Finally, by the end of the year Season of Mist were relieved to announce the new album Ascension Codes by iconic American progressive band Cynic. Seven years of waiting, speculations and hopes were for once awarded, and although it’s not the same Cynic as it was in the 1990s, it still bears some remarkable traces from that life-changing era. Focus was inimitable experience for all death metal community, and no one, even the masters themselves can’t repeat this historical milestone. So it’s better to put all the comparisons away focusing on “here and now”, the albums of Cynic are so rare, that we really must enjoy every bit of attention from Paul Masvidal’s brainchild.
It’s very difficult to be appreciated competently after releasing something so strong that it becomes a timeless classic, especially when you are no longer into that kind of music. No wonder that Cynic disbanded after only one full-length album, focusing on other musical projects after the wave of recognition and almost godlike worship. And of course considering the fact that they came from death/thrash metal scene, Focus was heavily criticized as well, not everyone was ready for these brave experiments in the stubborn 1990s. Now all these conflicts, misunderstandings and biases are long forgotten, the former musicians have left the band, the scene or even this world, and now Cynic can be what they really want to be; so now we get sincere and authentic music from the very heart of the creator.
Eighteen tracks are divided into traditional progressive rock/metal songs and short ambient tracks before them (the only exception is that between “6th Dimensional Archetype” and “DNA Activation Template” there’s no this gap, and it’s difficult to say why it’s so). These intros/outros differ drastically from more classical Cynic tracks, offering us to bathe into relaxing ambient tranquility. These are really short (the longest “Ec-ka72” lasts 47 seconds, and the shortest “Sha48*” only 19) and the code names also hint on something anonymously technical. There’s something cosmic about them and even new age, and these short tracks are perceived as the recharging moments, as an enforced reload of the system before diving into the real experience of Cynic’s creative world.
The music of Cynic now is full of lightness and light, they are so far from rigid and uncompromising death metal, choosing softer and more spiritual path to develop their musical ideas. Many advanced bands after the albums with classical ranks have transformed their music into calmer and more delicate direction, and Cynic are one of them. But they lack this melancholic spirit like Katatonia’s latest opuses or acoustic indie flirtations of new Anathema, the music of Cynic now is aerial and scientific at the same time (they were always talented in combining the incompatible). Even when there were some chaotic traces in their music, they always sound so cleanly, never creating any messiness and without overwhelming you with too complicated parts. And that’s an interesting observation, proving again and again their refined perception of harmony and the ability to use this balance for holistic and experimental creations.
Indeed, we can trace the familiar and unique cynical trademarks – like distinctive bass lines (performed by bass synthesizer), distorted by vocoder voice of their mastermind, jazzy background arrangements or atmospheric graceful agility vs. anxious and moody vibes. And the perennial quests for the spiritual growth, symbolical allusions and scientific points also are a calling card of Cynic. This band isn’t complicated, the many layers of their musical structures or more metaphysical issues are explained and placed so intricately and equitably, that all the discords or confusion simply disappear. But no one ever doubts the uniqueness of Cynic nowadays.
But what about the music itself, what kind of experience is Ascension Codes? Apart from short ambient tracks, the other songs are flowing into progressive rock direction, looping over alternative and indie rock domains with almost invisible stops near jazz and blues worlds. Acoustic elements are opposing the metal parts, triggering or sedating your inner metalhead. Technical side is brilliant, not too nerdy or mathematically calculated, and it doesn’t even matter that the music was recorded partly artificially. And of course, there’s a strong feeling of something powerfully right, maybe this music was created from the darkest parts of the soul, but the poised ideas were filtered in, creating absolutely pure and positive feelings. Always unique, always genuine, always beautiful.
Every album of Cynic is a true celebration, and even though we still sometimes dream of getting another Focus that can change again the metal stereotypes, we can fully enjoy what Cynic produces right here right now. Now this band is half-Cynic, half-Æon Spoke (another alternative/indie rock band of Paul Masvidal), but still the songs sound magically enchanted and technologically advanced. Their love for these spiritual vs. digital worlds covered in symbolical allusions is always precisely displayed in their artworks, visually supplementing audio parts. So, it’s hardly surprising that Cynic need so much time to create something so integral and unique.
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