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Evolution, Perfection... - 80%

Spolodaface, August 17th, 2012

It has taken me a while to give this album a full-listen, having been off-put a little by Cynic’s previous album Traced in Air which, while a solid release didn’t really appeal to me. The main reason for this is the greater prominence of Paul Masvidal on vocals compared to their debut LP, Focus which was released 15 years prior. The decade and a half hiatus between these releases is reflected in the great stylistic evolution between these two albums, as Traced in Air starts to curb the technical death-metal aspects of Focus in favour for more melodic, sprawling songs with a number of technical death-fused bridges and solos with the band’s signature jazz-metal fusion rhythm section.

The progression and development Cynic have undergone between their previous LP and Carbon Based Anatomy at first listen is nowhere near as great as that between their debut, the seminal and highly influential masterpiece, Focus (1993) and their more recent post-reunion album Traced in Air (2008),it is certainly more of an organic and natural evolution in comparison. Rather than reinventing themselves again, here Cynic have refined and perfected their sound and style, creating an album with an engrossing atmosphere. This atmosphere is expressed not only on the “main” songs of the album; title track “Carbon Based Anatomy” (my personal favourite), “Box Up My Bones” and “Elves Beam Out” – but through their accompanying almost instrumental tracks, which make up a third of the album’s 23 and a half minute running time (instrumental, as they feature smooth female vocals mostly talking gibberish yet used more like an instrument; complimenting the nature samples , world instruments and haunting guitar passages.

After listening to Carbon Based Anatomy, Cynic’s latest EP, it becomes apparent that; rather than Masvidal’s singing being a problem for the music, it is the obfuscation of those vocals behind effects (which I want to describe as ‘robotic sounding’) featured abundantly on their previous albums which was an issue. Much like Traced in Air compared to Focus, Carbon Based Anatomy boasts greatly improved production values and mixing compared to it’s predecessor; as each instrument is not only heard clearly but inhabits its own frequency range comfortably; the drums, guitars, bass and vocals (including backing vocals) all sound amazingly loud and clear, the backing vocals add an extra layer of depth to the music where they previously collided (when both processed with an array of vocal effects). It is evident upon listening to this album that the band’s musical vision has been realised and vividly illustrated here thanks to the exemplary production, and instrument tones. This is an album which should endear any Cynic fans who weren’t put off by the changes on Traced in Air (which was a lot less overtly Death metal than its predecessor), and win back some open-minded ones depending on their disposition to clean vocals.

... this review and more at Underground Blogzine:

Yet Another Cynic - 80%

FullMetalAttorney, May 11th, 2012

I discovered Cynic around 2006 when they were still a little-known band with a growing cult following. They had released one full-length album of sci-fi-themed progressive death metal in 1993 and disappeared for over a decade. They reunited and released the massively well-received Traced in Air. I would definitely change one of the albums that I put on my list of the best albums of 2008, but TiA would definitely remain. They followed that in 2010 with a strange collection of re-worked songs from the album (Re-Traced), stripped of any resemblance to metal whatsoever. And, let's not sugar-coat it, it sucked. When I heard that new EP Carbon-Based Anatomy wasn't particularly metal either, I was leery. But the cool album art made me optimistic. I can't say I'm disappointed.

The record explores an entirely new sound for the band. There are hints of metal-ness to be found here and there, but mostly it's a combination of psychedelia and alt-rock. It's easily their most atmospheric recording to date, beginning at the beautiful, haunting intro (featuring female vocals in Latin) and continuing through to the outro. Tribal drums, sitar, and Oriental (is that offensive? I don't know) chants fill out the album's interlude. The EP would not be complete without these sonic explorations.

But more importantly, the three proper songs are good, helped along by excellent drumming. No, they're not really metal, despite the understated tremolo riffing and almost-metal riff later on in the title track. But the sci-fi theme is back in full force with the trademark vocoder on the title track and distorted drums and sound effects on "Elves Beam Out". The choruses are catchy, downbeat alt-rock fare.

It's different. But it's immersible and highly memorable.

The Verdict: No, it's not really the Cynic I grew to love. These guys are doing their own thing, exploring new territories, and you have to admire that. If they keep on releasing entirely unique EPs every year, I would be happy.

originally written for

Carbon-Based Anatomy - 80%

KonradKantor, April 25th, 2012

Somewhere on the 210 freeway, I realized that Paul Masvidal is never going back to his old life.

Nor should he. Because Cynic is an art project that was born into progression and has been kept alive by progression. Because when fifteen years go by between full-lengths, the only thing a band can do is reinvent itself time and time again. Because Paul Masvidal is a musical visionary that sees things most people never will. Because Traced In Air would have never worked if it would have only played the forgettable part of Focus - Part II. Because when the new LP drops in 2012, people will know that doubting Cynic is simply something that should never be done.

