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I heard about Cynic when I got into Atheist because I was looking for more jazz metal bands. And I started with this.
Traced in Air is a decent album. The musicality is all there. The drumming is progressive, clean, and on tempo. It beautifully weaves through the guitar parts that seem to be harmonizing with the painfully auto-tuned vocals. The bass lines are all there, the guitar work is impeccable. Production is awesome. The songwriting is interesting too. No song that I can recall follows a typical verse chorus solo format, so there's a lot of jazz arrangements.
What pisses me off about this album so much is how boring it is. All the songs just seem to blur together. When listening to it, the lack of rests and breaks in the music makes it seem like one elongated stream of jazzy lullabies with a growl or two sprinkled here and there. Paying attention to the album is just impossible. It literally makes me drowsy when I listen to it. And Cynic does it so well. They're so good and blending their instruments together, and making all the harmonies and melodies one. For some people that's good. This is an excellent album to play to help you relax, fall asleep, maybe even background music at a small gathering. But listening to it without the accompaniment of any other stimulation is almost like not doing anything at all.
Now despite what I said before, I have to credit Cynic for the albums second track 'The Space for This'. Unlike the other songs on this album, it contains a larger range of changing tempos and instrumental breaks. That song is my saving grace on this album.
So overall, I couldn't give this album anything more than a sixty-five because of how it took me three listens before I finally did it without falling asleep. But I also couldn't give it anything less because of the technical skill exhibited by Cynic. I look forward to seeing what else they do on their next album.
Back in 1994, progressive metal band Cynic disbanded, leaving a string of demos and a debut which has since gone on to be considered a classic of the genre. Suffice to say, with the band members moving onto different projects, in seemed as if this band would go down in history as being a one-album wonder; the sort of act that metalheads could speculate over for years, wondering what other great albums could have come to fruition, had the band simply stayed together. A good twelve years pass, and it is announced finally that these pioneers of 'jazz metal' have decided to get back together, and another two after that before this, their second album would hit shelves worldwide. Although fans would have every right to worry whether or not the follow-up to their beloved 'Focus' would be worth the wait, Cynic's comeback effort 'Traced In Air' not only matches the intensity and intelligence of 'Focus', but rather triumphs over it, creating a record that would be otherwise perfect, were it not for its somewhat disappointing brevity.
Back are the technical riffs, ethereal atmospherics, jazz inflections and distinct 'robot' vocals that made 'Focus' such a unique organism back in the day. However, with plenty of time now for each musician to develop a more distinct sound for the band, 'Traced In Air' does feel like the album the band was meant to make. Technically vicious, progressive, and- surprisingly enough for a band labelled as death metal- some beautifully done melodies. Although there's no question while listening to any song on 'Traced' that it is well-fitting of the technical and progressive labels, project mastermind Paul Masvidal has a very melodic side to his music here that really props the act onto another level entirely. While each composition is tightly arranged and sharply delivered with solos, scales and all, there is the sense that beyond the metal madness are pieces of songwriting that could easily be transposed into heartfelt pop songs. Have no fear though; while the melodies are memorable and even 'catchy', there's nothing but complexity and depth to the instrumentation and arrangement of this album.
Something that is sure to be a divisive point among fans will continue to be Masvidal's signature harmonized vocorder vocal work. While comparisons have been made to that of a 'robot' or even as far as being labelled as blatant auto-tune, Paul makes it clear in the more subdued moments of the record that his voice is emotive and sharp regardless of any technologies. The use of a harmonizer in his voicework stands as a creative decision, and considering the rather spacey feel of the album, it does work well. Although the band has been called 'death metal' quite often in part due to the band's intermittent use of growls in the past, it is mostly clean singing here, which is quite a bit better done than the somewhat sparse growls of Tymon Kruidenier on the album, which feel at times quite out of place in the album.
In terms of musicianship, there's no surprise here; great performances from these legends, as well as some incredible guitar riffs and solos. Sean Reinert's drumwork does not feel as if it is done a complete justice however; some of Reinert's best moments here are during the jazzier sections, but it is a bit difficult to make out the details sometimes under the constant psychedelic effects and guitar-driven nature of the album.
A highly philosophic and intelligent metal album that could even be said to weave its way into the spiritual realm, there is no doubt that 'Traced In Air' is among the best metal albums released in its decade, although it will certainly be panned by the most 'true' metalheads wanting nothing more from this band than growls and 'evil' riffs. The only thing that keeps the album from being truly perfect is that it always ends far sooner than I would like it to. At only over the half hour mark, it almost always feels like a journey that could have done with at least another ten minutes of the same quality added onto it, considering the fourteen year wait. However, brief as it may be, Cynic has released another classic with 'Traced In Air'; this will be an album that will be listened to by metalheads decades from now, mark my words.
Back in 1993, Cynic released their debut masterpiece entitled Focus. This release was a landmark release in the world of metal, as there had previously been no bands that had attempted a similar style. However, due to various problems, the band split up in 1994 and went on with a variety of other projects.
12 years later however, the band reunited to play a number of shows. Although not in the original intentions of the band members, many fans were wondering to themselves, "Are Cynic going to release a new album, or is this it?". However, these uncertainties were soon laid to rest when the band announced that they were going to release a new album, and in 2008(15 years on from their first album), Cynic's second album Traced in Air came to light.
While not as metal orientated as their previous release, this album is without a doubt worth every year that we have had to wait for it. For me personally, there's not a single track that I entirely dislike, which is not very common for many of the albums that I listen to these days.
The opening track Nunc Fluens, is a great opener. I wouldn't go as far to catagorise this as a proper song off the album, but rather as a big build up towards the real opening track, "The Space for This". At the end of Nunc Fluens, there is a massive surge from all the layers of sound, building up into what is expected to be extremely loud and grand. However, most listeners(like myself) are then shocked by the soothing clean guitar chord that follows. Paul's opening lines on this song really set the atmospheric mood of the first minute or so. The song then picks up into some loud technical guitarwork that is accompanied by the Bass and Drums respectively.
Next up is Evolutionary Sleeper. This one also opens up with a clean guitar chord, before Tymon's whispers build up into a nice growl, which is then joined by the other layers of sound. On this track, Paul really shows us the beauty of his vocals in the third verse when he really pours some emotion into the high notes, just before quietening down and softly singing the last two lines of the verse. Towards the end of this song contains one of my favourite solos on the album, which fits in well with the slowing down tempo of the fourth verse.
The next song, Integral Birth, is probably one of, if not the biggest highlights of this album. The song begins with the drumming master Sean Reinert playing a nice tom-orientated fill on his drum kit, before the song launches into a nice guitar melody with a rhythm that might even get your head banging a bit. The first lines of the song are nicely done, with Paul's voice being accompanied by the fill-style drumming, before being joined by the harmony playing of the two guitars. The chorus features some more growl parts done by Tymon, who really gives the song an extra push in the right direction. After the second chorus, there is a nice solo that fits in well with the atmosphere of the music. What then follows is one of the vocal highlights of the album, where Paul sings using his natural voice over a quiet clean guitar melody. What follows is probably the most amazing solo of the album, which has one of the most climatic high notes that really sets the tone for the last chorus of the song. The song slowly fades out and the drums begin to pick up quietly into the next track.
