CYNIC — Traced in Air (review)

CYNIC — Traced in Air album cover Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
It’s hard to convey some two decades into the 21st century what a big deal CYNIC’s landmark album “Focus” was back in 1993 when it single-handedly shattered the playbook of death metal and took the fledgling genre into the world of jazz and electroncia. Part Morbid Angel, part Mahavishnu Orchestra and part Massive Attack, this Miami based band basically launched a whole new strain of what would be coined jazz-metal and then called it quits. The consequences of “Focus” being thrown into the limelight of underground extreme metalheads was that it upped the bar several notches in the proficiency department and while band’s like Death and Atheist were in the fusion game as well, CYNIC took progressive metal into a completely different dimension with “Focus” which remains a high mark to which technical metal music wizards still strive to emulate.

Despite dropping one of metal’s most revered albums onto on unsuspecting world, CYNIC quickly disbanded as they were working on a second studio album due to musical and personal differences. Jason Gobel (guitars), Paul Masvidal (guitars, vocals) and Sean Reinert (drums) continued together and formed a short-lived band called Portal (before the Australian band of the same name came around), bassist Sean Malone formed the fusion-metal band Gordian Knot and then Reinert and Masvidal formed yet another band called Aeon Spoke which was more of a pop album centered around an acoustic emo style. The former members of CYNIC happily went their own ways for almost 15 years but some of the members were starting to feel that they had unfinished business to take care of in the world of CYNIC and in 2006 Paul Masvidal announced that CYNIC would reunite to play at various metal and rock festivals. With no new album the band played songs from “Focus” the band Portal as well as a few covers and the new song “Evolutionary Sleeper.”

The new band minus Gobel decided the time was right to resurrect CYNIC and finish the material started for a sophomore album that never made it the first time around. With new guitarist Tymon Kruidenier, CYNIC finally released its second album TRACED IN AIR in 2008, fifteen long years after “Focus.” While expectations were cast upon that debut masterpiece as a reference point as to where the band might develop its new sounds, the fact that there was a 15 year delay and several other band experiences in between meant that TRACED IN AIR was more like the sum of all that came before and as the title indicates is more focused on an AIR-y feel as opposed to a knock your socks off death metal extravaganza. While still steeped in massive molten metal guitar antics, TRACED IN AIR was more of a light technical display of jazzy chord progression displayed in echoey arpeggios that set the tone for the eruptive heavier elements to follow and not the other way around. There were less dueling twin guitar leads and more focus to layering effects of polyrhythms and guitar tones.

From the chaotic swirls of “Nunc Fluens” that sound like the band acting as a receiver channeling the ethers to like a radio station, the rhythmic chaos slowly coalesces into the jazzed up guitar riffs that reassure that the band was still in the metal camp however brief they may be before the unadulterated jazz guitar intro of “The Space For This” sets an overall tone for TRACED IN AIR as Masavidal delivers his tender clean vocals in a subdued passionate plea, a style that he implements throughout the album that only harkens back to “Focus” with Kruidenier’s growly vocal accompaniments limited to backing supplement contrasting effects. The beauty of TRACED IN AIR is how it effortlessly transmogrifies from placid spaced out jazz guitar runs to blistering jazzy fusion metal with Reinert’s drumming virtuosity often taking center stage. As with focus, a feminine vocal counterpoint finds its way into key moments as to soften the raging rampages of the metal aspects as Amy Correia takes the place of SAonia Otey.

While “Focus” was fairly scattered, TRACED IN AIR is actually the more “focused” album of the two as the album displays a perfect mix of disparate elements which finds each track running into the next and the softness and bombastic playing together like well behaved children at a Christmas play. It’s clear that the chemistry was on fire once again and CYNIC crated an unbelievable successful comeback with this menagerie of technically infused jazz-metal that while not as revolutionary as the band’s first album was unbelievably relevant for the time of its release. Gone are the vocoder effects and thus this album is less alienating and more intimate but the bursts of angularity are steered into jazzy harmonies and melodies that keep the entire album feeling unified. This is one that may disappoint upon the first listen if you have already gone gaga over “Focus” but as i’ve listened to this many times over the years, it’s one that grows on you in a completely different way. Drop the comparisons and meditate on TRACED IN AIR on its own terms and it quickly becomes clear that this is a flawless album that delivers another magic moment in the world of progressive metal and the production is flawless.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
20 days ago
Yeah, i'm with you on that one. This one took me longer to love because it's a more demanding listen but when i pulled it out recently after Reinert's untimely passing, i was literally blown away and heard it completely differently than i remembered. I love the Kindly Bent To Free Us album as well although it's true that it's not as good as Focus or this one
UMUR wrote:
20 days ago
I actually listened to a couple of songs from this album yesterday while driving home from work (one of them being "King of Those Who Know"), and I love this album too. Cynic are still one of my favorite artists, and even their third album which many find a little weak is an album I enjoy greatly.

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