Cynic – Ascension Codes Review

If you aren’t familiar with Cynic… I guess just fuck you? Look at another website, loser1. If you are, I can tell you right off the bat that the Seans are dearly missed2. I’m not familiar with the role of Malone & Reinert in shaping the band’s ambitions, but Ascension Codes does seem like a case of Masvidal just running with it and trying to make the most Cynic-ass record he could without them. He really did. At best, Ascension Codes, proves Paul Masvidal can keep Cynic going at a respectable level. At worst, it suggests he can’t help but drown the project in its own aesthetic.

For fans, the successes might be all that really matter. “The Winged Ones,” a determined instrumental, drips with the special Cynic sauce; a cool jazz fusion atmosphere atop a bubbling undercurrent of weird, skewed prog metal. When the band really kick it into gear on “Elements and Inhabitants” with a Focus style palm-muted riff, I’m not so much instantly transported as instantaneously astrally projected. This and most of the other lengthy songs on Ascension Codes succeed by alternation between chill lulls and big hooks from Masvidal, whether via guitar or voice. Texturally binding these disparate impulses is largely the job of Matt Lynch, a downright killer drummer. Obviously brought on because of his ability to emulate Sean Reinert’s busy jazz-fusion-influenced style, Lynch nevertheless steps outside Reinert’s shadow, shuffling through busy beats with the glitchy mania of Deantoni Parks. “Architects of Consciousness” gives him plenty of space to rattle out bustling beats across Dave Mackay’s spacey keys. Noticeably lacking though, is any real compensation for Malone’s bass; Mackay fills space well enough with the synths, but nothing really compensates for those euphoric runs and agile lines.

Tracklist-checkers will notice no mention in the last paragraph of short songs like “A’-va432,” and “DU-*61.714285.” These, the codes, can be understood as interludes, but I prefer to think of them as Cynic grindcore. Some burbling, shiny sounds, maybe a jittering rhythm, a woman’s voice tells you to align your DNA vibrations, and then it’s over; Cynic in thirty seconds. However, just like the first grindcore, it’s kind of a joke. Mysticism is never too far from you in metal, but Cynic’s particular mysticism—that of South Florida crystal healers—set them apart from the beginning, serving not just to singularize them but to actually drive their music. It’s a huge reason why they’re good; Cynic’s interests and ideas are fundamentally different from those of other metal bands. The codes are probably Cynic’s most direct expression of this mysticism and as such bypass the filter of metal, directly beaming crystal wisdom into your mind consciousness. After two or three of these, your spiritual light heartbeats are fully synchronized with those of the cosmic mother, rendering further transmissions unnecessary. There are nine codes.

Those, plus the five-and-a-half minutes of unadulterated cellular cosmology in “DNA Activation Template,” space out Ascension Codes’ most energetic vibrations. The fully enlightened might therefore skip the third-eye Ludovico and go for the juice cleanse version, which yields a lean 40 minutes of non-toxic Cynic material. The middle third of this re-cut is the best, with “Architects of Consciousness” and “Aurora” recapturing the magic of Traced in Air. The latter stands out with a charismatic buildup, a delicate and memorable chorus, and a few fun percussion breaks for Lynch’s kit and drum machine work. I’d love to hear more of this breakcore influence from him; it contrasts very well with the band’s ethereal soundscapes.

Despite making fun of their kooky aesthetic and using them as the primary case study for my Law of Increasing Hippietude, I’m not a hardened Cynic skeptic. Even at their poppiest—Kindly Bent to Free Us and especially Carbon Based Anatomy—the band do it for me. Unique but still tied to progressive death metal, the Cynic sound is familiar enough to fall within my wheelhouse but different enough to offer me something engaging. Ascension Codes manages to be that, to be a Cynic album, without Malone & Reinert, which is no mean feat for Masvidal & co. to pull off. But it’s by far the band’s least focused work, constantly interrupting itself. I love some very discursive albums (Frances the Mute and In Somniphobia come to mind), but Ascension Codes doesn’t quite justify its digressions, which are more stunts than statements, and unimpressive ones at that. But the bulk of Ascension Codes is good enough to return to and introduces new possibilities for the band going forward. And after this showing, I hope they do; though they could probably use a new bassist.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: cynic.bandcamp.com | cyniconline.com | facebook.com/cynic
Releases Worldwide: November 26th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Editor’s Note: do not look at another website.
  2. The music I love owes a lot to their influence; both left us far to soon.
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