The Unknown Guest was probably the weakest track on this album for me, even though it was still good. The song begins with a nice crescendo into the first vocal line. The main thing about this song that I didn't find too appealing were these "chanting" sections that were scattered throughout the song. Although it sometimes made an interesting addition, there were just points in the song where I felt as though that the placement of these chants were not very worthwhile at all. I even thought that at times that it kind of killed the mood of the song. However, the rest of the parts really makes up for this poor aspect.
The song that follows, Adam's Murmur, is probably the best display of technical riffing on this album. The vocal and guitar parts immediately put the song into 1st gear, before Tymon's growl accompanies the addition of the rest of the layers of sound. The clean guitar sections scattered throughout this song really fit in well with the other instruments, especially in those sections just prior to the chorus. After each chorus we are treated to some nice double bass drumming, curtesy or Mr Reinert, in conjunction with some nice guitar and bass melodies.
Next up, King of Those Who Know. This song was probably my other most favourite track from this album. It starts off with a very exquisite clean guitar melody, that is accompanied with some very distant(female?) vocals. The mood of the song is then completely changed, as a roaring distorted guitar is brought into the mix, with the other sound layers gradually joining in. The chorus features one of the most beautiful guitar melodies contained in the album. After the end of the second chorus, we are treated to yet another guitar solo, although this one isn't one of my favoured from this album, it definitely fits the changing mood of the song. After the solo, there is some weird robotically spoken vocals, very likened to the words heard at the start of Nunc Fluens. After the next chorus comes the greatest display of Paul's vocal capability, with his pitch soaring high into the musical atmosphere, before being followed by one of the most emotionally cheery guitar solos I have ever heard. The song then ends with a soothing clean guitar melody, ending with an absolutely stunning ringing chord.
The last song on the album, Nunc Stans, is basically just a nice soothing outro to the album in my opinion, as there is an absence (for the most part) of technical guitar riffing and drumming. Although the song structure does not quite live up to the standard of the other tracks on the album, it is a really fitting piece of music to finish with.
Although that Traced in Air was released a whopping 15 years after its legendary predecessor, there is without a doubt in my mind that this is yet another masterfully executed piece of music by the guys from Cynic. Although it may not be as metal orientated as Focus, and include frequently less use of the more harsher vocals, the band have really outdone themselves in setting the moods of songs by using a combination of guitar effects, excellent drumming, a smooth bass line and some very soothing vocals. If anyone is considering giving this album a try (metal fan or not), I guarantee that there are plenty of very enjoyable aspects of this album for everyone. It may take some time for some first-timers to this band to get over Paul Masvidal's use of the vocoder vocals, but once you truly appreciate them, your mind will be put at ease and allow you to indulge in the musical masterpiece that is Traced in Air.
They've long been one of the most revered bands in the US death metal underground for the forward thinking, progressive edge of their debut Focus. Now, 15 years have passed and the band has returned with a glorious second effort, having hardly skipped a beat in all that time. If anything, Traced in Air is superior to Focus because it's even more aware of its nuances, and never fails to impress.
"Nunc Fluens" begins with a fusion of world percussion and abstract, discordant guitar feedback before the bass picks up, and the subtle guitars and vocal swells. This entire tune really feels like an intro, and you almost expect them to rage out on the second track. Alas, it is not the case, "The Space for This" begins with beautiful acoustics and catchy clean vocals until it finally lets loose with a barrage of familiar Cynic progressive speed picking hysteria. "Evolutionary Sleeper" has a similar tone to it, with acoustics alternating into catchy melodic vocals. "Integral Birth" is one of my favorite tracks for its winding tempo and infectious vocals and thoughtful lyrics:
'From the void, I am born into wave and particle
In the uncreative eye, emerging oracle
A million doves, orbit round the Earth with tears of blood
Slay the dragon, take Integral Birth'
Also you get to hear a few brief death growls here, which could only make me smile as I realize the band is not here to sacrifice its past but to evolve upon it. "The Unknown Guest" and "Adam's Murmur" are likewise excellent, with a similar concoction. "King of Those Who Know" begins with some spacious jazz acoustics and then the beautiful "Nunc Stans" leaves us with an almost Sigur Ros, post-rock grace.
It should be noted that this album has the spectacular ability to grow on one the more times you listen. I know my first few times through it I was only mildly impressed, writing it off as 'well, that's Cynic for you'. It's not until recent months that I've been able to admit to myself that this in fact the likely candidate for progressive metal album of the year and that it honestly blows away their classic Focus. Give it a chance, give it ten chances if you must. It will capture you eventually.
Writing a review for Cynic's Traced in Air is a rather difficult task for me. On one hand, I can write a very concise review, divulging what I like and didn't like about the album, what this album is and isn't, and why you should or shouldn't purchase it. On the other hand, Cynic's Traced in Air illuminates to me just what music truly is a lot of times; illogical. Music isn't something to be described with words, but something to be experienced by an individual. To write a review about this album requires me to force logic out of the sub-conscious and instinctive areas of my mind. Even if I do, I'm sure it won't be exactly understood why I truly enjoy Traced in Air. My conclusion to this review, which I'm deliberately putting at the beginning, is to ask each and every one of your reading this review to just give this album a chance. Hell, I'm not even going to ask you to go into it with an open mind, just listen to it because you may find the golden gem I've found while listening to this album.
When Focus was released, I wasn't even 1 years old. However, the innovation of Focus still stands boldly over other metal albums released. Just listening to its first track, Veil of Maya, you could point out plenty of obscurities that still aren't normally seen in the extreme metal genre. But that is Focus, and it truly stands on its own. Though Traced in Air is looked at as a progression from Focus, in many ways it's a completely different animal. This can be revealed in the cover art of the two albums. The cover of Focus seems intentionally obfuscating, with some weird creature (alien-looking-thing) positioned in the middle while the rest is just abstract. From a geometric standpoint, Traced in Air is an updated version of the Focus album, but the drawing is way less abstract, creating a different aesthetic than the Focus cover art. There's an angel-like person that is staring down at a reflection of itself in water, positioned in the middle (right where the alien would be on the Focus cover). It's as if Cynic is trying to tell us that it's the same band, held in the same boundaries, but is just wearing new cloths.
Therefore, do not expect a repeat of Focus, for this album is not that at all. In fact, it's arguable that this album is more of a progressive rock album than a metal album, but don’t be dismissing Traced in Air by its genre, because that would be dismissing it for wrong reasons. This album is beautiful, no matter what it is. If one were to once again look at the cover of Traced in Air, a heavy foreshadow of what this album is would be revealed. The angel looking at itself depicts the lyrical theme that Cynic explores; gazing into your mind and understand what you don't understand about yourself. The Space for This, for example, is a song about finding the individual space for ideas or an individual to exist, while lyrics for Adams Murmur can be seen as a description to understand yourself as a whole.
While individuality is an idea that has played a huge role in both poetry and music, from Robert Frosts “The Road Not Taken” to Iron Maiden’s “The Prisoner”, Cynic explores individuality from a more introverted standpoint. It’s not about extroverting yourself and saying “Fuck you society!”, but about understanding yourself and becoming comfortable with who and what you are. Eastern culture philosophy can be observed as a huge influence for Cynic’s lyrics. It is already well known that Paul Masvidal has been heavily into Buddhist teachings for a long time now, so it seems only appropriate that this part of his personal life would become a large influence for his music. The chorus for “The Space for This”, for example, is a mantra to give one metaphysical space. In certain Buddhist practices, mantras will be used to put yourself in a certain state of consciousness. Both titles “Nunc Stans” and “Nunc Fluens” deal with eastern mysticism. Allusions and concepts that are derived from Eastern culture is seen throughout this entire album, and really build the structure of this album.
