"Traced in Air"

(Season of Mist 2008)Cynic - Traced in Air

What were you doing fifteen years ago? You probably don't even remember. It doesn't matter; whatever it was isn't nearly as cool as what Cynic were up to. They were only releasing "Focus," one of the most influential progressive death metal albums ever. Integrating jazz and prog, "Focus" is still one of the touchstones for innumerable tech-death outfits. And after releasing said album, Cynic promptly disappeared from metal's dark highway. Now, fifteen years down the road, they've dropped "Traced in Air," a further refinement of their palette-melding formula.

"Traced in Air" is miles removed from the hordes of death metalheads that Cynic have inspired. Death growls are used sparingly, the majority of the vocals are handled by Paul Masvidal. Instantly recognizable, Masvidal uses a vocoder to ratchet his voice up to a crystalline, eunuch-high pitch. The musicality is crazy technical, but it's rooted more in jazz and prog than metal. From beginning to end, the album plays out naturally, almost fluidly, like a boat drifting down a shimmering river of clean, intricate guitar currents. This river has rapids, though, consisting of the complex but heavy instrumentation and scorching solos that made Cynic iconic to so many. The album may clock in at less than forty minutes, but it doesn't feel rushed, as each song is allowed to develop both a blissful atmosphere and weighty counterbalance.

The members of Cynic are all incredible musicians, but never does "Traced in Air" sound as if it's merely a stage for their prodigious talent. The band has pulled off a great trick, and that's playing complicated music without shoving flashiness down your throat. Their virtuosity can actually go unnoticed if you're not listening carefully, making repeat listens of the album a rewarding experience.

If there's a knock on "Traced in Air," it's that it can get a bit too spacey. It certainly isn't boring, but there are parts where it can get pretty close. Some metal fans may find they don't have the patience to hang around during all of the subtlety for the payoff. The songs constructions are interesting enough, however, that this really shouldn't be too much of an obstacle. It may have taken a decade and a half, but Cynic have delivered another exciting genre-bender in which music fans of any stripe can find something to enjoy.


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