyph” — are really two-minute-plus interstitials. And while they’re certainly beautiful and atmospheric, it’s hard to imagine that many fans will be sitting around listening to them as individual pieces of music. It’s the other three cuts on Anatomy — the title track, “Box Up My Bones,” and the wonderfully named “Elves Beam Out” — that make up the real meat of the EP. And while all six pieces are presented without interruption, allowing them to be enjoyed as one big experience, that isn’t going to change the fact that most fans — well, me, at least — would probably have preferred to have even more Masvidal/Reinert goodness.

Of course, that very minor complaint certainly qualifies as a non-problem kinda problem, and is really a testament to the fact that these dudes are brilliant, and that the actual song-songs on Anatomy rank amongst the best work Cynic has ever released. As I was saying, Masvidal and Reinert sound looser than they ever have before. For one thing, there are no more death growls, and Masvidal has cut way back on the vocal effects he used on previous Cynic albums; as it was on last year’s Re-Traced (my review here), Masvidal’s unfiltered voice is stunning, and in 2011, it seems downright revolutionary to have a clean vocalist who doesn’t sound like he’s been Pro Tooled to death. And it still sounds like he’s exploring new vocal territory, to boot: parts of his performance on “Bones” are downright punkish, which somehow works despite the fact that the song is not the least bit punk. When a choir periodically joins him, the emotional effect is such that listeners might start to feel a little tight in the throat — I don’t mind admitting that I did.

But beyond just the vocals, the musicianship itself just feels more, well, limber. On both “Anatomy” and “Elves,” Masvidal’s guitar playing reaches a place that is, for lack of a better term, Gilmourian, and while I don’t know very much about his actual writing process, his solos feel very off-the-cuff in the best possible way, richly detailed and larger-than-life. And while it’s no secret that Reinert is a genius drummer, he positively explodes out of this EP; his playing is at once poetic and primal, smooth yet swinging, measured but driving, forceful but never overbearing. He’s one of the few drummers in rock music today who I could listen to all by himself for hours on end.

Really, I can’t think of anything bad to say about Carbon-Based Anatomy, other than, “There needs to be more of it.” But for now, we should consider any new Cynic music a gift — bands this special just don’t come along very often.

(4 outta 5 horns)


Cynic headline The Metal Suckfest in Manhattan on Saturday, November 5. Get more details here and tickets here.

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