Paul Masvidal does a great job with his voice. Once again, he uses to vocoder like he did on Focus. However, Paul seems to understand the place of his voice a bit better than he did on Focus, and for that reason his voice a bit more of a dominate feature on this album. It’s non threatening, and approaches listeners with open arms. The vocoder gives him a falsetto voice, but if you’ve heard nothing of Cynic don’t get the idea that it’s a power metal sound. His voice, in fact, calms you way down.
The combination of both jazz and metal (arguably rock for some people, I guess) is perfect in this album. There’s no sudden jazz interludes that take the listener off guard, and nor are the heavy parts so heavy that they stick out above the jazz parts. Cynic mixed this album well so that both could work well together, and unlike Focus it seems a bit better executed.
Sean Reinert really takes the cake for the overall musical performance. His drumming isn’t inconsistent, but also doesn’t repeat patterns too often. His drumming works well with the other musicians, but also seems to bring forward some individual ideas of its own, adding a more rhythmically moved album than a lot of other metal albums.
I had recently heard of Cynic, maybe 5 months before the release of "Traced In Air" was announced. I loved "Focus" and was delighted to hear of a new release. So naturally, I was very surprised at first to see that many reviewers stated that "Traced in Air" was not the heaviest of albums. When I finally bought myself a copy, I discovered that the reviews were right, and that, In fact, it's pretty far from metal. While "Focus" was an old-school death metal album with progressive rock influences, "Traced in Air" is almost entirely a progressive album with some metal influences. 15 has made a large change; while Cynic has technically "progressed", their style of music has changed so that the progression they underwent was not beneficial. I know I'm not supposed to expect experimental and progressive bands to stay the same as they were on their previous albums, and even if I may not like a change, I can appreciate it. But what I can't appreciate is a so-called progression that affects the band for the worse. What I'm trying to say is that during this switch, this progression, Cynic have become boring. The songs and riffs are no longer as interesting as they were on Focus, and much of the album is samey and repetitive.
The main cause of this ennui is the change, for the worse, in Cynic's songwriting skill. The songs on "Traced in Air" just aren't nearly as well written as those on "Focus". Songs like "Integral Birth" and "Adam's Murmur" are the best tracks on here, but they're still reminiscent only of the worse tracks on "Focus". The riffs and atmospheres are simply less creative than they were last album: the guitarwork is more simple, less innovative, less technical, less catchy, and on the whole, less impressive. In all truth, Cynic does not need two guitarists any more. The skills of the bassist, both in the studio and live, provide plenty of backing for Paul to play, solo, and sing over. "Focus" needed both guitarists, but "Traced in Air" is not musically demanding enough of an album to require two guitarists. On this album, Tymon is essentially useless as a backup vocalist (rare growls) and guitarist (provides rhythm in one or two select places in the album). In fact, many of the songs on "Traced in Air" make keyboards more prominent than guitars, which definitely takes away from Paul's and Tymon's playing. A large amount of the material on this album also sinks into a mess of keyboard and synth fuzz - the keyboards make or break songs on "Traced in Air", and because they have such an increased presence here, they break rather than make a lot of songs. Actually, the mere presence of keyboards makes or breaks songs. The keys either provide an intro that brings the whole mood of the song together, or drag on for too long and ruin songs. Unfortunately, this dragging on happens more than it should, and even the intro keys aren't perfect - compare the very similar intros of "Evolutionary Sleeper" and "King of Those Who Know". Then, listen to the keyboards in the introduction of the older song "How Could I?". That's how Cynic should have done it here, but no, they didn't.
The vocals further increase the prominence of this album's boredom-causing feel. Instead of Tymon's death growls being prominent, Paul Masvidal has taken over the main role as lead vocalist. Paul does have a good voice, but his vocal style is wearing and adds to the monotony of the album. Paul's vocal style remains remarkably the same throughout the whole album, which is not unusual, but Paul's clean vocals are the main focus of the album. Cynic seems to have, unfortunately, taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in the fact that their vocalist can sing. The vocals should be variable and intelligent, but instead, they are repetitive and often annoying. Paul's vocals, even though he has a good range, get tiring over the course of the album. Rather than have him singing throughout the entire thing, Tymon could have been brought to the front of the mix and given more prominence. There are many parts on this album where you think, Why wasn't there a death growl right there? But no, Cynic decided that it would be a better idea to fill that empty space with another of Paul's croons. This makes the album feel incredibly repetitive; hearing Paul softly croon each song title throughout each song is just not very fun. More variety in clean vocals would also be welcomed. They did it 15 years ago, why not now?
Fortunately, the rhythm section of the band holds up very well despite these previous flaws. Six-string jazz-influenced bass hooks draw in the listener and keep them drawn in, providing a solid background during the drum/vocal sections of the album. Unfortunately, the bass is mixed far lower than it was on "Focus" and should have been much more audible. Sean Reifert's drumming is also excellent on this album; it really holds "Traced In Air" together. Tom-tom fills fuel songs forward under aforementioned crooning while standard fills build structure and progressions throughout the album. Sean's drumming has no problems; he holds the band together. Blast beats are rare, but this lacking works in the case of "Traced In Air" seeing as the rest of it is so, so mellow. Now, I'm all for mellow, but the transformation Cynic underwent from "Focus" to "Traced in Air" is, in my opinion, simply intolerable.
The main problem is NOT that Cynic is no longer metal, as I claimed in the first draft of this review. This is indeed true - the metal influences leak through, but seeing as the whole of the album is comprised of airy interludes and Paul's croons, it's far closer to soft rock than it is even to Dream Theater. However, more important is the fact that Cynic is no longer an interesting band, at least on this album. Sure, "Traced" has its moments, but not too many of them. "Traced in Air" is simply not like "Focus" at all. And after 15 years, we expected something better than this monotonous key-fest.
I'm gonna keep this review as short as possible because there's really not much to be said.
I was constantly being harassed by fanboys and guitar wankers alike about this Cynic album. So, being the open minded man I am, I gave it a go with a mind set this album was going to be amazing.
My first impression is the same as the impression I got 5 listens later. It still sucks. This album is extremely over-hyped. What people see in this, I don't know, but this record is bland and extremely boring.
The vocals are abrasive as all hell. This guy filtered his vocals through about forty thousand synthesizers, machines and other programs that make his vox sound like a god damn robot. Sorry. This 'trend' has never been cool. And by trend I mean the one hit wonder pussies on the radio who do that R&B garbage. Admittedly, he isn't as annoying because his vocals are entirely robotic rather than having that 'twang' the R&B pussies have, but they still suck. His vocals are so airy and lifeless it's really hard to stand this shit by the 4th track let alone the whole album. Sometimes he likes to ditch the filters and do a second or two half-assed growl or scream and it really brings the song down. It doesn't work. Please, shut the fuck up.
It's no doubt the other band mates are talented, but they play so LIFELESS and BORING it's hard to get through this without wanting to turn on something with actual flow and rhythm. This album contains so many pointless tempo changes and melodic breaks that it makes me want to vomit. It's too soft to be any kind of metal. I don't know what these guys were thinking. They were all really bored when they recorded this or something 'cause even Waking the Cadaver plays with more energy. And I fucking despise them.
