CYNIC

Metal Related / Technical Death Metal / Progressive Metal / Thrash Metal / Technical Thrash Metal • United States
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Formed in Florida, United States in 1987, Cynic is a progressive metal band that recorded a few thrash metal demos before moving to a highly complex form of jazz-fusion influenced experimental/avant-garde death metal, manifested in their seminal album, 1993's Focus, which for over a decade was the band's only official release.

Cynic disbanded in 1994 due to artistic differences while working on their second album, but regrouped in 2007 to perform a series of shows. The reunion was successful, with the group also performing a new song, entitled Evolutionary Sleeper, a composition in the unique style of Focus. This was a harbinger of things to come, as the group recorded two additional tracks, Integral Birth and Adam's Murmur and then signed a contract with Season of Mist for two albums. Their second album, Traced in Air, was released on November 17, 2008 in Europe and November 25, 2008 in North
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CYNIC Discography

CYNIC albums / top albums

CYNIC Focus album cover 4.07 | 76 ratings
Focus
Technical Death Metal 1993
CYNIC Traced in Air album cover 4.11 | 67 ratings
Traced in Air
Progressive Metal 2008
CYNIC Kindly Bent To Free Us album cover 3.53 | 20 ratings
Kindly Bent To Free Us
Metal Related 2014
CYNIC Ascension Codes album cover 2.96 | 5 ratings
Ascension Codes
Metal Related 2021

CYNIC EPs & splits

CYNIC The Breed Beyond album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Breed Beyond
Technical Death Metal 1993
CYNIC Re-Traced album cover 3.52 | 17 ratings
Re-Traced
Metal Related 2010
CYNIC Carbon-Based Anatomy album cover 3.73 | 24 ratings
Carbon-Based Anatomy
Metal Related 2011

CYNIC live albums

CYNIC demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

CYNIC '88 Demo album cover 2.15 | 5 ratings
'88 Demo
Thrash Metal 1988
CYNIC Reflections of a Dying World album cover 2.10 | 6 ratings
Reflections of a Dying World
Technical Thrash Metal 1989
CYNIC '90 Demo album cover 2.78 | 5 ratings
'90 Demo
Technical Death Metal 1990
CYNIC Demo 1991 album cover 3.06 | 5 ratings
Demo 1991
Technical Death Metal 1991
CYNIC Promo 08 album cover 3.00 | 4 ratings
Promo 08
Progressive Metal 2008

CYNIC re-issues & compilations

CYNIC The Portal Tapes album cover 3.35 | 6 ratings
The Portal Tapes
Non-Metal 2012
CYNIC Uroboric Forms - The Complete Demo Recordings album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Uroboric Forms - The Complete Demo Recordings
Technical Death Metal 2017

CYNIC singles (2)

.. Album Cover
3.58 | 2 ratings
Humanoid
Progressive Metal 2018
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Integral
Metal Related 2021

CYNIC movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

CYNIC Reviews

CYNIC Ascension Codes

Album · 2021 · Metal Related
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UMUR
"Ascension Codes" is the 4th full-length studio album by US progressive rock/metal act Cynic. The album was released through Season of Mist in November 2021. It´s the successor to "Kindly Bent To Free Us" from 2014, although the "Uroboric Forms - The Complete Demo Recordings" compilation album was released in 2017, and Cynic also released the "Humanoid" single in 2018 (the first new music from the band since 2014), and the "Integral" single in 2021.

It´s safe to say that Cynic have been through some years of turmoil and tragedy since the release of "Kindly Bent To Free Us" (2014) as drummer/original member Sean Reinert left in 2015 and subsequently tragically died of a heart attack in January 2020. A few years after he left and some disputes over the continued use of the Cynic name later, Reinert was replaced by Matt Lynch in 2017, who plays on "Ascension Codes". Bassist Sean Malone stuck with lead vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal, but another tragedy struck as he chose to end his own life in December 2020. Masvidal opted not to recruit a new bassist, and "Ascension Codes" actually doesn´t feature bass at all. Instead Masvidal hired keyboard player Dave Mackay to record the bass parts using a bass synthesizer.

Although Masvidal was always the main composer in Cynic, losing 2/3 of the lineup who have recorded most of the band´s previous material is bound to be a big loss and to have an impact on future material. Anyone familiar with Cynic knows how skilled, unique, and important for the band´s sound both Reinert and Malone were, and "Ascension Codes" is therefore in many ways a new beginning for Cynic.

