Continuing with my Top Ten Prog Albums of 2014, today I commend to you this year’s stunning prog rock release from Cynic.
Cynic is famous for their infrequent but innovative and influential contributions to the prog cause: Focus (1993) and Traced in Air (2008), plus the EPs Re-Traced (2010) and Carbon-Based Anatomy (2011). On this new release, they have entirely eliminated any trace of death-metal vocals and taken a new direction to boot. The style not so much metal as it is groovy, jazz fusion-ey rock.
It sounds totally classic to me. I love the retro vibe on this album. It is kind of like discovering a hidden gem from the 70s in a time capsule. The disc is 42 minutes long and is thus reminiscent of a vinyl-length listening experience. And the album even divides nicely into a “Side A” and a “Side B”, with four tracks on each side.
“True Hallucination Speak” (6:03) is the first track and it locks us in with a solid groove. When the guitar solo comes, it transports us to amazingly ecstatic musical heights. But then, suddenly, just when we expect it to escalate further into an even wilder guitar freak-out, the rug is pulled out from under us as, after a moment of silence, we experience a calm and mellow meditation, which is all the more effective because of where it is inserted. And then we get to groove again.
“The Lion’s Roar” (4:35) is track two and it is a real beauty of a song. The songwriting and instrumental virtuosity fit together perfectly as the musical journey unfolds wonderfully. Here we have a model of what a chorus can be and of what makes a great song a great song. The title phrase hits us with such exquisite fittingness every time it is uttered, we don’t want this chorus to ever end. But when it does eventually come to an end, the song surprises us then in a very satisfying way. Listening to the conclusion, you would not want this to end any other way. It is just right.
“Kindly Bent to Free Us” (6:27) is track three and it is like the band has been saving up the most exceptional experience for third. We have already been won over by the ultra-groovy first two tracks. But now we get some super-awesome riffing and jazzy group dynamics that, unbelievably, take the album to even more exciting places not yet heard. I can understand why this is the title track. There’s something special about it. It’s an epic jazzy prog rock track that clocks in at six and a half minutes and so only track seven, “Holy Fallout” (6:36) is longer — by nine seconds. The band really shines when stretching out on this sort of scale. There’s a lot of tension and excitement built up by the trio’s energetic instrumental interactions. We’re dealing with absolutely upper-echelon prog here. I especially love the classic bass guitar sound.
“Infinite Shapes” (4:57) as track four feels like a bit of a chill-out after the steadily accelerating upwards trajectory of the first three tracks on “Side A”. The wall of sound is still heavily rocking out, but it feels more straightforward than the preceding tracks. So we can gather ourselves to do it all over again — because “Side B” follows the same escalating pattern of “Side A”.
“Moon Heart Sun Head” (5:21) as track five just might be my favorite track — it is so hard to pick — because just like track one on “Side A” we get an usually powerful and highly effective guitar solo that functions to transport us to spiritual heights. Here, the singing guitar solo blasts off after a spoken-word set-up from some kind of guru voice. If that sounds on paper like it could be gimmicky, rest assured that no, it works amazingly well. Prog rock theurgy doesn’t get better than this.
“Gitanjali” (3:59) as track six continues the devotional voyage. Apparently the title word can be translated as “a prayer offering of song”. As with “Side A”, we are ascending once again as the tracks progress sequentially. Some cool sonic layering here will impress you. And the pauses and pacing work amazing things, pulling you in to the inner thinking of the riffs.
“Holy Fallout” (6:36) as track seven is a mind-blowing experience. Even though it is the longest track, we wish it could go longer. There are so many moods and feelings that it runs through. It has nifty rock-out sections with nimble dances of virtuosity and yet also atmospheric washes of contemplation. The guitar work here is incredible and highly impressive. What a great sound. The trio dynamics are spectacular and the drumming is especially graceful and delicately fierce.
“Endlessly Bountiful” (3:56) is the chill-out for the “Side B” trajectory and it ends the album on a suitably meditative note. If Plotinus had had a prog rock band, I imagine this would have been one of his favorite contemplative jams. Here we have a unique sonic experience that unfolds in layers and draws us in to the heart of this band’s musical beauty. There’s a nice Sigur Ros-like vibe here but with a unique twist. The mellow guitar outro that ends the whole thing is beyond perfect. What a sweet way to end such a stunning album.