Carbon-Based Anatomy is a small step forward much like Re-Traced was for Masvidal and Reinert. In fact, the band's decision to take all of Traced In Air's coveted tracks and play them softly was a step forward for metal in general. Now, the band has proven that it can write fresh songs that weren't necessarily meant to be heavy, yet are still recognizably "Cynic" from light years away. Despite the band's decision to sprinkle extra ethereal elements into the mix, all of the former technicalities and trademarks remain perfectly intact. Therefore, it's safe to say that fans of Cynic will love and trust the path upon which the group has chosen to tread.

Here's one more fact: Listeners that loved Focus but have hated everything Cynic has done since were never really fans to begin with. Fans of an album that's virtually impossible not to like, perhaps, but not fans of the ideas that were the driving forces of the band's creation, since those same ideas are still propelling the music onward in the first place. So what's new? To put it simply, Carbon-Based Anatomy is exotic. It's not only the foreign languages that are being spoken on "Amidst The Coals" and "Bija!" that give off that effect, either. Sure, Cynic is experimenting with sounds from other parts of the world given the added tribal instruments, but there are also brief moments that sound like they're from other planets.

The defining track of Anatomy,"Elves Beam Out," glistens with ethereal elements, elaborate space-age production and a beautifully infectious chorus to top it all off. Yes, the two most important creations that have ever come from this planet, namely guitar solos and catchy-as-hell beats, are also present in all of the album's non-instrumental tracks. All in all, Carbon-Based Anatomy does what an EP should always do -- test the waters with the listeners and leave them thirsty for more.

Originally written for

Good for what it is. - 70%

Andromeda_Unchained, March 19th, 2012

Cynic is a band I've never been too sure on. I thought their pre-Focus demos were really something quite special and out of the ordinary, whilst I feel the widely lauded album itself is lacking and stifled; hardly worthy of the heaps of praise it receives (Pestilence did this style way more justice upon Spheres). I think Traced in Air blew Focus out of the water, as the ideas spawned on their debut were fully realized and utilized to great effect. Re-Traced was a chilled out, introspective mess and it left a lot of their fans dubious of where the band were heading.

Well, if Carbon-Based Anatomy is any sort of indicator to the future of this band it looks as though they're pushing further forward with their fusion/world music/post-rock sound – imagine Re-Traced played with more passion and very slight elements of metal. I would say Carbon-Based Anatomy is better conceived than their previous EP and if this is the road Cynic decide to head down for their next release I will probably still listen, but I don't think I will review it here.

Carbon-Based Anatomy sees the band throw down the chains of their death metal roots down, and likening this change to that of a moth pushing out of its cocoon, the band float out in an almost ethereal, glowing form. This EP is very soothing, and there is a lot of world music influence that really adds to the atmosphere. Paul's clean vocals aren't great as far as metal is concerned, and I'm not really the biggest fan of them. In fact I would have much preferred him use the vocoder throughout which would have really added to the atmosphere. The musicianship is on excellent form as always, I mean come on this is a bunch of first class musicians here.

Tracks such as "Box Up My Bones" and the title track display best the sound on Carbon-Based Anatomy the latter of which delivers the most in the way of progressive metal, but I stress that the metal elements are very subdued on this release, almost completely gone. Fans of the bands progressive death metal style are going to spit this out, and I would advise to those to give this one a miss. However fans of progressive music in general might want to check this out, as this is an interesting and pleasant exercise in atmospheric progressive rock with a slight metallic bite.

Originally written for

Pretty Much A Letdown - 63%

GuntherTheUndying, December 31st, 2011

Often considered one of the most innovative and progressive factions to ever bless the overgrowing realm of metal, Cynic's splashy discography has been the center of overwhelming acclaim. The reassembly of Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert accumulated a pair of releases before this little EP, including the band's first album in over fifteen years ("Traced in Air") and an EP ("Retraced") that features what the group calls "reinterpretations " of some "Traced in Air" material. "Carbon-Based Anatomy" pretty much continues where "Retraced" left off, the material again angling towards an experimental degree while the metal elements are largely suppressed. Now I've noticed something about Cynic since their reunion. There are, of course, two different voices: one that wants the band to openly embrace their lighter direction, and one that would sacrifice a goat for another "Focus," or the group's heaviest record, by a long shot.