Don't get me wrong, it has nothing to do with the fact it's not a loud metal album. I listen to ambient trance which is just atmospheric sounds so I can handle music with very little going on, but the reason this album is so bad is because I'm expecting them to play with energy, but they're not. It's like every drum hit and so forth wants to be energizing, but it just can't.
As I said, the interest this album garners goes way over my head and I'm sitting here dazed and confused as to why people like this. I mean, the solos are good because solos sound good relaxed (kind of like classic rock), but the rest of the album is just boring. Every song sounds like a filler track containing a percussive section where they stop playing guitar. Not a single song on here stands out. That shit gets old quick.
The atmosphere sounds cool on paper, but either a) in practicality it's balls or b) you executed it poorly. Sorry.
Avoid this unless you're a die-hard Cynic fan.
When true metal fans hear the word Cynic what comes to mind? For most of us myself included their first full length album "Focus" immediately comes to mind and with good reason. It is one of the most unique albums in the history of metal. It combined jazzy bass lines, technical riffing, solid drumming, excellent vocal variations, and just the right amount of atmosphere. Then after that Cynic basically dropped off of the face of the earth. Until 2008 when they released their second full length "Traced in Air” Would they be able to duplicate the phenomenal Focus?
Well I will be blunt. It failed to meet those expectations. It did so only on a couple areas which I will discuss later. I would first like to begin by highlighting the attributes of this album.
First off I enjoy the use of keyboards to provide an uplifting atmosphere for the most part. It is one of those albums that you could just sit back and enjoy it on a clear day or enjoy some brew which makes it a pleasure to spin.
The second attribute of this album is the bass. As on Focus the bass lines still maintain that jazz element to them. This provides the album with what makes Cynic stand out among other bands in this genre and that is the element of jazz fusion into their style.
The third attribute to this album is the rest of the instrumentation. These albums provide riffs that flow very nicely and are some of the more memorable riffs from albums released in 2008. For example, listen to the main riffs of "Integral Birth" and "Adam's Murmur" and you will understand what I mean. I also find the drumming to have the same style of follow on Focus where it provides a nice flow and drives the songs.
Now onto the detriment; I have one problem with this album which made it very difficult for me to enjoy this album when I first listened to it. The vocals are aided in some areas with electronics and sometimes they sound as if you are unable to tell whether it is a male or female singing them. With this high electronic sounding vocals I had to listen to the album a good few times before I was able to appreciate what it had to offer.
The review I've given to Cynic's Traced in Air shows that there is room for improvement and growth. Both in the sense that if Cynic releases another album they can work on what some consider to be detrimental to them and in the other sense that if I for one listen to this album more it may grow on me more than it has already. All I can say for now is that I definitely do have the space for this.
Cynic is one of these bands that are favored amongst those who hold originality as the principle determinate of musical quality. Credit should be given where credit is due, as their debut full length album “Focus” did shake up the death metal style quite a bit and had some really classic songs, despite now having a pretty overblown legend attached to it. But one of the prerequisites for an album being a solid metal album is for it to actually be in the metal genre, and this properly titled, 15 years later follow up “Traced In Air” is about as heavy as the air itself.
With the exception of holding over some ideas from “Focus” in terms of thematic material and some of the progressive sounding keyboard/vocal effects, this is a pretty original album. But the key ingredient of hard hitting death metal riffs and guttural vocals are mostly absent. They are replaced by a lightweight guitar distortion kicking out passable yet flat sounding grooves that bear more similarity to Spock’s Beard or maybe the last couple of Fates Warning albums, but with an additional helping of technicality that sounds mildly similar to melodic death bands such as Arsis, and with minimal sense of organization.
Due to the overwhelming jazz and avant-garde elements at play here, the album displays this odd duality of coasting while simultaneously being all over the place. In some cases everything gets stuck in a jazz ballad groove and just plods for several minutes, in others things are overly chaotic stylistically and lose the attention span of the listener. The ballad sections that basically pop in and out of most of the latter style of song clash heavily with the rocking sections and are also way too short to establish any other real purpose besides being for show. The harder sections will often meander and leave just as quickly, presenting a really jagged character to several of these songs.
There’s just not really enough to grab onto to make any of these songs memorable, though the recurring characteristics of mechanized vocal effects and stylistic tension is pretty easy to recall after a single listening. “The Space For This” is a fairly consistent progressive song with a lot of commonalities to 90s Dream Theater, minus the robotic vocals and half-hearted growled vocals. “King For Those Who Know” also has some really solid chaotic moments towards the center of its duration that definitely throw the ears for a loop. But otherwise, most of this just sounds too close to either modern melodeath or a jazzier variant on Opeth with techno effects to really appeal to most non-prog rock metal fans and older death metal enthusiasts who might have gone for “Focus“.
At the end of the day, the lack of metal isn’t the biggest problem this has, but a general lack of cohesive songwriting and stylistic consistency. Too many ideas go in and out too quickly, there’s too much lightweight balladry, and the drums seem to drive the songs more than the guitars do. This might appeal to some fans of older progressive rock, but the overused vocal effects will probably turn off most in that field as well. It’s tough to know exactly what Cynic was going for here, but it definitely wasn’t creating a successor to “Focus”, because this barely resembles that album in any way, shape, or form.
Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 20, 2009.
On "Focus," Cynic forged the kind of speed/death metal found on the first Atheist album with positive-thinking progressive rock and made a unique testament to death metal. On "Traced in Air," the band are outsiders looking at their first success and trying to emulate it by overplaying their technique and aesthetics, but ignoring the songwriting that made the first album memorable.
Songs here do not transit a topographic landscape where change occurs as a story is told, as they did on the first album. Instead, they are roughly binary, with great variation within each half of the "music for its own sake" type, meaning they found some interesting relationships between notes and explore them, but because the parts are disconnected the song goes nowhere. The first half of the binary is a contemplative and quieter theme, used in the introduction and to delay the return to the second half; that portion is a more active interplay between drums and guitar that approximates open-jam jazz that drops into metal riffs, reminiscent of a more literate Candiria.
Each piece begins with its introduction, then goes into its second half -- in which great variation and no consistency occurs, giving it the feel of a collage -- then returns to its earlier theme and, as if playing through its "head" or main theme in jazz, recapitulates what has happened so far before trailing out into a sketch of the second binary half. In these halves, riffs are extensively borrowed from progressive rock and jazz fusion and cycle several times before the band drops into a thunderous metal riff offhandedly, briefly, before returning to familiar territory.
The percussion that accented so brilliantly on the first album is now excessively overplayed, with Sean Reinert attempting to hit every drum as many times as possible with as many layers of syncopation, seemingly divorced from any effect the guitars can have; guitars on the other hand emphasize free riffing and then underscore it with chorded rhythm playing. Instruments and voice support these, but like the motley of a beggar's coat, are not picked with any intention toward the unique expression of a piece, but are borrowed at random to make sure too much is going on at any minute.
The result expresses confusion, disorder and then immediately harmony, but never tells a tale or creates a unique song shape the way songs on the first album did. As a result, this album is a collision between a disorganized metal album and disordered jazz fusion, and is then overplayed to make us feel like we're getting more for our money, but after the disc winds down, the only feeling is a prevailing emptiness and a sense of discarded plastic heaped in the shape of a peace symbol.
