Released: 2008, Season of Mist
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
When the FOCUS album was released some 15 years ago (jeez, do I feel old now), it was truly a landmark album within the death metal scene. Bands like Atheist and Pestilence were already incorporating progressive elements into their music, but Cynic took things into a completely new spectrum. Adding jazz and fusion into an already stunningly technical mix, FOCUS set the bar incredibly high and is still regarded by many as the alpha and omega of the progressive death metal genre. And then nothing happened for 15 years, sort of. Cynic disbanded, but the creative forces behind the band, Paul Masvidal, Sean Malone, and Sean Reinert would carry on with new projects like Portal, Aeon Spoke, and Gordian Knot (all TREMENDOUS bands that you should know) allowing them to expand beyond the boundaries of metal and fully embrace their progressive tendencies. But the question of a Cynic reunion always followed the individual members, especially after the remastered re-release of FOCUS a few years ago. Masvidal, Malone, and Reinert eventually warmed to the idea of resurrecting Cynic and recording a proper follow up to FOCUS. That day has come in the form of TRACED IN AIR.
It’s important to state that TRACED IN AIR is not FOCUS 2. This is where Cynic would be 15 years after the fact, not stuck in 1993. As many bands have progressed in similar time spans, the relation to anything death metal is long gone. Though closer to an honest progressive metal tag, this is really in a niche all of its own. “Nunc Fluens” starts the disc as a re-introduction to the band. Reinert’s tribal drum patterns ascend in the mix, building up to a sharp, sudden end. “The Space For This” begins subdued with clean jazz guitar picking, which sweeps into complex riffs captured within even more complex time signatures. “Evolutionary Sleeper” is an evocative yet subdued, with a simple chorus consisting of the song’s title. “Integral Birth” is my personal favorite, and is one of the few songs here that wouldn’t feel too out of place on their debut. “Adam’s Murmur” is another more aggressive track, featuring some backing growls courtesy of new second guitarist Tymon Kruidenier. “King of Those Who Know” is musically consistent with the balance of the disc and features the addition of female vocals before stepping up the pace. “Nunc Stans” is the book end to the opener “Nunc Fluens.” Whereas the opening track ascends and builds anticipation, here we descend back to the depths with a moving and engaging masterpiece that leaves you wanting so much more.
Words cannot adequately describe the complexity and sincerity of the songwriting and performances captured on TRACED IN AIR. The production is the cleanest that I’ve ever heard on a metal record and require strapping on a set of quality head phones to truly capture everything that’s going on (and there is a lot). Repeated listens will reveal moments and musical phrasings that you missed previously. Regrettably, the album is short – 35 minutes short. One would think that with 15 years of creative gestation that the band could have offered up a few more songs to the legions of fans that have waited so patiently for their return. It’s a small complaint, but I think it’s a valid one nonetheless. Minimal gripes aside, TRACED IN AIR is an experience to be heard. Already garnering some high profile support slots on tour with Opeth and Meshuggah, Cynic is officially back. Ideally it won’t be a decade and a half before we get album number 3, but in the meantime the band has given us a brilliant collection of songs to keep us satiated until then.