Cynic // Carbon-Based Anatomy
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Apparently Cynic entered the hanging-out-with-Ravi-Shankar-phase of their career.
Label: Seasons of Mist
Websites: cyniconline.com | facebook.com/cyniconline
Release Dates: US: 11.15.2011 | EU: 2011.11.11

Cynic - Carbon-Based AnatomyWell, since the release of Traced in Air, I can’t think of a band that has higher expectations for their next full length than Cynic. Really, I don’t know a single non-Cynic fanboy among the reviewers that I frequently read, and this is because their two records are fantastic. The EP they released last year (Re-Traced) was a neat little foray into other styles and I really loved it. But I don’t think that anyone is quite ready for the band to stay in those other styles. Carbon-Based Anatomy is raising questions as to whether or not they will come back to the techy metal for which they’re supposed to be known.

Carbon-Based Anatomy is a 23 minute EP that appears to tell a story that I don’t understand. It starts out with what sounds like the singing of an Inuit woman (or another kind of Native American maybe? It’s hard to know, I’m an Angry Metal Guy not a folk music of the world professor) and lush blankets of ethereal keyboards and soundscapes underneath it. This slow start, with its spoken parts and keyboards melds into the first real song “Carbon-Based Anatomy.” The drums here are intricate ‘tribal’ style drumming that showed up on Traced in Air as well. And while the vocals are fairly wispy and airy there is really no vocoder within earshot. Instead, what sounds like choirs of children backup the pondering melodies. This effect is very neat and the listener gets lost in it until a guitar solo kicks you in the teeth and the first real indication that Cynic is a metal band come in. But they don’t kick you again. Just the once.

At times Carbon-Based Anatomy feels like Cynic has gotten into their “doing lots of hallucinogenics and hanging out with Ravi Shankar” phase1 “Bija!” is laced with sitar (and maybe LSD) and “Box up My Bones” is also a very chill song that reminds me a lot more of newer Anathema or Porcupine Tree than anything else that Cynic has really done before. But with the smart usage of fretless bass and some really beautiful guitar work and melodic constructions and a chorus that sort of bores itself into your brain (like some kind of non-elven extraterrestrial), it’s still very successful.

Cynic 2011The track that most resembles anything from Traced in Air is “Elves Beam out,” which has amazing bass, drums and a very cool progressive feel. But again, it lilts along during the verses and never really gets heavy per se. It just kind of floats along, lightly, like a leaf floating on a breeze. It probably helps that this track is largely in 3/4 (with a rotating measure of 2 or 5 depending on how you want to count it), so it kind of waltzes along and grows in strength, before smoothly easing into the final soundscape of “Hieroglyphs.”

This EP has grown on me, but I want to remind everyone that this is not like Traced in Air or Focus at all. The metal is basically not here and it’s way more similar to the band members other projects (Æon Spoke and Gordian Knot). And as I was thinking about that fact, I was reminded of a discussion I had with a guy about the Re-Traced EP. What he said was this:

I think [Re-Traced] is probably a cash-in by a band that, most likely, doesn’t give a fuck about death metal [or metal most likely] and cannot wait to take the Cynic money and record more incredibly boring Gordian Knot records without having to worry about sales, and Exivious can get back together and people will care this time, for their records will include “former members of Cynic” stickers on them.

One wonders if maybe the strategy isn’t, instead, to blend these other projects under the Cynic name for the notoriety that the band has and a loyal fanbase that will just buy anything because it’s got the name Cynic on it. From this standpoint, this comment seems less bitchy than I initially reacted to it and more insightful.

That said, I still dig this for what it actually is. It’s a good progressive rock record in the classic vein of Pink Floyd‘s more abstract stuff with a nice Tool vibe rhythmically. And that’s totally fine. As a band they write the music they write. But I think some people could think that it was a tad… well, cynical.

Show 1 footnote

  1. I guess this means that the “carbohydrate, sequined-jumpsuit, young-girls-in-white-cotton-panties, waking-up-in-a-pool-of-your-own-vomit, bloated-purple-dead-on-a-toilet phase” isn’t too far behind.
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  • Mark Sugar

    THANK YOU for calling these guys out. Their stuff since the reunion is excellent, but those are more or less Aeon Spoke records with the name “Cynic” on the front of them. To say ‘these guys don’t give a fuck about death metal’ is an understatement. 