Stylistically there is no doubt that you´re listening to a Cynic album though. Although Max Phelps is creadited for performing additional vocals, the extreme metal vocals are very few and far between. When they occur they are layered with the clean vocals and buried in the mix, which means they sound more like rough whispers than anything else. Masvidal performs his usual effect laden and futuristic sounding clean vocals. The atmosphere of the music is tranquil, spiritual, and mellow, although the album does feature more heavy parts. The complex heavy riffs aren´t the primary focus of the music though, so it´s the fusion influenced rhythms, futuristic synths, and mellow atmospheres which the band have opted to make their focal point. "Ascension Codes" is generally a layered and very busy album, but the great dynamics in the music make it a slightly more accessible release than what it may appear upon initial listens (at least in terms of being a pleasant listen).

"Ascension Codes" features 18 tracks and a total playing time of 49:09 minutes. Only half of the tracks are regular length (3-5 minutes long) songs though and the remaining tracks are short intros, transitions, or outros. Very few would probably despute that Masvidal is a musical genius and that his approach to writing and performing music is very unique, but even after repeated listens "Ascension Codes" is an album which is hard to crack. For all it´s technical finesse, gorgeous melancholic melodies, and multible layers of intruments and vocals, the tracks seem to melt together into one long flowing listening experience, and a few more memorable hooks would have been welcome. The album has a tendency to become a little too ambient and atmospheric, and just a little more attitude or edge could have made the album a more interesting listen. The whole UFO, celestial beings, ethereal spritual lyrics/imagery isn´t a surprise and fits with the general impression of how Masvidal appears as a person, but again the whole thing ends up a little light weight new age tinged. It´s proabably exactly what Masvidal is aiming for, but a few darker moments wouldn´t have hurt.

Upon conclusion "Ascension Codes" is still a quality release by Cynic, but it´s audible that it´s now the work of only one man, and the lack of Malone´s fretless bass playing and Reinert´s creative virtuosic drumming (although Lynch is definitely a capable replacement) do have a slightly negative impact on the music. Masvidal is also credited for producing "Ascension Codes" and therefore there are simply no one left to make a constructive (and sometimes necessary) criticism of his songwriting ideas or song arrangements. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved, although "Ascension Codes" is the type of album which may (or may not) grow on repeated listens, and therefore my rating is prone to change.

CYNIC Focus

Album · 1993 · Technical Death Metal
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SilentScream213
A wild ride of an album rife with technical prowess and atmospheric beauty. Easily the first of it’s kind, in 1993 there were no (to my knowledge) Death Metal albums purposefully trying to sound “pretty” or peaceful” juxtaposed with all the other elements of extreme music. Death Metal bands were all trying to predict or be the next development in the genre; usually this was defined by Death (the band) and their constant evolution and progression of the genre, but a few bands like Cynic still managed to stand out and make it to still undiscovered frontiers.

When talking about Cynic, one has to address the elephant in the room – those vocoded vocals. Because they’re definitely there, on just about every track. When I first heard those open track 1, I thought for sure they were just being used to intro the album. Then they consistently appeared throughout the song, and I’d hoped they were a one song gimmick… no luck. They are prevalent throughout the whole album. Eventually I was able to tolerate them, and I do appreciate the futuristic aesthetic they bring to the album. I understand the purpose, and it was certainly a bold move to put in a Death Metal album. That aside, I will probably never enjoy them, and they definitely keep this otherwise flawless record from a higher rating.

But what a masterpiece this is otherwise. The Tech Death aspects of this record are very melodic and riff-driven, with noodling never overtaking the primary goal of creating fantastic and memorable melodies. Like all the best albums, every instrument is playing lead; rhythm instruments are varied and powerful, bass is very audible and melodic itself. Then there are the keys and various other atmospherics and electronics, which add wonderfully to this album. They are worked tastefully between catchy leads and adding lush backing sound. Overall the album sounds incredibly futuristic and spacey, an incredible feat for 1993. It still sounds very fresh decades later.

One very great aspect of this album is there is never a dull moment. In fact, it’s so insanely layered you could listen to it over and over and always find something new. Even the slower, more peaceful parts have so much going on, it really is an “experience” without being overly pretentious. Just fantastic music here.