And honestly, there was never a problem on my end until now. I consider "Focus" to be a monster slab of revolutionary music; fifteen years later, it's still ahead of its time. "Traced in Air" has a noticeably softer direction with a few extra shades some might label questionable, but hey, it's all good here. "Retraced" is...uh, "Retraced." The problem? Well, it's all becoming too piecemeal and tedious, even by Cynic's standards. "Carbon-Based Anatomy" poorly represents everything that Cynic is and was, because it (a) fails to show any legitimate progression on a creative spectrum, and (b) sounds like a legendary band fading into musical fogginess, minus the perplexing features of Cynic's past discography.

Probably the most bothersome facet of "Carbon-Based Anatomy" is its flow and general presentation. You may notice there are six tracks in total, but only three are actual authentic Cynic anthems. The opening "Amidst The Coals" starts with female vocals of a spiritual essence while ambient-like, maybe folk-inspired chimes echo in the background; it’s effective as an opener, I suppose. However, the ambient/folk characteristics take control over the tribal "Bija!" and the closing "Hieroglyph" as well. Now normally this wouldn't be a problem, but for an EP that barely runs over twenty minutes, a good seven are coiled into these nonfunctional sections. They are annoyingly stuffed between most tracks, and keep in mind they’re not demonstrations of technical riffs and calculated percussion patterns somehow weaving in and out of Cynic's usual web of spiritual idealism, just useless interludes.

The actual songs make a noticeable impression on the band's legacy, keeping some of Cynic's finest traits at the forefront of strangely progressive numbers like the title track and whipping out nifty solos that are thankfully brought up to the head of the EP. Sean Reinert sounds a bit passive compared to his earlier works, yet he remains strong overall, and so does Paul handling the enjoyable vocals. The spacey, atmospheric elements are stronger than ever, and the aggressive tones are completely gone. Yea, there's a lot of weirdness to go around, but it all feels somewhat lacking and void of Cynic's absolute touch. Don't get me wrong, this is undeniably Cynic, but I still feel like the overall performances and ideas fail to achieve the same level of excellence and addictiveness compared to their older albums, of course.

Also, the vocoder? Gone. Harsh vocals? Absent. Mind-bending transitions? Not really. These are qualities that made Cynic...well, Cynic, but now it appears they've turned away from their initial identity, and I can't say that's a change for the better. So yea, "Carbon-Based Anatomy" lacks the creativity and prose that most of Cynic's past discography boasts. The aggression of "Focus" has no place in its quarters, and the simple hint of joy coursing throughout "Traced in Air" simply does not exist here either. And as I said, the traditional features of Cynic make appearances that are few and far between. As a huge fan of Masvidal and Reinert, I can’t call “Carbon-Based Anatomy” anything more than a massive disappointment.

This review was written for:

Cynic - Carbon-Based Anatomy - 90%

ConorFynes, December 9th, 2011

This year, it seems like the trend is for bands to release EPs, rather than the investment of a full-length. Thinking about the current climate of the music industry, it's now possible for artists to throw a new bite-sized offering at their fanbase in between longer albums. While I do not think that anything could replace the album form as we know it, some EPs this year have been changing the way I feel about this shortened form. Legendary band Cynic blew me away with their album 'Traced In Air', so it is natural that I would be eagerly anticipating whatever they would be coming out with next, be it something short and sweet, or longer and involved. As one knowing the scope of Cynic's work would guess, 'Carbon-Based Anatomy' shows a new side of this band, and despite my first apprehensions that this would be a non-essential collection of songs for fans to enjoy during the wait for an album, I have been so pleasantly mistaken. Were it not for its brevity, I would have to trouble saying that this is a contender for the greatest thing that Cynic has ever done; a concise, yet celestial masterpiece.

'Traced In Air' is still heavy on this band's mind, as can be heard from the somewhat otherworldly direction the band has been taking with their music since then. The biggest surprise to me- and biggest change- this time around is the total dearth not only of 'death metal' (of which these guys are best known for) but metal in general. I am not completely sure where they fall now, but I think 'progressive rock' is without a doubt, the best thing to call them now. A band that comes to mind when I hear this is the latest incarnation of Anathema; plenty of atmosphere, leanings towards post-rock, strong melodies and an evasion of the typical, now -cliche things that people associate with prog. After hearing 'Traced In Air', I figured it was a natural step to eventually wean out the somewhat out-of- place growls in their music, but to hear them not even relate to metal is a risky move for them, but one I think pays off very well.

