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Cynic Kindly Give Us Kindly Bent to Free Us

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A lot’s been made of how the Cynic on Kindly Bent to Free Us isn’t a metal band anymore. But my initial gripe with Kindly Bent wasn’t that it wasn’t metal enough—after all, who was going to Focus for the harsh vocals and unhindered brutality in the first place?—but that it was lacking what Cynic 2.0’s always had in spades: big, catchy songs. In addition to being less metal, they come off a little less accessible now than they have been since they returned. And it can be hard to tell whether the band have lost their footing or if they’ve evolved further toward what a band like Cynic will eventually become. Thankfully, of course, it’s the latter, and Kindly Bent to Free Us, while lacking the immediacy of Traced in Air or the genre-defining/defying greatness of Focus, is first and foremost a Cynic record. And nothing’s changed, so that’s still a significant and wonderful thing.

By Cynic standards, Kindly Bent to Free Us is difficult. The songs feel longer and denser, thus obscuring the sugary Zen that the band have always been happy to supply. But it’s interesting to experience the band inside-out: instead of providing something blissfully immediate with complex machinations under it, Kindly Bent is all moving parts powered by the soul for which the band is known. For some guys other than Cynic, this could snap the backbone of the band and leave a pile of directionless pretension in its place. But being who they are, Kindly Bent to Free Us provides the same beauty and emotional heft as always, just from a slightly different angle.

That angle is a shamelessly proggy one, though. Not that Cynic have been a straightforward hard rock band up until now, but their dedication to instrumental prowess and odd time signatures is taken to a new level here. They also don’t sugarcoat anything. Much of Kindly Bent is slathered in psychedelic varnish, and the vocals—sadly not processed mostly through Vocoder (and that’s only partially sarcastic)—are often uncharacteristically low in the mix. The guitars and keyboards are relentlessly layered on top of eachother. It makes something like “Infinite Shapes” hard to wade through. But about 2/3 of the way through that song, a distant, wailing guitar solo grasps for your attention despite being buried behind all the other instruments. Unsurprisingly, it’s a fitting metaphor for what comes before and after it.

Cynic thrusting the prog into the red forces you to search through what they’re doing. In a way, that makes Kindly Bent to Free Us just as substantial and rewarding as anything else they’ve done. Your instinct’s to brush things aside and touch what’s familiar about the band, but you find what you’re brushing aside is just as compelling. There’s no shortage of slick, nimble lead work on Kindly Bent, but what’s more notable is the emotional heft of the solos themselves. The aforementioned one on “Infinite Shapes” and the infinitely harmonized leads that bring the band back into “Moon Heart Sun Head” after a well-placed lull are appropriately huge. Many other moments follow suit, swooping in at the right time to keep things moving. While it may initially sound like Cynic have finally gotten lost deep up their own asses, they’re still plotting to get things in motion eventually, having everything coalesce in the end in a way you never thought possible. (Dare I say, they’re not entirely unlike Larry David in that regard.)

Part of the brilliance of Traced in Air was the fact that, while the band sounded completely different than the one that made Focus, they were still fundamentally the same. It was as if Cynic had spent 15 years evolving over the course of 3 or 4 fictional records then dropped Traced in our laps. Kindly Bent to Free Us may be too radical a departure for some, and it may be the point where others are done with Cynic altogether. But what their latest sounds like is an evolutionarily-minded band continuing to move forward. This is just another chapter of Cynic, and if you spend even a little time with it, it’ll make just as much sense as the rest. Cynic weren’t around to give us the Kindly Bent to Free Uses that got them to be where they are now. Stick with them and their next unexpectedly progressive step will make sense. You’re getting to hear them in the present, though, and no one’s doing quite what Cynic does. Every step along the way is essential, and while it may not be as iconic as their first two albums, Kindly Bent to Free Us is nothing less than the band maintaining their excellent status quo.

Cynic’s Kindly Bent to Free Us comes out February 14 on Season of Mist. You can stream the title track here and pre-order the album here.

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