After reading some of the reviews of this album across the Internet, you might get the idea that Cynic have turned into some kind of emo collective vice a band that ever had anything to do with metal. That's certainly the impression that I had before the album finally arrived at my door. I was actually sort of reluctant to listen to it for the first time in fear of how utterly shitty it would be. However, after having actually listened, I can only assume that such sentiments were sourced from extreme skepticism and/or pessimism towards the band's ability (or inability) to faithfully follow up on their moderately overstated debut, as opposed to any kind of objective reality. I mean, While it isn't really a note for note reiteration of Focus, Traced in Air sounds like - for better or worse - exactly what I would have expected a second Cynic album to sound like.
On one hand, you have just about everything in this album that solidified Cynic as a "unique" metal band back in 1993. The robotic vocals, unorthodox compositions, strange guitar solos, melodic bass presence, organic drumming, overly spiritual lyricism, excruciatingly detailed cover art, and so forth. Even the running time is about as pathetically short as that of their first album, Focus. The simple catch is that the degrees of emphasis that the band has placed on these elements have changed somewhat. Primarily, the guitars are focused on melody over riffing, and the vocals are now almost entirely sung in that clean, processed voice - the rasps are still there, but they sort of just meld into the music and fade away to the point of being barely noticeable. The production is modern and clean, which as far as I'm concerned can only benefit a band when the musical focus is atmosphere and technical intricacy.
On the other hand, if you were never really partial to the idea that Cynic were a metal band to begin with, this album will do nothing whatsoever to convince you otherwise. On the contrary, it will probably just prove your point for you and nail the coffin shut. Purists might as well not even bother, because if anything, Traced in Air is some kind of avant-prog rock album with metal influences - and honestly, anybody who was surprised by this development has likely not heard a single thing that the original Cynic members have done over the last 15 years (i.e. Portal, Aeon Spoke, Gordian Knot, solo albums, guest appearances, interviews, et al). The writing has been on the wall for a long time.
All of that said, it's a little hard to make a final determination as to which album is actually "better". Focus has several things going for it - for one, it has the advantage of being truly unique. Before Focus, nobody (as far as I know) was making music like that. After Focus, enough copycat and tribute bands spawned to turn a thing of relative obscurity into a popular commodity, relatively speaking. As a result, Traced in Air isn't really as impactful today as Focus was yesterday. Although, thankfully, when you're the one that started something and set the bar as high as Cynic did, you can still usually do it better than all the people who have since copied you, which Cynic have done - so I'll give them credit for taking a worn out sound and infusing it with life. Second, there is a significant difference in terms of musical divergence. On Focus, Cynic's music was split between the metallic, the limber and organic, and the spiritual. No greater examples exist for me than the songs Uroboric Forms, Textures, and Sentiment, respectively. These songs were, and still are, monolithic and peerless. Traced in Air doesn't have anything like those songs. There's nothing on the album that mimics the power and drive of Uroboric Forms; nothing that brings to mind the supreme intricacies of Textures; and nothing that presents the absolute grandeur of Sentiment. There are no extremities on Traced in Air. There is nothing that made me say "Holy crap!" the way that Focus did. Instead, Cynic seems to have found some kind of happy middle ground where all musical elements are content to simply intertwine and sit... and sit... and sit... until the final moments of the album fade away. Lastly, for whatever reason, the bass is nowhere near as prominent on Traced in Air as it was on Focus - this can only be a bad thing, as Sean Malone has an uncanny ear for melody and rhythm and listening to his interactions with drummer Sean Reinert has always been a highlight for me on any recording where they play together.
What does Traced in Air have going for it? Primarily nostalgia, I guess. Massive amounts of long-time fans are probably so elated at the very existence of a second Cynic album that any obvious shortcomings end up swept under the rug. The cleaner production also makes Sean Reinert's drums sound that much more impactful and his cymbals that much livelier, which is awesome, because I've been an unwavering Sean Reinert fanboy ever since I first heard the song Textures. Traced in Air also has the advantage of surpassing just about every other band that has tried the amalgamation of technical metal and jazz-like freestyle adventurism in Cynic's absence.
In the end, I can't say that I was surprised by much of anything on this album. I've long had a vision of what a second Cynic album would sound like - molded by my own desires and by the sounds of various member side projects - and Traced in Air is pretty much it. It's Cynic, man - without a doubt. It isn't as glorious as past efforts, but it's Cynic. Traced in Air is a natural progression, and it should have been obvious to anybody that's capable of reading between the lines.
Death metal aficionados instantly recognize the name Cynic and for good reason; their band’s 1993 masterwork, Focus, took the fledging genre to new heights. By incorporating a dizzying range of influences with a unique and controversial vocal technique, Focus shattered listener’s expectations of what to expect from not only metal, but music in general. Unfortunately, shortly after Focus’ release the group disbanded. However, this did not dampen the growing popularity of the band within the metal scene. Focus became a record iconic of progressive death metal and few groups are as universally praised. Cynic’s dedicated fan base never stopped clamoring for a reunion and in 2007 their prayers were answered. Founding members Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinhart resurrected Cynic and played several European music festivals eliciting a massive response. Inspired by this reaction, new material was composed and in 2008 the band released their second album in 15 years, Traced in Air.
First and foremost, it is paramount to understand that Traced in Air is in no way, shape, or form a death metal record. Focus hardly qualified for the label in the first place and Cynic’s new record has more in common with Enya than Deicide. Gone are the pounding blast beats and razor sharp riffing of songs like “Uroboric Forms” and “Celestial Voyage”. Also noticeably absent are the majority of the harsh, raspy vocals. The album plays like a progressive jazz fusion band’s foray into technical death metal, rather than the other way around.
The introduction to Traced in Air is “Nunc Fluens”. The song starts with a swirling vortex of feedback and tribal drumming that gradually reaches an immense crescendo. The atmosphere created is intoxicating and emblematic of what’s to come; the use of ambient sounds is a recurring theme on Traced in Air. The guitar wizardry is by no means lacking however. What most would call a solo is employed as a riff and the solos… well you’ll just have to hear those. The actual riffing is tasteful and wonderfully catchy. Cynic avoids the sonic pitfalls of overly indulgent guitar wankery that seems to plague the modern metal scene. Instead, Masvidal and new guitarist Tymon Kruidenier stimulate the mind with both technical and simplistic passages that intertwine flawlessly. The transition riffs in “The Space for This” and the entirety of “The Unknown Guest” are great examples of the band’s songwriting maturity.
Sean Reinhart is a legend in progressive music circles and Traced in Air is the latest vehicle through which his reputation is upheld. Quirky, cymbal heavy fills and intricate meter changes litter the dense soundscape. This, along with the tribal rhythms and booming tom rolls that Reinhart is often called upon to play, gives extra depth to the already massively complex songs. Sean Malone’s bass playing is also outstanding. It not only serves to accent key melodic motifs, but also performs as a rhythmic anchor for the constantly evolving riffage.
One of the most recognizable features of Cynic’s sound was the extensive use of a mechanical vocoder instead of tradition clean singing. The new album continues in this tradition, but instead of a robotic voice, the tone is more fleshed out and expressive. With the first few listens, Masvidal’s voice effects sound similar to the same used by mainstream rap artists (think T - Pain). Naturally the change is a bit offsetting at first, but thankfully the near perfect instrumental elements dominate the initial few listens. By the time you begin to pay more attention to the man voicing Traced in Air’s esoteric, introspective lyrics, the new vocals are a comfortable fit.