Despite being six tracks, I think 'Carbon-Based Anatomy' could have worked just as well as one track; over the twenty-odd minutes of play length, there is not much of a break from the music. The most that a listener might get to signify a change of track is perhaps a quieter section that draws on a little longer than it might have naturally. The album opens up in a very spiritual way, with plenty of ambiance and a female singer crooning very spiritually. Given Paul Masvidal's background in philosophy and mysticism, it was not a surprise to hear the EP take this opener, but it works so well. It takes a couple of minutes for the album to introduce the Cynic that we are more familiar with, never getting particularly heavy mind you, but the technical guitar riffs are still thankfully here. One thing that may be a little overdone is Paul's use of vocorder, which has been a staple of his work since the heyday, but here, I think it's sometimes used a little gratuitously. He does have a good, warm voice, but filtering it through a machine so much does take away some of the effect.

The only thing that irritates me about 'Carbon-Based Anatomy' is its short length. Taken for what it is, the EP is a masterpiece, but I am always left wanting more by the time it is over. Especially when taken into account that a couple extra tracks would have made this a very comfortable and satisfying length, it is a very tantalizing album, although the music here at times even surpasses what the band accomplished with 'Traced In Air'. Most of all though, I have to congratulate the band for constantly moving forward. Even when their developments on 'Traced In Air' were sometimes polarized, Cynic has not been discouraged, and continues to change their sound into something fresh. For this, 'Carbon-Based Anatomy' is the best short-form album I have heard this year.

Paving their own road - 75%

androdion, November 25th, 2011

Cynic is back once again with another EP, one that bears the last cover art made by Robert Venosa before his passing. Carbon-Based Anatomy builds on to be one of the most divisive efforts in a long time, proving that the band has a mindset of its own.

Cynic is one of those bands that need no introduction. The mere legacy of their 1993 debut album Focus was enough to grant them legendary status, and their wonderful 2008 comeback album Traced In Air granted them with a cult following all around the globe. To those unaware the band always had a life of its own with different impersonations throughout its history. From being a brutal and uncompromising thrash band with technical urges in their demo days to the Re-Traced EP where they blended electronics with reinterpretations of songs from their comeback album, one could say that they’re the kind of band that has always played what they wanted to play and just happened to found a fan base during that process.

I won’t lie, I’m an assumed Cynic fan for a long time now, and when they were back with Traced In Air I immediately bought it and never regretted that act. Sure the album was very different from anything they’ve done before but the change was understandable. Every member experienced being a part of Gordian Knot which was a side-project more versed on prog-rock, and half the band also matured a bit in Aghora’s debut, which was clearly an evolutionary take on Focus, minus the death metal. So it wasn’t that much of a surprise when I listened to Traced In Air for the first time, in fact it was expectable. The same couldn’t be said for their latest batch of EPs, the first one already addressed above and the second one about to be below.

The band and Paul Masvidal in particular, always had a metaphysical and spiritual component present in their music. This can be heard and experienced on many songs throughout their career, and more specifically in their lyrics, dealing with life and the sentiments brought by it, how to deal with them and how to transcend oneself into higher planes of existence.

This is evermore present in this new work, one which clearly presents the band in a more laid back and ethereal approach. The EP begins with “Amidst The Coals” and for a moment I’m reminded of an amazing song that goes by the name of “Teardrop”. Many metal fans are wondering what song would this be and many more are wondering why I’m referring to this particular song when talking about Cynic. Yes I’m talking about Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, taken out of their 1998 magnum opus Mezzanine. Why? Because it sounds like it! The song is nothing but a short intro for the title track and first real song, a calm and quiet piece of jazz fusion melded and played with the sensitivity of progressive metal musicians. If there were any doubts before then they’re dissipated by now, Cynic has stopped doing heavy music whatsoever as nothing here reeks even minimally of aggression. Instead we’re treated with a soft and endearing song, nonetheless brilliantly conducted by both Sean Reinert on the drums and Sean Malone on the bass.

If you’ve gotten a bit “What the hell just happened here?!” with that song then what to say about the rest of this work that renders us with 23 minutes of laid back, world music infused “metal”? Next song is an interlude that brings me the feeling of being in India, Laos or some similar country, enjoying nature and visiting the temples while old ladies and field workers sing to pass the day. Then you have “Box Up My Bones” which is again a jazzy piece filled with ambient samples and whispered vocals, an exercise in positive music and an energizing little ray of sunshine in a misty morning. Come to think of it this EP seems almost like a spiritual journey to the elder countries of the world, mixed with all the positive energy present on an independent movie depicting the goodness of the world.

Another song remains before the closing instrumental, which makes for only three songs plus intro, outro and an interlude. This is again a metaphysical exercise like we’ve grown to expect from a band which has written songs like “King Of Those Who Know” or “Nunc Stans”. A very interesting song and the strongest one present in this small work, with spacey guitars and multi-layered vocals that just make you dream of ascending towards the stars. Ascension is actually a god word to describe the closing instrumental track. Some sort of wailing ballad of soothing astral waves that guides you to Nirvana, with nothing but a sampled voice guiding you.

