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4 stars Like Marshmallow

You know, I was thinking of starting this review by talking about something like Cynic's past or their influence, or maybe how this album is being unnecessarily panned, or maybe the production or the vocals on this record, but I just can't, because there really is just one thing to talk about here, something this entire album revolves around and something that is simultaneously absolutely amazing and incredibly irritating. It took me several listens to pay attention to anything that wasn't this; I just couldn't get past it at all. Without it, I'm sure I would have some comment on the actual music to begin, but I just can't hear anything else.


Jesus. I don't know whether it's flawless or terrible or neither but I hardly ever find an album that I can hear the bass in, let alone one when I'm constantly focusing on it. I don't think I would know a single lyric or guitar riff to this whole album if I hadn't forced myself to ignore the bass on the last few listens before I wrote about it. The bass is so prominent and so unique sounding that focusing on anything else is near impossible, it's just shouting 'DOESN'T THIS BASS SOUND FUNKY' at you for 42 straight minutes. When 'The Lion's Roar' first dropped as a single, I was enthralled with it as well, the sole comment I made to my friend was 'New Cynic single. Bass tone.' The music was always second to the tone, and I still can't really listen to this album without zoning out and just listening to the bass. Even when it isn't prominent, because it's playing actual bass notes in an actual bass range, it'll come up for a high note every now and then and you'll forget about the music because bass. Like during the middle solo of the title track. When I eventually listened to the guitar part, it's actually a pretty great solo, but the bass is just too distracting to give it any attention, and the best part is when the bass gets a little solo near the end, playing right up in guitar range.

If I were to describe the tone, which of course isn't possible, it would be something near a high- range tuba being patched through a synthesiser. It sounds like a sphere, although not quite like a sphere, like an ellipse or a sine wave. I just know it's something round. The word 'plump' comes to mind a lot whilst listening to it, and I think that if John Petrucci's guitar tone from Dream Theater was a slice of chocolate cake, then the fretless bass tone on Kindly Bent to Free Us is like a soft meringue. Not the [&*!#]ty hard ones you buy in supermarkets, the stuff when it's freshly made and the chef has just lightly blowtorched the top so the skin is ever so crisp, yet it's closer to marshmallow than meringue. Actually, no, marshmallow is probably closer, since this doesn't really have a crisp skin, it's just pure roundness, but meringue tastes and feels so much better than marshmallow, and I'm trying to sound elegant and [&*!#], so meringue it is. I'm rambling.

But to be honest, I'm not sure if this tone is beneficial to Kindly Bent to Free Us as a whole. Sure, there are times when it's insanely cool and it really raises the music up a lot, like during 'The Lion's Roar', when the bass is popping up and down under the lead riff, giving it this wonderfully bouncy and upbeat feeling, really making the song quite a happy and fun one to listen to. The same style comes back again in 'Holy Fallout', but there are other times, like during the opener, that I feel Cynic are trying to connect at an emotional level, and I just can't feel anything when there's a tuba fart constantly playing over everything.

But I guess I should actually talk about the music a bit, since the bass tone doesn't really cover the reasons why so many people are disappointed in this. But first, let's get some context. Cynic were once a death metal band in the 90's, then for some odd reason they decided to reunite 20 years later as a not death metal band. Although Traced in Air was hardly similar to their sole tech death release, Focus, it was just as well-received, due to the ambitious and inventive take on progressive metal they played with that record, bringing elements of avant-garde and electronic to a very unique style of metal. But let's not forget that Cynic didn't really break up. For quite a few years during their hiatus, Cynic, or most of the members of it, existed as alternative/pop rock band 'on Spoke, playing trendy tunes that could fit the radio perfectly, a far cry from the death metal of their past. So when Cynic reunited, especially when they dropped their less-than-metal 2011 EP Carbon-Based Anatomy, many people accused of Cynic just making 'on Spoke music under the Cynic name for the sake of selling more, because the name was more renowned.

Of course, the fact that it was melodic and accessible doesn't exactly mean it was pop music in the vein of 'on Spoke, many of these criticisms ignored the fact that Carbon-Based Anatomy was an insanely technical and progressive EP, with incredibly unique riffs and production, some great ambient tracks, and some really cool vocal lines. And that sound most certainly has followed onto Kindly Bent to Free Us, to the disdain of many fans. This record has been getting a good slapping since it leaked a couple of weeks ago, being called 'hipsterish' and 'indie prog', saying that this is basically the Sunbather of progressive metal, however ridiculous that statement might be.