When you look back at bands that make new albums after spending years in hibernation, the good to bad ratio is woefully negative. Dissection could have done without Reinkaos and Chinese Democracy should have stayed a pipe dream, but Traced in Air is the exception to an otherwise depressing rule. Every track on this album is fantastic and each has many memorable passages that keep you coming back for more. Traced in Air has become my favorite album of 2008 and I cannot recommend it enough.
I'm not sure how anyone could rate this album under 80% if they were any sort of fan of Focus. First of all, the only difference between the two albums would be the better production and wider dynamic range found on Traced in Air. Second, the lack of "balls" as some would put it (less growls found in the vocals, more clean sections in the instruments, primarily) shouldn't come as a surprise to Cynic fans. In the early 90's, bands were constantly trying to out-do each other in terms of brutality, speed, and darkness. Does Focus sound like an attempt to surpass the Morbid Angel, Vital Remains, and Cannibal Corpse albums of that era? Basically what this means is that Cynic had (and has) artistic visions beyond your average metal band. They don't try to impress metal heads with one dimensional songs, but rather force listeners to appreciate the different textures each member produces with their given instrument. For a brutal approach to Cynic's members, look no further than the album Human by Death, and stop expecting this style to be their only passion.
Traced in Air continues paving the path that Cynic set out to create, with more surprises and creativity than I imagined. There isn't one track that outshines another because each song offers something different and unique in its own way. Overall, the musicianship is phenomenal, yet it never takes focus from the band's compositional talent, which is easily the highlight of this album.
Each member gives a flawless performance, and I'm particularly impressed with Tymon's performance as the death voice of this album as opposed to finding a guest vocalist with no relevance to the band. No need to discuss the remaining three members as they have done nothing but improved and revised all musical talent and creativity found on Focus and all proceeding side projects.
Nope, I can't think of a single complaint for this album other than the length proclivity (34 minutes, similar to Focus if I remember correctly) which isn't even in issue considering I can't take the disc out without at least three listens. Of course this is a recommendation for all fans of Focus, and those who aren't familiar with Cynic should purchase both immediately, and listen in order to get the ultimate experience.
Listening to this album, I have a feeling that a metal-oriented site is not the right place to discuss it. But I know that Cynic used to be a real metal band, once, and here's where I will find somebody who cares about them and might want to listen to my point of view regarding this new Cynic album.
I am sure that this album have been intended by Paul Masvidal this way, deliberately NOT metal.
This might not be such a bad thing, if things had been done properly.
I will start saying that it's impossible to talk about this album without talking about Focus first; Focus was, in its time, an album that revolutionized the way metal musicians intended their music. It spawned a whole generations of copycats (first in line, Exivious, the band that the new guitarist comes from) and influenced millions of other death metal bands into incorporating jazzfusion elements in metal music.
After 15 years, not only you can still hear their influence in other band's music but, if you hear this album for the first time, it still has the power to surprise you. You put the cd in, or the needle on the groove, press play and in that moment the fish that you though you caught just slips out of your grip and you spend the next forty minutes trying (unsuccessfully) to recover it.
In all these years that Cynic haven't been active, all of the die-hard Focus fans were starving for that second chapter in the band's career that they never got. So, obviously, when they re-united in 2007 for a small tour, those fans saw a chance that their dreams might come true.
Imagine all these people, walking through the ardent dunes of a desert; they haven't seen a drop of water in 15 years, they just can't wait any longer. Then, suddenly... wow! A puddle! Mmm... mud never tasted this good!! That's how Traced In Air has been received.
Masvidal just involuntarily took advantage of the blind devotion and idolization that surrounded his band in order to produce a merely mediocre album that got immediately boosted to the stars.
Now, I've been listening to the cd over and over and it just doesn't seem to swallow. I've seen the band playing two weeks ago and, saving the grace of Sean Reinert's astonishing performance, the new songs sound bad even live (and that's rare!). There's just this feeling of rush, approximation and weakness all around them. The songs sound uninspired and roughly put together even if the band had 15 years to write them.
The absence of Jason Gobel can be felt immediately as Masvidal plays all the solos in this record (or nearly); I don't blame him: whoever saw this Tymon guy killing Gobel's final solo in "How Could I?" on YouTube will agree that it's better if he just plays rhythms (or, even better, stay home).
Sean Malone is there... or is he? I believe that never since Metallica’s Black Album had the sound of a bass guitar or the presence of the whole bass player been so imperceptible in a record. And we're talking about one of the greatest bass players around! Still, Masvidal managed to bury his performance under layers and layers of mere guitaristic wank and vocal absurdity. Oh, yeah... the vocals...
The vocals on Focus were a little bit of a hard pill to swallow, I remember. After the first listen I was like "Whaddaf...?", as I believe a lot of people were. Then, after a while, I realized that they were so unique and distinctive that they could easily be recognized as one of the main reasons of that record's uniqueness. Well, I invite now all those guys who felt just as wrong-foot as I did to listen to the new record and tell me: "What happened to this guy's voice?". Why is he trying so bad to sing like an emo dumbass when he just can't? Paul Masvidal never had a great voice (hence the need to use a robotic-filter), I would never even dream of seeing him sing a metal song like a James Hetfield, a Tom Araya or a Rob Halford; but hearing him trying so desperately to create a melodic line for his vocals and struggling to sound just like a Michael Akerfeldt in need of a painkiller is just too much. Really a forgettable yet unforgivable bad performance. And, believe me, that Tymon guy at the growls is no better.
So, what's left in the end? Sean Reinert, the light that shines at the end of this dark road; the saviour of this album from beginning to end, only bulwark against the rise of mediocrity.
He is just too good to be believed, just as good live as he sound on record. Even better. He carries the whole album like a mule, sweating and bleeding, you can feel the passion of his playing throughout the whole 37 minutes and he can even make a bad song sound rather good or, at least, give something interesting to focus on while the guitars and the vocals shed their redundant nonsense. He just SHINES!
At the Cynic show, after a couple of minutes, I just forgot about the rest of the band and focused on Reinert, who was (together with the live-only bass player) the only interesting thing to watch, like I was watching a drum clinic. That way it felt like I was there for a purpose, at least.
As for a detailed look at the songs on here, well... there's not much to say: 8 tracks, 37 minutes of music... it must have taken a lot of effort!
The structure of the songs are just like those on Focus, minus the purpose. They are just contorted for the sake of being so, a bunch of copycat Focus-like riffs filtered out of the distortion and stitched together in a hurry in order to respect time schedules from the label and be able to go and tour.
One song alone stands with its head out of the mud, maybe because it's the longest one and the band took their time to show a little caring with song-writing here: "The King Of Those Who Know", a 6 min + song that, if it wasn't for the terribly weak sound, would even fit good enough in Focus. Here you have a hint of what Cynic is really capable of when they write music to actually say something about themselves as musicians and not just to fill their cd which is in urge to be released. They carry this one song for its whole length with confidence and maturity, like they used to do; the relaxed jazzy bits aren't as redundant and shallow as those on the other songs and the heavy riffs are inspired enough to actually give the listener the feeling that there's still a valid reason for him to listen to Cynic, that the band still wants to connect and communicate.
