[14th February 2014]
[Season of Mist]
01. True Hallucination Speak
02. The Lion’s Roar
03. Kindly Bent to Free Us
04. Infinite Shapes
05. Moon Heart Sun Head
07. Holy Fallout
08. Endlessly Bountiful
When a band comes seemingly out of nowhere and releases a groundbreaking debut album, decades ahead of its time, it’s really difficult to get over the beautiful scar that it has left behind. Cynic’s Focus, from 1993, set the bar cosmically high for any jazz/fusion-influenced metal, and still manages to somehow sound like it’s a gift from the future.
They disbanded shortly after and only re-emerged in 2008, this time bringing Traced in Air, which was a dream come true for many. The reason for the history lesson is because if you are a die-hard ‘classic’ Cynic fan who has the tendency to compare everything they do to the masterful Focus, then you are perhaps missing the point of Cynic and setting yourself up for disappointment. Every release they have put out since Focus has become gradually less dripping in metal, less steeped in fusion, and more exploratory – but that’s kind of what Masvidal and co. are all about.
That’s not to say it’s all gone. Familiar ‘trippy’ sounds and textures come to surface throughout the album, like on opener “True Hallucination Speak” with its spacey clean vocal breakdown and perplexing “snap, crackle and pop” lyrics. What Masvidal is talking about half the time is an enigma, but clearly this man is of another (and perhaps higher) realm of consciousness.
Fans longing for the more fusion-esque side of the band might be left out to dry here but will certainly enjoy songs like the title track “Kindly Bent To Free Us” which has an excellent jazzy breakdown section and gorgeous bass guitar tone by Berklee professor and original Focus-era member Sean Malone. The bass sound and performance is simply masterful throughout this album and rightfully high in the mix, equal to the guitars – if not louder and even more present in places (“Infinite Shapes“).
Masvidal’s guitar prowess certainly shines like its old-self on cuts like “Holy Fallout” and “Moon Heart Sun Head” with its soaring and acrobatic guitar solo and interesting use of effects. Reinert’s drumming is surprisingly laid-back but constantly in-the-pocket and comfortable – though lacking the extremity and innovation we’re used to from him. Clearly Reinert has nothing to prove as he navigates his way through labyrinthine arrangements with effortless mastery. It’s also worthy to note that Reinert provides the keys on this album as well, as he has also done in the past, adding a great deal of welcomed atmosphere and texture.
There’s a surprising light, almost ‘alternative rock’ feel which pops up quite often throughout the album’s forty-two minute duration, which is most apparent on “The Lion’s Roar” (anybody remember a band called I Mother Earth?), while there are some great vocal melodies, guitar arpeggios, chord progressions, twists and turns, and surreal atmospheres on standout track “Holy Fallout“. Clocking in at 6:36, it’s the longest – and perhaps moodiest -track on Kindly Bent To Free Us.
There are also some bold/new approaches for Cynic here, like the album closer “Endlessly Bountiful“, which unfolds more like a song that Spiritualized or Radiohead would create if they were to collaborate with current-day Opeth.
With Kindly Bent To Free Us, Cynic have created a very artful progressive rock album, stripped almost completely of the edge and urgency that still echoes from their debut – with a lack of distorted riffs and harsh vocals, sparing use of double kicks, and mostly slow-mid tempos, this is the album that will surely shake off the ‘metal head’ Cynic fans of old who yearn for something heavier - but the beautiful thing about Cynic is that they are true artists; making music only for themselves, first and foremost. They are not catering to the old Flordia death/thrash scene from which they came, nor are they bending to the will of the Allan-Holdsworth-type 90′s fusion fans. They are simply doing as they please, regardless of the past, present or future. Cynic have created their own world with Kindly Bent To Free Us, which actually feels like the natural step in their evolution at this point.