Was I ready for this? I could hardly respond affirmatively as this work by the band struck me as a bit alien sounding and different. But when listening more closely to what Cynic have done here, one can see and understand where this all comes from and eventually where this is going to. This EP is the spanning forth and musical evolution of their last album, but more specifically of the laid back nuances present there. If you’d like a base comparison then take the aforementioned “Nunc Stans” and expand that concept by adding healthy doses of jazz fusion and world music, together with some angelic choirs, and sprinkle with a subtle trip-hop influence. All of this is immersed in positive energy and what seems like an increasing approach to existentialism and humanity transcending its form.

This is again a divisive work from a band that continues to evolve at its own pace and never looks back. It’s from here on that the old fans of Focus will either embrace the new found path the band is trailing these days or abandon it altogether. I for one was impressed with Traced In Air and have grown to expect the unexpected from these guys. Carbon-Based Anatomy comes as a breath of fresh air on a scene that’s often too concerned on being and acting brutal, and I must say that despite not being highly technical, and even more by Cynic standards, it’s still a very beautiful and well composed piece of positive music that will leave few indifferent to it. I gave it a fair chance and it got to me in the end, but if you thought that the mellowness and tracks like “Nunc Stans” were moments of weakness where the band faltered, then my guess is that you won’t appreciate this, let alone understand it! This requires an open mind because Cynic has again mutated into yet another entity. Let us see where this incarnation leads us in the future.

Originally written for and posted at Riff Magazine

The invention and worldliness never wanes - 80%

autothrall, November 11th, 2011

The excellent cover art to Cynic's new Carbon-Based Anatomy EP might deceive one into thinking they had dialed their style back to the progressive, labyrinthine death metal of their 1993 debut Focus, but that's not at all the case here. Having been severely disappointed with last year's Re-Traced EP, which served as a poppy and wimpy deconstruction of several tracks from their excellent Traced in Air album, I am satisfied to say that this is all new material, and much of it quite good. If anything, Cynic have all but drifted away from the technical thrash and death roots to snug comfortably into this hybrid of prog and post-rock, with an even huger dedication to the influence of world music that they've shown on either of their full-lengths.

Granted, it would be unlike Cynic to backtrack. It's just not in the nature of these musicians to move in any direction but forward (stylistically), and this new EP is no exception. But they do hang on to some of their core characteristics, namely Sean Reinert's dynamic drumming and the fusion influence in Paul Masdival's guitars. There are very few moments here that even hinge on the band's former metal genre, with the exception of some of the ramped up chords in the title track or the manic, melodic tremolo sequences that crash through the jamming "Elves Beam Out". The real focus here, however, is the vocal arrangements, which are quite fantastic. Paul's got this amazing, clean voice somewhat similar to Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, but a lot of layered harmonies are strewn about the material similar to post-rock outfits like Efterklang, and it's simply remarkable to experience. Female vocals are also incorporated into the ethno ambient intro and interlude pieces "Amidst the Coals" and "Bija!", the latter a percussive, worldly romp.

My favorites are easily "Carbon-Based Anatomy" and "Box Up My Bones". The former for the climactic business of the bass-lines and the ambient backdrop that functions beautifully alongside the smooth escalation of the vocals, and the latter for all those reasons and more. There are a few guitar lines that function like synthesizers in the background of "Box Up My Bones" which create an insanely elegant atmosphere, and I also enjoyed the guest whispers used to counterpoint the lead vocals in the bridge, and the sifting from cleaner toned guitars to jamming variation. "Elves Beam Out" also warrants a mention for the great, spacey splash to the percussion and the sheer energy, even if the name is a bit of a throw off. Next to these, I'm not sure the female fronted pieces really measure up, nor the heavily ambient, scintillating outro "Hieroglyph", but at the least they provide some captivating transitions.

Carbon-Based Anatomy is not likely to satisfy fans of the old Cynic who have been ruing their decision to drift well beyond the metal sphere, but then, this minority probably didn't enjoy the long anticipated sophomore effort either when it arrived in 2008. Personally, I found the songs here to be growers regardless of the band's incessant transformation, and though the lyrics seem simpler than past works, they maintain the existential character the band have long championed. The production is extremely clean and accessible, as are most of the vocal line melodies, but the Florida band still implements numerous layers of complexity into their composition, and what's most important, you actually feel like you're on this journey WITH the band, rather than being outpaced by their staggering proficiency. Very enjoyable, but don't expect "Veil of Maya" or "The Eagle Nature".