  • Portal.  This is like Portal but no female box, and it is not as cool either.  I think that the damned natural progression to “enlightenment” that seems to plague so many gifted musicians…this Zen butthole shit, and someone always has to “come out” and be gay or smell funny.  But anyway, the new Cynic is a far cry from what I expect.  I actually think Focus while it used to floor me, does not hold up as well as I would think…it sounds dare I say – dated.  And this new shit sounds a little kooky.  I think these guys rather  than aging in oak barrels for years instead hung out in glass bottles behind fluorescent lights for a few months.  Something skunked.

  • I fully understand your inherently biased position as a reviewer (and mine as a comment-er), but I don’t see why this album wasn’t given a higher rating. I’d give it a 5/5, but I’m still at that giddy fanboy stage.

     Every time you bash the record it’s because it isn’t heavy enough, not enough death. I’m perplexed by this for many reasons, although the largest would be your 5/5 for Vienna Teng’s album whateverit’scalled (which was quite nice). There are hordes of techdeath bands out there, but only a few in this Aeon Spoke-Porcupine Tree-esque territory. This album is still very Cynic, just not the old Cynic people are used to. I miss the techy stuff, I really do. But giving this album a lower rating because it isn’t there is like giving an 11th Hour album a low rating for that exact same reason. Cynic is moving in a new direction, (or maybe they aren’t and this is just another EP hiatus, who knows? I could go for another Focus)

    I find this album much more enjoyable than Re-Traced, which aside from Integral and Wheels Within Wheels was just ploddy and boring. hmph. angrymetalfanboy rant over. 

    • Vienna Teng’s record was something remarkable. This is good, but I don’t think it’s remarkable beyond being an enjoyable record. It’s got its moments, but it’s a) 3 songs and b) not really mind blowing at all. 

      And this record doesn’t get a lower rating because the techy stuff isn’t there (notice, I like it for what it is), it gets it because what makes Cynic unique and revolutionary was/is the techy stuff and therefore when they release stuff without it, it’s only OK. This record just throws the band in with Porcupine Tree or Æon Spoke or whatever. Also, the record isn’t perfect. It’s 6 tracks and only half of those are songs. It doesn’t deserve a perfect score. Had you reviewed it for me and given it a perfect score, I would’ve told you to put your fanboyism in a corner and think a little harder about it. 

      Will this be something you’re listening to and shitting yourself over in two years? No? Then it’s not a 5/5. At the end of the year will be the best thing on your list? No, it’s not a 5/5. It’s not a 4.5/5.0. You can say it’s maybe a 4 (Great!), but I don’t. I actually weighed giving it a 3.

      • If the technical stuff is what made Cynic, where did the 4.5/5 come from on Re-traced? Also, since when is song count a measure of quality? The soundscape tracks actually contribute greatly to the overall feel of the record, unlike pure filler ones (like Abysses off Alcest’s Ecailles de Lune).  Again, this is just my opinion, I’m more of a sucker for atmospheric/post-metal stuff than your average metaller. And while you lump this new material with porcupine tree etc., the old material is joining a lump of newer bands like Obscura. I find the composition of this to be as appealing as the technicality of their previous ventures.

        I have yet to master the skill of quarantining the fanboy of me, but I don’t see me giving it lower than a 4 (certainly not as good as Focus or Traced). Just now a day later, I would agree and not say it’s not a perfect record. This is why you are a reviewer, and I am but a peon.

        • Re-Traced took awesome songs and re-imagined them. It was super enjoyable and fun to listen to and it threw me right back into listening to Traced in Air. I have nothing against re-imaginations of the songs. But if this is a preview of Cynic’s future, I’m predicting a fall off in fans, because it’s not nearly as cool as what they were doing before.

