Cynic formed in 1987, released their first album, Focus, in 1993, and broke up in 1994 while working on a second album. Their debut has long been considered a technical metal landmark, a collection of songs made by an immensely talented collective that disappeared from the scene all too soon. The band reunited a dozen years after the break up to perform some live dates, and then announced in 2008 that the band would enter the studio to record a follow up to Focus. The Fall of that same year, Traced in Air appeared on store shelves to much fanfare among the metal community as those who anointed Focus with its immortal status were anticipating the arrival of a similar classic, although the kept carefully hidden away the doubts that time and band member changes may have robbed them of that magical chemistry from the early 1990s. Once heard, it seems that all doubts have melted away as Traced in Air has received a large number of highly positive reviews.
It should be noted that until the release of Traced in Air, I had never heard anything from the band. For that matter, I not even heard of them until the last year or so. This allows me to enter into this experience without the added baggage of hopes and expectations fans of Focus had. Of course, it also ensures that I do not have the experience of their prior album to form a bed of comparison from. In any case, I eagerly anticipated the experience that lay before me.
I loaded up the album, pressed play and for an all too brief 32-minutes I was treated to some of the most creative and original music I have heard this year. There is something very special in the way they are able to arrange their music and take the listener on a journey of controlled chaos. If you do not listen you may not get it, it could just sound like a big mass of notes, but when you listen, a new world emerges. It is like those hidden picture images where you have to stare at it for awhile before the image of a sailboat emerges. Pay attention and the instrumental mastery of Cynic makes itself apparent.
Flawlessly produced and beautifully executed, this combination of progressive, metal, jazz, and experimental music is an album to be savored. The band is replete with virtuoso instrumentalists who have plenty of opportunities to show what they can do, all while never falling prey to egotistical displays of excess. There are no rambling jaunts, or overdone solos, everything works toward the benefit of the song at hand.
The title, Traced in Air, is a beautifully poetic way of describing the music. The songs all have a free flowing structure that is as focused as it is sonically freeing. Each song flows as if it were traced in air, open and free, yet amazing dense and layered.
Paul Masvidal is the man behind the guitar leads and vocals, and both are quite exceptional. His voice is soft, not exactly what I was expecting. There is a light quality to it that fits very well over his lead work, which leads the songs down a variety of different paths. Meanwhile, Sean Reinert on drums threatens to steal the show with some very inventive work rivaling just about anyone I've heard. Backing them up are Sean Malone on bass and Tymon Kruidenier on guitar (and also provider of the occasional death growl).
Bottomline. If you like metal, hell, if you like music, truly original music that is not afraid to take chances, do yourself a favor and get this album. You will not be disappointed. I know I'm not, I also know I need to get a copy of Focus and see how this all began.