Monday, February 17, 2014

Cynic - Kindly Bent To Free Us - First Rate Thinking Man's Metal

It could be said that Cynic has image issues. Google in one direction and they'll be called prog, go in another direction and you can read about their thrash metal origins, Wiki will tell you they're all but a polka band at times. Whatever they've been, and however they've been perceived is for me immaterial - I'm a neophyte, and I find them fabulous.

I'm also older, and I come from a time when Rush was both progressive and metal, Yes was both folk and progressive, and labels meant much less as long as the goods were delivered, and that's the point here. Cynic has delivered, in spades. Kindly Bent To Free Us is a huge album in scope and achievement. There must be something in the air, or the water in Los Angeles of late - first it's the new Bigelf return with Damon Fox and Mike Portnoy teaming up for a new album of near perfect intelligent metal, and now this.

Cynic is currently operating as a trio in the studio - Paul Masvidal (guitars, vocals) and Sean Reinert (drums) have been a team since 1987, and bassist Sean Malone has been on board since 1993, and it's obvious that this is a group committed to constant inspiration and reinterpretation. There are moments where they are heavy and intricate, breathy and melodic, and experimental and innovative - and these moments, they often come within one tune, quite often, in fact.

The songs....

True Hallucination Speak comes in like a lamb, but not for long - a nice arpeggiated guitar part is joined by slamming drums, and before you know it, its all given way to an exotic riff that is doubled by a distorted guitar and Malone's killer fretless bass, as Masvidal sings over the top of it all in a breathy burst of melody. Rush meets XTC? Skylarking with Tom Sawyer, perhaps. Then there's a shred solo that I don't hate, but adore for its brevity and skill. We're only getting started as a ultra lush chorale is up next and it's like hearing what we would have wanted The Beach Boys to sound like in 2014. And, then back to the heaviness - and all without batting an eyelash, or a single pothole along the way. Yeah, somethings going on here....

Next it's up and rocking front and center as The Lion's Roar unfolds - again, scenes change with startling quickness, but still as smooth as silk. Malone's bass work percolates madly, and his tone is perfectly set in the mix between a snapping snare, and all of the layered guitars and vocals. There are chops galore on display, but they never grate, they always seem to serve the song, which makes all the difference. This sounds like a band that has ascended.

The title cut is up next, and it's ethereal beauty delivered by a silken melody, and some nice undercoating of bass and guitar before a staggering, stuttering riff-a-rama gets kicked around as casually as a football on a fall afternoon. I have a tough time associating this with ex-death metallers, but there you have it. Reinert's a stunning drummer with the ability to sound technically smashing, but not over computerized - he's a player! These arrangements are quite mind-blowing - whiplashing my brain from side to side, back to front, but in the coolest fashion.

Infinite Shapes is arena huge in its scope - again, one moment it's metal heavy, and then it recalls the romantic 80s via the Finn brothers Crowded House. Jazz smarts and rock aggression makes for a merry marriage as Masvidal continues to coax otherworldly tones out of his synths and mixes them deftly with his sure handed guitar work. This is where metal and prog should have always ended up when they held hands in the dark.

Vocal melody is often a sadly lacking quality on so many multi-genre outings, but over and over Cynic puts melody first, and then follow with the incredible instrumental interplay. Moon Heart Sun Head would work with an acoustic guitar, of a piano, but you throw in a full band of dazzling technical prowess, and it's a whole other kettle of wonderfulness. Then add in a bit of Alan Watt waxing on consciousness, and it's all too much - I'm smitten. You will be, too.

Rabindranath Tagore anyone? The Indian poet was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize For Literature in 1913 for his English language tome Gitanjali (an interpreted offering of 103 prayer songs), and Cynic do him proper homage here with another stunner. This one is a bit more direct rock, but again it makes its mark. Deep thinkers and players? Color me impressed, once again.

Holy Fallout features a bit of vocoder on the vocals, and Daft Punk isn't the only band that can mix tech with heart. More pop atop the rock as the band pushes and pulls the beat to and fro between vocal sections of meditative reflection. What I'm dying to know is, can they pull it off live? I'd give plenty just to see them try. Put this bunch on tour with the newly reborn Bigelf, and you'd have the heavy rock tour of 2014.

Riding out to the sundown with a bit of Frippertronica, Cynic lay it down with Endlessly Bountiful, a glorious way to end this parade. Beatles-y via Klaatu, this is all layered vocals and synths on the road to the ethers, it all ends with a gentle acoustic guitar outro that could not be more perfect in its place.

There are those that say the album as an art form is passé, and to them I say 'bullshit.' Then in a more friendly fashion, I may invite them to give this a spin, or perhaps the new and brilliant Into The Maelstrom by the aforementioned Bigelf, and then ask them to reiterate - the album isn't dead at all. Don't listen to those whose agendas are not ours, Rock Ain't Near Dead....Cynic just proved it.

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