Adam's Murmur could have been another good song if the guys had given it some more time to develop. In it's three minutes + we get a decent solo, a nice, powerful break riff, a showcase of majestic drumming and a chorus catchy enough. Warning: we also get the most horrible vocal-fill in metal's history, around the 2 minutes, if I remember correctly. But, anyway, three minutes soon fade away and what's left of the song is just you ear-dropping to see what's going to happen and the band just stopping playing, looking at you like they are thinking "Well, that was all, what else did you want?" and the audience starting clapping 10 seconds later. Ridiculous...
Actually, at a first listen, that's the feeling surrounding the whole album. You are waiting, and waiting, and still waiting for something interesting to happen... and when you finally get it it lasts a minute at most! The whole record sounds like a big filler with some good ideas thrown here and there and it never succeeds to grab your attention. Too many things going on, to little dedication from the band to give all this things a purpose. I really guess they just wanted to tour and sell some t-shirts.
Forget this one, go and listen to Focus, it will remind you of how good this band used to be.
It sounded to good to be true: November 2008 would finally see the return of Death/Jazz fusion legends Cynic. It seemed the whole music world, and the progressive metal community in particular, was eagerly awaiting this come back. Being a big fan of “Focus”, I myself was of course very anxious to hear what Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert and Sean Malone were going to offer us. Indeed, apart from then-guitarist Jason Gobel, the whole “Focus” line-up was still intact, and this after 15 years!!! I still remember buying Cynic’s Focus back in 1993, when I was 17 years old. The record changed my life – it was so special. Many people rejected it – the name Cynic firmly associated with death metal through session work– purists mostly thought of it as utter crap (the SRF lyrics, the robotic “computer” vocals and the weird song structures). I myself loved it, well at least after listening 4 or 5 times to it; I must admit the first time I heard it, I also had to get used to the sound and structure. But from then on it was one of the best albums I had ever heard (Still is!!!).
I realize this review is about the new album, but I want to put in perspective what a big change “Focus” brought into the 90’s death metal genre. This is just the problem with “Traced In Air”. The album has nothing to do anymore with death metal (almost not with metal), nor with a groundbreaking change-shift. One might argue that death grunts are out of style in this sort of band now or the group has “matured”, but these are just poor excuses. The true fact is: Cynic is not Cynic anymore. First: the death grunts are almost completely gone (except for some “backing death grunts” – if that ever was the purpose). Secondly: the album is far to vocal/guitar oriented-especially "ethereal soft vocals", and with such a huge talent as Sean Malone in the band (being an admirer for his Gordian Knot project), this is really sad – remember his solo in “Sentiments” off “Focus”. And last, but by no means least – Thirdly: the album lacks ADVENTURE: if there was ever a synonymous word that described “Focus” it was (still is) “adventurous” – absolutely jaw-dropping compositions. The new album just lines up quite run-of-the-mill progressive rock songs which seem to stretch on building solely on the soft vocals of Paul Masvidal. The album simply displays no form of aggression, power and versatility. Luckily Sean Reinert gives a great performance on drums. But to me this doesn’t save the album, nor does the better production values do. It is true that the sound is brighter than on “Focus”, but hey, I heard several albums with crystal clear production wasted on songs which definitely have no substance whatsoever. If people are complaining about previous “Portal” songs being to “soft”, I’d prefer “Cosmos” and “Circle” any day above any song from “Traced In Air”.
I will not go through a track by track evaluation but simply split the tracks up in two categories:
1-Songs which still reflect some of Cynic’s true sound: “Integral Birth” and “King of Those who Know”.
2- Songs which are too soft (i.e. lacking power) and genuinely lacking in adventurous composition: “The Space for This”, “Evolutionary Sleeper”, “The Unknown Guest” (chanting??), “Adam’s Murmur” (plain boring), Nunc Stans (plain boring).
Nunc fluens I do not consider a song/composition but an intro-jam and not even a specially good one.
I thought I would never had to use this word for anything Cynic ever released, but this album is almost…BORING…sad but true…
The best points go to the beautiful packaging with the stunning artwork-Very nice job from Season of Mist. Unfortunately wasted on the disappointment which is the music.
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.
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.
‘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.
What can I say? This band is something else. Not only did they revolutionize the metal landscape with Focus, fusing jazz fusion with death metal and brilliant songwriting, they are actually experiencing a triumphant reunion! This almost never happens so it's great to see it happen to a legendarily underappreciated act such as Cynic. As a friend of mine said "They were gone from metal for fifteen years and now that they come back they do it better than everyone".
Traced in Air sounds as though Cynic never left but rather grew and had time to musically mature. The fusion tone is still there with layers of delayed guitar work and the robotic vocal approach, albeit the sound is much more lively and melodic this time than the vocodor on Focus. Each song sounds fresh, earthy and real. "The Space for This" is a perfect example of this. The guitars sound lush and yet aren't too distorted so that they drown out the other frequencies. Paul Masvidal is a guitarist and musician for which I have a ton of respect. His playing is melodically diverse and extremely focused. The bass work is great as Sean Malone appears on the album to give it that extra touch. Sean Reinert is spectacular once again. His polirythms and musical approach are almost unparalelled in metal with the possible exception of Steve Flynn and Tomas Corn. All of these wonderfully crafted tones makes for ever evolving and cycling music which is exciting on every spin.
This may not be as "metal" as Focus, but who cares? This is maybe the best record that will be released this year(in fact, almost assuredly so). It's just that the impact will assuredly not be as surreal as when you first heard it in 1992. This time you know what sound to expect and they sound just as, if not more polished than they did back then with a more melodic emphasis. This is mostly due to the production, but melodies are more obviously discerneable on this record. The vocal attack has changed, creating a wider dynamic range as well as a melodic range for Masvidal to cover. The guitars are also more melodic and less riffy at times than in the past. What is great is that the band structure their melodies so well it does nothing to riun the recording.
There are no highlights because the whole record is strong. Every track weaves in and out of different musical landscapes and syncopates in a whirlwind that is now known as Traced in Air. If you're a fan of progressive metal, this is a total treat and a fantasy I never thought I'd live out. With this and the new Atheist record coming sometime, I'm like a kid in a candy store. So enjoy this record beacuse a metal milestone such as this comeback record only happens once in a blue moon.
There are many bands out there that form, make some albums, establish a fan-base, and then split up. There is a less amount of those who reform years later, and try to recapture the inspiration they had long ago, to make a new album. But few bands can do what Cynic just did with this album.
This to me is almost as good, if not better than Focus. Cynic has taken many aspects from their debut and using that, laid the foundation for this album. But then they proceeded to improve on all of those aspects, making this a for more expansive journey through the minds of these musicians. Trace in Air shows that a band can still evolve and be cohesive after a long period of hiatus.
The first change in Cynic's sound you will notice is the vocals. Before it was the vocoder but now its simple clean vocals put through an effect filter. I believe Masvidal calls it "The Android". It lightly digitally distorts the vocals and gives them that robotic sound. The important part is that it allows the singing to be far more melodic, emotional, and just damn catchy.
Melodic is a word you are going to be hearing about when describing this album. The songs are just so...melodic! The guitars are rough but well contained in the production, allowing the the other instruments their room. The riffs are constantly shape shifting phrases, that meld in with the direction of the song. The technicality mixed with melodic sensibility is unmatched in this record. Their is a constant use of clean guitar passages to quell down the song, only moments later to have the distorted riffs bring back the intensity.
