Kindly Bent To Free Us

Written by: AP on 25/06/2014 13:20:44

Despite their career stretching nearly three decades back, Cynic lay claim to just three studio albums, including this latest offering "Kindly Bent to Free Us"; and two EPs. Of course, they originally disbanded in 1994 - only a year after the release of their début full-length "Focus", which is widely regarded as a landmark release in the progressive metal genre - before re-uniting in 2006, thus explaining the vacuum of no new material until 2008's "Traced in Air" and the two EPs "Re-Traced" & "Carbon-Based Anatomy" that followed in 2010 and 2011, respectively. And yet, across so few releases, the trio has managed successfully to explore a wider variety of stylistic influences than most, from their punk, thrash and hardcore origins to death- and progressive metal, jazz fusion and space rock; to the point that The New York Times proclaimed Cynic were to "be understood not so much alongside any metal bands but along with the radical harmonic progressives in the last 45 years of pop and jazz: composers like Milton Nascimento, The Beach Boys or Pat Metheny." If such a strange description of essentially a metal band's style and sound seems familiar, then I would guess that Between the Buried and Me has emerged in your mind as another example - which is only appropriate given that group's open admission to drawing inspiration from Cynic.

Over the course of the aforementioned two EPs, the music of Cynic has been marked by a pronounced shift toward the lighter and more contemplative, and while it has long been an open secret that both remaining founding members, vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal & drummer Sean Reinert are gay, I cannot help but imagine the titling of their latest creation alludes as much to their recent public 'coming out' in a piece for The L.A. Times as it does to their continuing desire to distort, bend and challenge the boundaries of metal; to free themselves of the conservatism that still plagues the genre both musically and in terms of attitude. But then fans of Cynic will already have been well aware that "Kindly Bent to Free Us" was never going to be dabbling in the technical death metal that laid the foundation for "Focus", nor that the trio, completed by bassist Sean Malone, was going to make it easy for the listener.

With opening track "True Hallucination Speak" Cynic make their intentions clear: there will be no rewinding of their sound two decades back; they will continue their introspection, unearthing from within an ever growing assortment of ideas that align more closely with the hugely innovative work of Pink Floyd than with any post-80's metal band. This song and the following "Lion's Roar" boast some of the most elated and uplifting riffs I've ever borne witness to in the realm of rock music (beating out competition even from BTBAM's "Prequel to the Sequel"), accentuated by the warm and deep, almost tuba-like presence of Malone's traversing bass lines; and Masvidal's soft, celestial singing. The result is a perversely intoxicating juxtaposition of soothing atmosphere and baffling instrumental complexity, culminating in the mesmerising, dreamlike odyssey of the title track immediately after. Indeed, this opening trifecta is a masterclass in progressive rock and metal, kicking the record off in flying colours, and with all the subtlety and nonchalance of musicians who know they're good but have no wish to over-indulge in bravado.

Had they written a four-song EP concluding in the seventh track "Holy Fallout", there would have been dampening my praise. And although the decline in quality thereafter is marked, in the context of this band's mastery that by itself is more like finishing second place than earning no prize at all. Through "Infinite Shapes" the album transitions into darker and more mysterious space exploration, reducing the pace and injecting more air between each passage. But songs like "Moon Heart Sun Head", "Gitanjali" and "Endlessly Bountiful" never make an equivalent impact despite their necessity in terms of variety (a vital element in progressive rock/metal albums, I find) and the undeniable skill of songwriting underlying them. So despite hardly being comparable to "Focus" or even "Traced in Air", this latest opus never reaches those same astounding heights; only its beginning has me speechless - the rest merely strongly approving.

Download: True Hallucination Speak, The Lion's Roar, Kindly Bent to Free Us, Holy Fallout
For the fans of: Animals as Leaders, Between the Buried and Me, Pink Floyd
Listen: Facebook

Release date 14.02.2014
Season of Mist

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