CYNIC Ascension Codes

Album · 2021 · Metal Related
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lukretion
It’s impossible to start this review of Cynic’s fourth full-length album Ascension Codes without mentioning the sad twist of fate that in 2020 claimed the lives of both drummer Sean Reinert and bass-player Sean Malone in the space of less than 12 months. Although Reinert was no longer part of Cynic (he had left the band in 2015), his premature death due to heart failure hit hard the Cynic family, possibly contributing to Malone’s bout of depression that lead to his suicide. Faced with such terrible events, surviving band members Paul Masvidal (guitar/vocals) and Matt Lynch (who joined Cynic as drummer since 2017) were left with the painful task to assemble a new line-up and complete the music for an album that had been in gestation since 2014’s Kindly Bent to Free Us. Masvidal felt immediately that it was not possible to replace Malone and therefore asked pianist Dave Mackay to perform the bass lines of the album on bass synthesizer instead. The trio of musicians were further helped to put together the record by a small number of guest artists, including guitar wizard Plini (who guests on “The Winged Ones”), vocalist Max Phelps, and ambient artist DARK (guitar textures).

The end result is Ascension Codes, a 49-minute cosmic journey divided in 18 individual tracks that alternate between short ambient interludes and lengthier “proper” songs. Musically, the album sounds unmistakably 21st-century Cynic, merging together progressive rock, jazz/fusion, ambient music and a touch of alt/post rock. It follows closely in the footsteps of Cynic’s previous LP Kindly Bent to Free Us, accentuating even further the jazz/fusion/ambient influences and toning down the metal vibes instead. The music is spacey, mellow and atmospheric, engulfing the listener in a hazy sea of mesmerizing drum patterns, groovy bass lines, and layered swathes of dreamy guitars and keyboards. The guitar riffs are nervous and angular, yet strangely smooth and immersive. Lynch’s work behind the drumkit is simply astonishing, his performance a treasure-trove of clever, hyper-technical drum patterns that are nevertheless always played in the best interest of the song. Mackay’s dexterous keyboard playing is also a great addition to Cynic’s music, contributing smooth jazz vibes to the proceedings as well as excellent grooves on the bass synthesizer. Masvidal’s dreamy, high-pitched clean vocals fit perfectly with the mellow atmosphere of the songs, channeling a sort of futuristic Jon Anderson (Yes), both sonically and lyrically.

The album packs some excellent tracks, like the emotionally-charged “Mythical Serpents” where Masvidal’s delicate falsetto tugs the right heartstrings, almost pushing the song in Sigur Rós territory. “Aurora” is more urgent and direct, adding some subtly catchy alt-rock influences that make it one of the most memorable songs of the album. Meanwhile, “In a Multiverse where Atoms Sing” and album closer “Diamond Light Body” are pure prog heaven, reaching levels of hyperactivity and melodic sublimity that are reminiscent of Devin Townsend’s best work.

However, elsewhere the album loses a little bit steam, especially towards the middle where the long, ambient piece “DNA Activation Template” is rather monotonous and breaks unnecessarily the flow of the album. The short interludes between the main songs are also not fantastic in terms of flow. These ambient pieces do not work very well as intros or outros to the songs they bookend, but rather give the record a sense of “stop-and-go” that is incongruous with the immersive ebb and flow of the main compositions. Another complaint I have with the album is that it’s a tad too samey and homogeneous. It lives in its own very definite sonic space, made up of mellow and spacey atmospheres that are endearing, but also fail to leave a very strong first impression on the listener. Repeated listens are certainly necessarily here, but even then I sense a general struggle to ascend beyond the album’s self-imposed dreamy confines with something that is truly momentous and unforgettable.

With a better flow and a couple more arresting songs in the vein of “Mythical Serpents”, “Aurora” or “In a Multiverse where Atoms Sing”, Ascension Codes could have easily crept up on my top 10 of 2021 albums. While it probably won’t end up there, it is nevertheless a very pleasurable album to sit through and will no doubt please Cynic aficionados as well as fans of the mellower, Floyd-infused brands of progressive rock and metal.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

CYNIC Carbon-Based Anatomy

EP · 2011 · Metal Related
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siLLy puPPy
After giving the metal world a huge boost of more technically dazzling jazz-fusion workouts on its debut album “Focus” which remains an undisputed classic in the proggy metal section of the supermarket, CYNIC quickly called it quits and went on a 15 year hiatus at least as a brand name. Founding members guitarist / vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert immediately went in the direction of ambient laced alternative pop in the indie rock band Æon Spoke while bassist Sean Malone went the opposite direction into the proggy jazz-fusion instrumental band Gordian Knot. Both bands released a few albums in the 90s and all was amicable with both Reinert and Masvidal appearing on Gordian Knot albums however the creative differences were vast.

