Carbon-Based Anatomy

01. Amidst The Coals
02. Carbon-Based Anatomy
03. Bija!
04. Box Up My Bones
05. Elves Beam Out
06. Hieroglyph

[Season of Mist]

There’s no doubt about it; Cynic are absolutely legendary. From their inception, they’ve revolutionized and influenced metal for decades to come. They’re a band that were perhaps ahead of their time when their 1993 debut album Focus was released, injecting spacey progressive rock and jazz fusion into the genre of death metal where such a touch was hard to come by. Their influence has given us bands like The Faceless, Veil of Maya, Textures, and countless others. Thankfully, the current metal scene is more hospitable and receptive of progression, and Cynic are continuing to push their sound into new extremes.

Post-comeback Cynic has so far showed signs of aging, but in a manner similar to that of fine wine. Where Focus had a rough exterior rooted in death metal (fun fact: guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert spent some time in Death), it was obvious from their return on 2008’s Traced In Air that a much greater emphasis was going to be placed on melody, atmosphere, and much stronger jazz fusion/prog rock leanings. Their latest offering in their Carbon-Based Anatomy EP takes a further step into this territory, bringing some new touches of psychedelia and tribal music with them.

Masvidal describes Carbon-Based Anatomy as “…both a philosophical as well as a musical journey, one that begins in the Amazon jungle on the lips of a shamanic wisewoman (as portrayed by Amy Correia) and ends in outer space.” Quite the apt description, Carbon-Based Anatomy is a very deep and thought-provoking musical experience that certainly feels like a literal journey. A haunting atmosphere of layered guitar and synth sounds open up “Amongst the Coals” before Correia sings in an indigenous language, setting the stage as more than a mere assortment of songs. Correia (whom you may remember as the female vocalist that popped up around Traced In Air) plays her parts well, getting just about as much facetime as Masvidal himself—who, by the way, dropped the vocoder almost entirely, continuing the trend he set on Re-Traced. 

While Paul did drop much of his dependance on vocal effects, Carbon-Based Anatomy sees an emphasis on group vocals parts lead by Paul or even sharing the parts with Correia, who is along throughout the entire EP. The zen-like “Box Up My Bones” has Paul and Amy split into left and right channels, which is hard to follow at first—especially when you want to follow Paul’s vocal melodies and not Amy’s spoken word approach at the lyrics. However, “Box Up My Bones” manages to be the highlight of the entire EP.

Other than “Box Up My Bones,” there are really two other tracks that could be considered actual Cynic songs and not merely transitional ideas or intros/outros that tie the album together in a concept. The hypnotic title track is one of the finer Cynic tracks, comparable to “Evolutionary Sleeper” from Traced In Air. “Elves Beam Out” is a bouncy happy-go-lucky track that is sort of an odd-ball in its jazz-pop for kids feel.

Admittedly, Carbon-Based Anatomy definitely takes some getting used to. This is a new sound for Cynic, and there is a lot going on that needs time to sink in to really appreciate. But really, once the EP has been given a few playthroughs, the biggest flaw it has is that it comes to an end much too soon. It’s almost a crime to have to put up with the excitement of entirely new Cynic material and have only 22 minutes of music to last you for at least a year before we can get more out of them. This is compounded by the fact that nearly half of the EP consists of ambient folk/tribal music that serves to frame the songs. Luckily though, Carbon-Based Anatomy is framed so well that it all flows as a continuous piece of music.

As much as I adore Cynic’s music, Carbon-Based Anatomy seems like too little, feeling more like a tease than a tying over. Old-school fans of Cynic who want to keep Cynic compartmentalized away from Aeon Spoke may find Carbon-Based Anatomy disappointing, because the two sounds reach a bit of a compromise here. Those of us who enjoy both bands should find no reason for qualm. This is a nice experiment that grows on you quickly, and while I greatly enjoy Carbon-Based Anatomy, it’s a sound that hopefully differs from their next full-length album. At any rate, any new music out of Cynic can’t possibly be bad, and Carbon-Based Anatomy will surely get ten times its weight in playtime.

Cynic – Carbon-Based Anatomy gets…


– JR

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