If the clean guitars acts as to counterbalance to the distorted riffs, than the death growls are the counterbalance to the new "Android" vocals. Well the growls are used far less than in Focus, and serve as strong backing vocals behind the singing. Integral Birth is fine example of this phenomenon at work.
The jazz fusion influences is quite apparent in this record, not only on the surface, but deep in the roots of each song. The syncopated bass lines round out the rhythm sections with a subtle groove, especially in the really techy parts. The solos are extremely jazzy at some points. The clean, psychedelic finger work on each solo makes them stick to your head without having to resort simple melody hooks.
The most jazz influenced part is the drums and if nothing else gets you from this album, the drums definitely will. The rhythm shifts in this album is off the charts. Even The Dillinger Escape Plan might have to give Traced In Air a listen after this. The key here is that he just doesn't play pre-made rhythm parts that just so happen to be all technical; the rhythm is a flowing force that expands and compacts seamlessly with the song. This calls for a quick story for you about a concert performance I saw of my contemporary jazz ensemble's instructor and his band. The drummer throughout the entire set had his eyes closed (for most of at least), yet he was able to give an outstanding performance. When the rest of the band slowed down, he slowed down. When the band became louder, he beefed up the rhythm sound. Afterward when he and some other people were talking, he said that he doesn't even read the music when preforming, he just listens and gets a feel of the rest of the band and plays based off of that. The drummer here seems to play by this philosophy as he really does some out of this world drum fills and rolls, along with constantly changing patterns.
This album is really not that death metal-ish. This is far more just progressive metal with jazz fusion in it. The riffs are proggy and trashy at most, and the death growls are not nearly as prominent as before. But this is a metal record nevertheless, and not a pop record as some detractors seem to think. Just because there is a strong, harmonized melody from the vocals, doesn't make it a pop album.
It is an amazing album, that expands the boundaries of metal. Its experimental, melodic, and technically advanced. This definitely one to pick up, so fucking get it!
Cynic’s release Traced in Air has been one of the most anticipated albums in progressive metal, and it certainly does not disappoint. Comebacks from old bands are often mired by overinflated expectations and egos, and limited by aging musicians, but Cynic definitely has not lost the fire that fueled their now 15-year-old release Focus.
The first thing you notice, listening to this album is the clarity and brilliance of modern production. While Focus was not out of place at the time, its production dates the record, even with music that was decades ahead of its time. This is very noticeable on the remixed versions of the Focus tracks on the re-release. Traced in Air really does do its name justice. It’s very clear, airy, and has very clear space between the instruments.
This space is also very evident in the music. When Masvidal and Co aren’t metalling up the songs, the clean passages show a restraint and sense of room in music that really contrast well with the tightly-knit intertwining melodies of the metal sections. This is not saying they don’t go well together, because Paul has always been a master at intertwining the genres seamlessly, and does not fail to do so on here. Cynic makes everything they play natural to their music, and let it fit in the context of the music perfectly. The Nunc songs bookending the album and ironically, The Space for This, show this contrast extremely well, flowing in and out of different moods without effort.
The vocals have definitely improved as well. Paul’s “Robot” vocals are still present, but new technology, and an apparent increased confidence in his vocal range creates lines that are more complex in their emotional content than what he was able to do before. The death metal vocals, provided by Exivious’ guitarist Tymon Kruidenier (a fellow Dutchman, I’m proud to say) are very well-done, and complement the music more like a background vocal, but add the right level of texture that Portal seemed to be missing. Amusingly, he doesn’t sound too far off from Tony Teegarden’s vocals, but that’s probably because Exivious is pretty much a Cynic cover band. The only issue I have with the vocals are on the track The Unknown Guest, where tribal-esque shouts seem to detract from the song’s beauty. Perhaps if it was more evident why they were placed there, it would make more sense, but instinctively, they seem rather jarring and out of place.
The lyrics are more directly Buddhist and meditation-focused than on the debut, but this is part of Paul’s life, and it fits with the state of awareness the music is in. Everything makes you pay attention to what’s going on in the music right at that moment, and nothing leaves you bored. The lyrics help assist in outlining the more ambient nature of the clean sections, as well.
Paul and Tymon provide fantastic guitar work throughout the album, and the melody lines and harmonies are endless, and it will probably take several listens before I start to really grasp their grandeur. There are always at least two or three lines going at the same time, and though it may be dizzying at first, the complexity creates a richness native to Cynic. The solos aren’t as unique as on the debut, but not any less beautiful. Paul clearly learned his restraint in soloing over time, and as this may hold him back from experimenting more, it has provided for more clear phrasing in his solos and riffs.
One big issue I have with the music, though, is the very apparent absence of Sean Malone’s unique style of bass leads. On the debut, he provided a third constant melody line, often countering the main melodies, or at least working on harmonies that weren’t part of the main riff. Unfortunately, his role seems to have been diminished on this record. He’s definitely there, but his signature moves are definitely missing. We all know through Gordian Knot that he has the ability to craft absolutely gorgeous songs and melodies, so his lack of skill is not what’s holding him back.
Sean Reinert, on the other hand, is the clear star of this record. His playing has only evolved over time, and his fills and accent placement is much more focused (PUN) and controlled. His instrument is also mixed more in the front of the music than before, and I couldn’t be any more glad about this.
The songs are compact and don’t wander. The record is about as short as the debut. This leaves no room for wanking or boredom. In fact, most of the parts are filled with vocals or very concise, necessary instrumental sections. The songs are very powerful, and grab you from the second they start. Cynic has never been a band to have endless jam sessions or huge post-rock buildups, and it works well for them. The only issues I have, the lack of bass, and the slightly out-of-place chanting are not serious enough to detract too much from the album’s overall impact, and I hope to see more from these classics of progressive metal.
Who would expect something like that? The gods of technical (or may I say Jazz?) Death Metal are back in action after 15 whole years of sleep? And me being the devil’s advocate I will start with some questions. Can they still do the miracles they did back then? Are the new members able to lift the name of CYNIC on their shoulders? Isn’t Sean Reinert one of the best fucking drummers out there?
The Miami, Florida based metallers are surely one of the few bands that managed to earn the respect of probably the whole Metal scene with one official full-length album. Except for some demos, the work that made CYNIC what they are, is the 1993 incredible album "Focus", the album that offered them their godlike status. When they released "Focus", they laid to rest just to be resurrected 15 years later with some new additions to the line up and a brand new album through the French label Season Of Mist Records.
For those who had some doubts about the quality of "Traced In Air", I can say that it is equally good (if not slightly better) as "Focus". Remember those freaky weird vocal effects? They are still here. Remember the insane drum parts of Reinert? They are still here. Remember the jazzy guitars that would give you a small dose of brutality out of the blue and would return to a melodic line immediately? They are still here, too. And the question is... Is CYNIC a Metal band or is it something else that is just being loved to death by metallers around the world? Hmmm, let’s stick to the technical Death Metal term since it will be a pain in the ass trying to categorize CYNIC.
Masvidal’s weird vocals - as mentioned above - are still here being the trademark of CYNIC’s sound for one more time, while the "fresh blood" Kruidenier often interrupts Masvidal’s psychedelic monologue for some screams. "Traced In Air" seems to be one of the best Metal (?!) releases for 2008 and I guess none can say the opposite. Musicians like Reinert and Malone always know what they are doing. So, ATHEIST reunited, PESTILENCE reunited, too and CYNIC returned after 15 years with a kick ass album! Who else is left?
Originally written for Metal-Temple.Com