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.
1. Nunc fluens (2:56)
2. The Space for This (5:46)
3. Evolutionary Sleeper (3:35)
4. Integral Birth (3:52)
5. The Unknown Guest (4:13)
6. Adam’s Murmur (3:29)
7. King of Those Who Know (6:08)
8. Nunc stans (4:12)
* Paul Masvidal – guitar and vocals
* Sean Reinert – drums
* Sean Malone / bass, Chapman Stick
* Tymon Kruidenier – guitar and death growls