Cynic (Death Metal)
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There's a big difference between progressive rock and "progressive" rock. The quotation marks apply to bands that consistently deliver virtuosic musicianship, highfalutin' lyrics, complex arrangements, and bloated compositions, yet ultimately maintain essentially the same sound from album to album; think Marillion, Dream Theater, Symphony X, and their ilk. But then there are the quotation-free progressive rock bands; those dedicated to continually pushing and testing their imagination, and few of those epitomize this stance as nobly as the legendary Cynic. When it finally emerged following a 14-year band layoff, Cynic's belated sophomore album, Traced in Air, bore little in common with its landmark predecessor, Focus, beyond a shared sense of adventure. The same can't be said for 2011's Carbon-Based Anatomy EP, but only because of the relatively short gestation period involved in its creation, because Cynic's ongoing musical evolution clearly continues, unrestricted. In fact, in spite of its rather grotesque cover art, this six-song suite hardly ever roams into recognizably "metallic" terrain, but instead coasts along dreamily on ethereal sounds more typical of new age or ambient music. At their most aggressive, "Box Up My Bones," "Elves Beam Out" (say what?), and the title track partake in patches of hyperactive drumming, minor-chord guitar figures, and fluid solos, but never will they ignite anything resembling a mosh pit. There's also no sign of either Paul Masvidal's processed vocoder or coarse death metal vocals of yore, leaving his newfound shy croon fully exposed to the elements, nude and fragile, yet compatible, nonetheless, with its new surroundings. So too are the variety of female voices provided by one Amy Correia on Carbon-Based Anatomy's remaining three cuts, which largely serve as connective tissue between the proper tunes cited above; hear her ululating like an aspiring Asha Bhosle on "Amidst the Coals" and "Bija!" (the latter rich in atmospheric tabla), then coolly narrating esoteric mish-mash on the closing "Hieroglyph." In all, this release constitutes some 23 minutes of superlative music from a band that many never dreamed would ever be heard from again; and while that's not to imply that Carbon-Based Anatomy should be worshipped without question, it certainly seems like a stellar next mini-chapter for Cynic and another vindication for true progressive rock and metal -- not the quotation-bound stuff. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia