Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. So sit back, relax, and a grab a gin and tonic, because we're going on a journey in search of modern albums that have primed the canvas of today's metal music scene.
The contemporary albums in this series serve as tributaries that have, for better or worse, altered the course of the flowing blackness that is the metal steam of life. For this, the seventh edition of this series, we're examining a piece from a band who took a fifteen year hiatus… only to come back with a strange and brilliant trip into technical progressive metal. Today's 'comeback kid' award goes to…
CYNIC'S TRACED IN AIR
Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert, and Sean Malone came together in 1993 to release Cynic's first full length album Focus. This trio hailing from Miami, Florida entered the scene with a current, retro, futuristic, bass-bombing, black-metal-vocaled album. Suffice it to say, that nothing up until this point in the metal world really came close to Cynic's soft/hard, pretty/ugly, dissonant/harmonious release. It's actually quite tough to describe, because the elements come together oddly like a peanut butter, marshmallow-fluff and banana sandwich – yet somehow it all works. Did they sound a little like Dream Theater? Yes. Did they sound a little like Death? Yes! Did they sound nothing like either of those bands? Also, yes.
The work of Focus is wildly interesting and unpredictable, to say the least. Cynic's own website describes their aesthetic as, "aggression and tranquility, fluidity and stasis, grace and abandon". The album established a sound for Cynic which followed them throughout their career and into the aforementioned fifteen year gap in between Focus and their second album Traced in Air.
Even before the release of Focus, the Cynic had established themselves both with demos from the late 80's, and with Masvidal and Reinerts's work on Death's Human album. So, as their website's biography reflects, "the record label expected to capitalize on the momentum and reputation" of this previously-known work. Focus was not accepted by world-wide fans because it didn't sound like what they were expecting to hear: a harsher, angrier album. What kills me about this, is that Focus doesn't lack death metal trimmings; it just has a whole museum full of other interesting, diverse elements. But as many a metal fan knows, divided sentiments among fans and their expectations can ruin a good thing. After opening for Cannibal Corpse and touring the US once, Cynic broke up. To read a more in depth and beautifully written account of their history (which includes tales of hurricanes and examines member projects like Portal), check out the official website HERE.
In 2004, Roadrunner Records released a 10-year anniversary of Focus. This time around, Focus received a warmer reception which also gained the band a new-found popularity. To the delight of old-school fans and metal aficionados, Cynic decided to reunite. They toured, they were beloved, and the beautiful union of a band and a happy crowed birthed the reason which brings us all together here today: Traced in Air.
This ENTIRE album which fans waited over a decade for, parched for the indescribable sound of Cynic to once again wet the desert of their ears, is 37 minutes long. In 37 little minutes, Cynic manages to establish dominance like a summer kielbasa log at a sausage fest; a proverbial 'mic drop' of metal albums. After all, it's not the size of the boat, it's the motion of the ocean. These 37 minutes are a master course in musicianship.
Second album track "Space for This" is not just an experiment in sound, it's a fantastic song. The first listen of the song flies by in just under 6 minutes, and it feels like a spaceship ride through the cosmos; deftly angling through meteors, cresting upon new worlds and bathing in the light and shade of suns and moons. The second listen allows the listener to start disassembling what they just heard. The combination of computerized vocals, scratchy light growls, with controlled and intelligent riffs come together as a complete story.
Focus, while still a brilliant album, doesn't have the same flow between tracks as Traced in Air. This cohesion, and emphasis on the complete journey from the beginning of a song to the end, cinched up any loose ends which Focus left untied. I've not said this yet of an album here on Throwback Thursday: Traced in Air gets everything right.
With no pebble left unturned, Traced in Air is metal, and jazz, and prog rolled into a weirdly ethereal trip into the metaverse. Third track "Evolutionary Sleeper" is a song Cynic toured with before even recording Traced in Air as a whole.
It's beautiful, and the solo starting around the 2:30 mark is standout example of progression. It's effortlessly intricate, expressive, and interesting. Topped with a whiff of experimentation, "Evolutionary Sleeper" is a clear vision which drives the scope of Traced in Air. Speaking of solos, fifth track "The Unknown Guest" drops a stunning and bright solo right at 2:45:
Though the album is short, the little moment here breaks up the tone of the album in such a notable and welcome way, like a halfway marker on a long car trip.
Traced in Air is endlessly re-visitable. Every listen exposes a new element to discover and appreciate. While the discourse of this article has focused on the indescribable nature of Cynic, Traced in Air is not forced into randomness for the sake of individuality. It is Cynic at it's best. It is complex, not random. That is the viewpoint of Cynic; which is one of control and chaos. This album unites the casual listener with the scrutinizing musical theorist. Traced in Air is impressive on it's own; but it's maturity from Focus feels like a perfect evolution. The fact that this evolution happened fifteen years later is phenomenal. Traced in Air is no doubt a modern masterstroke and exemplifies Cynic's major influence and impact on today's metal.
Got a favorite you'd like to see shared? Sound off down below. As always, thanks for stopping by, and I'll see you all next week <3