          • Anonymous

            Kinda like what Opeth did. Cynic had a cool mix of both Tech Death & Progressive Metal and they successfully progressed their sound on “Traced”. I loved Focus but I could definitely hear why “Traced in Air” was better and more mature. Even though that direction was successful they shouldn’t abandon their roots completely. I agree, that if they do steer away from albums liked “Traced…” then they will alienate their fan base and,imho, will destroy what made them stand apart from the others. We don’t need another Tool…

          • i think it did deserve a 4, but that’s no big deal, the review IS good in its analysis – and bad in its conclusion. 

            i’d say, shove your tech-death fanboyism in a corner, and REALLY look at the record. Cynic is changing style? yes, they probably are. is it good music? yes, absolutely. i still believe that producing good music, the best music you can, is more important than satisfying the fans. if they want to go down that path, i’ll respect the decision: wouldn’t it be worse if they kept on the TiA format just to keep selling, without having “the spirit” behind it anymore? we don’t like “dishonest” bands that will do stuff for money, okay. this means we have to be mature and accept not all bands will ever take the direction we’d like them to take. and if we don’t want to buy their albums anymore, because we don’t like their new style, it’s ok. but complaining about the fact that musicians act like musicians… seems silly. (personally, as a prog-rock fan, i belive i will still be enjoying cynic for the years to come…)

  • Anonymous

    Oh, the irony.

    • What’s the irony?

      • Anonymous

        Actually, you touched on it in your own review.  The second half of it seems to imply that this release (as well as Re-Traced) might be seen as a calculated (some would say cynical) cash grab by the band to use its name to sell records and free the members up to do what it is they really want to do. And the name of this band? ‘Cynic’. It would seem rare that a band name was so prescient. Sorry if I was trying to be bit too clever…
        Whatever, based on the rest of the review, it sounds as though I would really enjoy the release. 

        • Though, I guess that the name being “Cynic” isn’t ironic at all, as in a sense, it’s what you should expect from some cynics. :P

          • Anonymous

            Maybe. And is the reviewer being cynical by calling the band ‘Cynic’ cynics?
            Oh shi.. #sound of head exploding#

  • Don’t really blame them for changing. Paul was like what 20 when he wrote the first record. Doubt I’ll be as into metal when I’m 40. It’s still a good album, though. Sean Malone being back on bass is always fun, also.

    • I thought the same before. But you’ll be surprised. If you started life out as a rocker pretty young, I think metal will really stick with you.

      But if the issue is that he’s old and doesn’t like metal anymore, why release a record that is ostensibly a technical/progressive metal record in order to bluff people into liking your band and then switch it out for Æon Spoke? That feels disingenuous and/or dishonest.

  • Al Tatts

    Judging by the 90 second snatches available on iTunes NZ it reminds me a whole lot of ambient trance bands like Shpongle, Younger Brother and Entheogenic.

    Pre-ordered for the release on Friday on that basis, not out of any love for tech-death.

    • Yeah, if you dig this kind of stuff it’s very good (hence 3.5). I dig this kind of stuff and really enjoy it. It’s just that you have to keep in mind who this is.

      • Al Tatts

        The first Cynic album, along with Pestilence’s ‘Spheres’, Death’s ‘Human’ and ‘Individual Thought Patterns’ and anything by Atheist, pretty much destroyed my love of death metal in the mid 90s. I couldn’t believe the genre I loved had just disappeared up its own ass.

        It’s taken a long time to come back to it, so I’m looking at this as a new band I’ve never heard before.

  • Anonymous

    Oh wow I just listened to Traced in Air for the first time

    /mindblown

    Thank you AMG

  • Anonymous

    I got a chance to speak with Paul briefly at a show a couple weeks ago. He is the calmest person I have ever met. You couldn’t get this guy angry to save your life. He’s in love with the universe and planet earth. Don’t expect to hear much metal out of these guys again. They’re not about money or using the cynic name. They’re just evolving. Yeah, I would love to hear some new shit in the same vein as focus but its not a surprise. From Traced to Re-traced to Carbon. No one should really be surprised or enraged. The filler tracks are kind of a waste but they had a bigger picture in mind. Anyway, I really dig carbon. Its a nice way to chill out from death metal without the commercialism that comes with most non-metal bands.