Come 2006 and Masvidal decided to reform CYNIC and played a few gigs around Europe. The magic was rekindled which led to a new album that resulted in the lauded late but finally there followup “Traced In Air” which pretty much provided the perfect triumvirate effect of “Focus” era CYNIC merged with the atmospheric spiciness of Æon Spoke and the gnarled technical jazzy workouts as heard from Gordian Knot. While the death metal had been toned down several notches, several moments reminisced of the early days when the Tampa scene was still smoking hot. After “Traced In Air” things got a little weird. Instead of releasing another album, two years later the “new” CYNIC instead released an EP titled “Re-Traced” which reinterpreted four tracks from “Traced In Air” that took the bands sound closer to the world of Æon Spoke than early CYNIC but since this was just considered a little experimental blip between albums, metal fans just shook it off as one of those things.

Still awaiting a new album with the hopes of revisiting the “Focus” years, CYNIC surprised again with yet another EP titled CARBON-BASED ANATOMY to emerge in 2011 (11/11/11 actually) with only six tracks that amounted to only a mere 23 minutes of playing time. It was clear that the Æon Spoke side of the equation was here to stay when an unused track (“Homo Sapiens”) from that band resurfaced as the title track. Out of the six tracks only three pick up where “Traced In Air” left off with the remaining three tracks sounding nothing like CYNIC at all, well at least not in such a way as they are presented. “Amidst The Coals” begins the playlist and upon first listen you wonder if you popped in the wrong disc as this sounds like some sort of ambient new age music! Yes, an ambient airy melody takes you into the ethers accompanied by Amy Correia from previous CYNIC albums offering a traditional icaro which is a magic song performed by Amazonian indigenous tribes in order to provide medicinal healing sessions.

The ambient prayer circle of the intro slowly fades into the more upbeat title track which instantly shows an uncanny production job of how each track seamlessly flows into the next on this EP which essentially makes this a six act suite of sorts. Along with the ambient synth sounds Reinert’s jazzy drumming attacks slowly ushers in the vocals which find Masvidal’s unique vocal style somewhere between U2’s Bono in his passionate delivery and Toby Driver from Kayo Dot in eccentricity which in tandem finds a wider range of softer tones that bring the CYNIC sound into higher dimensions but still no metal! Well, that’s what you begin to think until the four minute mark and then suddenly some heavy chord stomps and sizzling guitar solos remind you that CYNIC is, well at least WAS a metal band! Perhaps an ambient ethno-metal band at this point but enough to squeak into metal databases anyways!

The track is followed by the Ravi Shankar sounding “Bija!” which finds a sitar and tablas in conversation with female vocal chants however the melody is the same as the bridge of the title track and thus the subliminal connections have been made and then it sinks in on what a magnificent journey CARBON-BASED ANATOMY is for all its brevity! The next two tracks “Box Up My Bones” and “Elves Beam Out” both deliver the metal goods at last but are in no hurry to do so. Like the other tracks they begin with slow clean guitar arpeggios and atmospheric bliss before breaking out the bass grooves, percussive jazz lessons and guitar distortion. If you’re looking for a connection to the “Traced In Air” album then you’ve found it at last and it does not disappoint however remember that you are in a cloud city now and that metal is just an after thought. Outbursts of heavy riffs and guitar solos crank out in full bombast but all in all this EP has demoted them to side notes rather than the star of the show.

As the EP ends with some kind of new age tribute to Enya with “Hieroglyph,” Correia now recites a poem of cosmic grandeur as the atmospheric ambience swirls around her words as if zephyr winds were caressing Isis in mid-flight. And then a couple of minutes later the whole shebang is over. No doubt this may come off as a disappointment for those expecting a headbanging experience and that was even my initial reaction however this is a work of subtleties and sort of grows on you once you just bathe yourself in all its glory. While the metal bombast is set to simmer, the technical prowess of the musicians is on high although it does alternate between Brian Eno ambient textures and sounds more like Gordian Knot than early CYNIC. From a progressive rock perspective, this is an excellent album but for those who aren’t so forgiving when the metal has been forbidden from making contact with the pedal then you will have to go back to “Focus” to get that fix. While admittedly a step down from the magnanimous masterpiece that resulted in “Traced In Air,” CARBON-BASED ANATOMY is still very much a compelling piece of work in its own right.

CYNIC Traced in Air

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
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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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