Around the late ’60s, progressive rock was born. Those who adopted the infant genre went forth from England, blew minds, and progressed, taking the music to fantastical new heights and, admittedly, a few indulgent new lows. Around the early ’90s, progressive death metal was born, and its practitioners went forth from the Everglades, banged heads, and progressed… for a while, at least. Few of the originators survived the decade intact, including Cynic, who split up after their 1993 debut Focus. They did eventually return with 2008’s Traced in Air, an album on which you could hear 15 years of musical development, but one that still very much embodied the Cynic spirit.
Cynic have progressed still further on Kindly Bent to Free Us, almost completing a circuit from prog metal back to progressive rock. It’s a more melodic and serene Cynic on display here, with a sound edging towards the realm of Porcupine Tree and Rush. The guitars are moderately crunchy, and Paul Masvidal’s voice sounds less effect-processed and cleaner than before. If you’re looking for brutality in your prog metal, better get that last Gorguts album out again. Kindly Bent to Free Us is an entirely different vibe.
The band’s stylistic shift doesn’t involve rejecting the aforementioned Cynic spirit at all. They’ve always been a songwriting band, able to format their melodic and instrumental firepower in four to six minute bursts. The songs collected on Kindly Bent to Free Us are stronger than ever. The sturdy riff that kicks off “The Lion’s Roar” would have fit perfectly on Rush’s Clockwork Angels. The title track has a wealth of techy interplay and placid digressions. “Infinite Shapes” lets loose with a chorus that is instantly memorable. “Gitanjali” stands out for its sheer Beatles-ness—I swear Masvidal sounds just like George Harrison at certain points on this album. This is still far from mainstream pop music, of course. Mainstream pop music should be this good. If it’s not an oxymoron to say that Cynic engage in “tasteful overplaying,” then that’s what they do. The trio (Masvidal is joined by drummer Sean Reinert and bassist Sean Malone) are almost always at full pelt, even during the more gentle passages, and the guitar solos and instrumental flourishes are things of wonder.
It all sounds perfectly natural and effortless, which is another outstanding aspect of Cynic’s music. Although Kindly Bent to Free Us may be their most down-to-earth album yet, Cynic are still flying far above ground level.
(Season of Mist)