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Cynic - The Portal Tapes CD (album) cover



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kev rowland
Crossover Prog Team
4 stars Although this may appear to be a 'new' album from Cynic, it is in reality an album that is now more than 15 years old. Back in 1993 the band released the wonderful 'Focus' where they mixed together metal, jazz and prog in a way that some people fully understood while others didn't, and it has to be said that their record label probably fell into the latter camp and didn't promote it as they should have done. Now, if you are only aware of the recorded history of the band you probably think that following the debut they didn't do anything until the widely- acclaimed sophomore 'Traced In Air' which came out in 2008 following their reformation, but you would be wrong. Following a lot of touring to promote 'Focus' the band split up, only for Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert and Jason Gobel to get back together for a new project called Portal. To complete the line-up they brought in Chris Kringel and Aruna Abrams, the latter to provide a female lead/harmony vocal as they went for a different musical and vocal approach. They recorded a demo album, but nothing ever came of it until now ? strangely there is no mention of the album or the project on the band's website, but at long last we have the opportunity to hear it.

What is really interesting about this album is that while it would have surprised a lot of Cynic fans if it had been released at the time, it now sounds incredibly relevant to both what Cynic are doing and also to the music scene in general. The twin vocals work extremely well, while of course the intricate musicianship is just what one expects from these guys. The addition of Chris Kringle has made quite a difference to their overall sound as he plays fretless instead of fretted bass, and that adds a very different warmth and feel to the sound. The way he bends notes and gently moves around the music provides extra dynamics and lots more depth. Some of the songs are almost radio friendly with Aruna's vocals being quite similar to Tracy Hitchings, relaxed but with clarity and range.

I still find it hard to think that this album was recorded as a demo in the Nineties, and that it has taken until now for it to be released. It is not nearly as heavy as Cynic could be back in the day, with far more atmosphere and light within the shade, and is something that progheads need to search out much more than metalheads with prog and jazz elements often taking centre stage.

Report this review (#826429)
Posted Saturday, September 22, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Prog for the unwashed masses? With so little time actually working under the band name Cynic, it's amazing that guitarist Paul Masidal and drummer Sean Reinert (the core duo that hold together the working collective known as Cynic) have such a wealth of material to offer their fans. This time it's the demos of the Portal project that the two made in colaboration with former Cynic guitarist Jason Gobel and newcomers Chris Kringle on bass and female singer/keyboard player Aruna Abrams. Recorded roughly about 1 year after Cynic released the death metal/jazz fusion album Focus in 1993, this musical outing is far from extreme metal and leans heavily toward an experimental/keyboard prog sound. With Masvidal continuing in his role as mystical lyricist and Aruna supplying chime like swirling keyboard textures, the music, mostly executed at a mid tempo, often takes on a prog/new age sound hybrid that would be more at home after playing a later era Peter Gabriel or Soul Cages era Sting album. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, we can't listen to prog metal all the time, I'm only trying to give a musical point of reference.

The album starts off quite strong with the afore mentioned swirling keyboards, acoustic and electric drums, clean guitar textures and a heavy fretless bass groove. Abrams has a clear pleasent voice but she's not going to shatter any wine glasses when she sings. Abrams is usually the lead vocalist with Masvidal supplying low multi tracked and echoed backing vocals that also swirl around the sound stage and is quite an aural treat. Unfortunately, the spell wears off by the fourth track and the band have no new tricks to present to the audience Even though the fifth and eigth tracks are also stellar, you just feel like your hanging on at that point, waiting for the forgetable ninth and the tenth final track to pass by quickly so that the album finally ends.That such a young band could produce such a reserved focused work as this, especially after two were members of the seminal Florida extreme metal band Death speaks volumes for their musical chops and dedication to the project.

The remarkable art work by the late Robert Venosa adorns this album as well as all other Cynic albums and is still such a large part of the listening experience. The man's work is along the lines of H.R. Giger but with a spiritual bent. This is a hard album to call for as I stated, it really belongs on a playlist along side Peter Gabriel. The question is, would you bump a Peter Gabriel disc out of the way in order to play the Portal disc first? I think not. 2.5 stars for the music and great sound from the demos plus Venosa's great art work. Prog for the unwashed masses? Definately not.

Report this review (#1203596)
Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars Not bad, but ultimately forgettable, especially for a band with so much more to offer like Cynic. I would call this the 'easy listening' album of their discography. There are some gorgeous melodies in this one, and the female vocals in particular are quite smooth along with the layered slow-mid tempo compositions. More of that please! Fits nicely with the album, but also with this style of easy prog-metal as i will be calling it. Reminds me of Out Of Myself by Riverside, in the sense that the band was obviously holding back in their technical ability, an literally in the tempo of the songs, but proved that they were more than competent in crafting gorgeous prog- metal. I applaud the attempt at a lighter shade of their brand of music, but it simply isn't quite as good to my ears as the rest of their discography. They are, after all, clearly a progressive METAL band and without that edge they lose points on the grounds of being compared to more symphonic outsets (who are just better at this sort of thing).

For fans of the band only; not the best place to start. Perhaps they needed to focus a bit more on this one?

Report this review (#1768450)
Posted Thursday, August 3, 2017 | Review Permalink

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