CYNIC — Traced in Air (review)

CYNIC — Traced in Air album cover Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
A Unique, Essential Piece of Space-Jazz-Technical-Prog Metal

While I will attempt to describe the sound of this brilliant band, this is a work that truly must be heard to believe. No other band sounds like this, and the elements combine so well that I have no problem saying that Traced in Air is a masterpiece of progressive Metal. If someone asked for 5 albums to describe the genre, this would be one of my picks.

The most obvious sonic feature of this band is the vocoder / computer / robot vocals. At first, this seems like a gimmick, but it actually fits the nature of the music and the lyric themes quite well. The degree of effect varies between sections, though I don't think there are any completely clean vocals, and it is often backed by a dragonvoice vocal and the combination is surprisingly effective. Over the course of the album, there are actually quite a variety of different vocal tonalities used, and they all work well.

The second, though less singular, feature of this band is the use of double-note palm muting arpeggios as the primary rhythm guitar form. That guitar speak is a technical description of the continuous chugging on the low strings that, combined with the very busy drumming, form the rhythmic basis of the music. Cynic uses this technique extensively, and the feel is at once loose, on top of the beat, but very technical and precise. Always, this feels like live humans playing off each other, never like a computer-corrected, click-track governed sterile sound that is common to the genre.

The album also features a fair bit of clean jazz chording which is extremely tasty and offsets the heavy distortion well. The guitar soloing is fluid, seemingly effortless despite some nice chops in places. All of this evokes sonic images that like the cover artwork are complexly colorful. This is a rich music, you can feel the musicians pouring their energy into the work, and unlike most death metal, the emotion they inject is not hate or anger. I feel love, fascination, fear, wonder, suffering, hope, sadness, and strength within this music, though never naked aggression.

What holds this all together is a great sense of melody. When the storm dies down and the refrain of Evolutionary Sleeper is sung in all its computer assisted glory, what hits home is the melody, one of the most basic of musical elements. This is what will bring back non-metalheads, even musical snobs who might not even venture often in rock to say: Now that's some creative music. The band has the wisdom to keep the album short, so the listener is left satisfied.

If metal has masterpieces, this is one of them. Essential for those who care about the current state of progressive music.

This album has grown in appreciation for me to the point to think that it may be among the best prog metal albums ever made. Beautiful, deep, magical, amazing.
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