A lot of the criticisms and wild claims made about Kindly Bent to Free Us may certainly stem from both the shoddy and compressed production and the fact that vocalist Paul Masvidal doesn't sing a single note on this album that isn't filtered through a mass of effects and vocal changing software, making him sound rather generic and unemotive. It's nothing new for Cynic, both Traced in Air and Carbon-Based Anatomy had him singing through a vocoder-like effect that made some really cool tones (although sometimes sounding a lot like autotune), but here on Kindly Bent to Free Us, this new effect makes him sound rather drained and lifeless, I could even compare it to bands like Linkin Park or My Chemical Romance, as much as that would look like a bad thing (check my ratings). Most of this album is sung in a high range, regularly going into falsetto, but it often feels like he's straining, like during the bridge of 'True Hallucination Speak', when he's singing mostly falsetto lines nearly a cappella. Another problem with the vocals is, because they're in an uncomfortable range for him, they regularly sound weak and without power. The melodies here are fantastic, but the voice behind them just feels average at best, like during 'Moon Heart Sun Head', which has one of my favourite choruses on the album, but it feels it could be so much more epic if it was sung by someone with a more powerful voice, and who is more comfortable within that range.

But I think aside from the vocals and production here, there is little reason to complain. The riffs are just as ambitious and interesting as the Cynic riffs of the past, even if some of them border on a bit wanky for my taste, but people who were fans of their first two albums really shouldn't be complaining. Although the bass and its marshmallowness control a lot of the groove on this album, some of the guitar parts are equally catchy, the lead riff from opener 'True Hallucination Speak' being a favourite, pushing a really interesting phrasing of 4/4, which sounds like it's running an odd signature, but the loop back at the end brings it back into 32 in a really neat fashion. There are other consistent good riffs here, and Cynic even begin to play their own style of riff that I've never heard before, like the riff after the chorus of 'Holy Fallout', which sounds kinda similar to the lead riffs in the first three songs, but still different. Cynic have created a new sort of sound with the riffing that I can see bands emulating in the future, something that most modern bands strive for in composing.

In the end, I guess I can kinda level with the people who are disappointed in this. It's nowhere near as unique and spellbinding as Traced In Air or as well-produced as Carbon-Based Anatomy, but I feel the melodies, interesting influences, and of course the bass tone make up for this, creating a pretty decent album and an enjoyable listen. It's no masterpiece, and it's certainly not as good as I wanted it to be, but I can't say that it's bad.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Report this review (#1131376)
Posted Thursday, February 13, 2014 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Kindly Bent to Free Us' - Cynic (69/100)

As someone gets older, it's inevitable that some degree of mellowing out will occur. While the pessimistic among us might chalk it up to losing steam and passion, a more realistic way to look at it would be to see it as a reinvention of perspective, a natural development that comes with insight and experience. At least such has been the case for Cynic. Death metal was indelibly changed in 1994 with Focus, its unique blend of death metal, prog, jazz fusion and space ambient remains a unique statement that has never been repeated, even with the release of Traced in Air in 2008. With such a distinct and firm grip of style, Cynic would and could have forged a remarkable career without having changed a thing about their sound...

As it so unfolded (and as anyone who has been following the band will be able to tell you) change was exactly what happened for Cynic. Fast forward to 2014; fans are up in arms over Kindly Bent to Free Us. I've heard it called everything from a masterpiece to the worst piece of garbage this side of Cold Lake. As is usually the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Cynic's third album may lack the 'instant classic' masterpiece appeal of their first two, but the band's evolution into mellower depths has still yielded an impressive set of material. Death metal purists should go back to polishing their Demilich records; Kindly Bent to Free Us isn't quite what we had been expecting or hoping for, but its solid songwriting, tight fusion musicianship and a knack for atmosphere have made for a successful prog rock record.

Two things have changed most prominently with this record, when compared to their past work. Most notably, the growling has been tossed out entirely, instead lending the weight of the vocal duties to Paul Masvidal's fragile cleans. Even though the preceding EP Carbon- Based Anatomy followed the purely clean format, a far greater emphasis in the music have been placed on clean vocals, drawing it closer to a more traditional rock format. Secondly- and far more importantly- the atmosphere and tone has filtered out much of the dark heart and melancholy. Check out a song like "The Lion's Roar", and everything from the trademark synthesized vocals to the tight and peppy guitar riffs deliver a vastly different emotional atmosphere than what one might be used to from metal or even progressive rock.

The musical approach feels more straightforward on the surface, but Cynic deliver an impressive level of sonic depth to the performance. Kindly Bent to Free Us enjoys a masterful quality of production and recording; this is headphone music at its most sublime. "True Hallucination Speak" fleshes out an otherwise straightforward rock tune with effects manipulation that would have sounded incredible even on its own. Masvidal's guitar tone has some bite to it, but there's an evident emphasis on clarity. Sean Malone's bass tone has been getting a fair bit of recognition as well, and for good reason; his fretless bass lines sound like they've been drawn from a purely jazz context, and sound incredible when placed among Cynic's rock (or metal) foundation. I don't mean to imply that Cynic's songwriting relies on production wizardry or strong musicianship to get by, but Cynic's execution is far more impressive than the substance of the work itself. The only exception to this lies in Masvidal's vocal performance itself. Although I don't think he is a bad singer, his fragile vocal style really needed the growls to balance it out, and the almost ubiquitous 'robot' vocorder effect feels less like an artistic statement at this point and more of a way to pad an otherwise thin performance.

Kindly Bent to Free Us has certainly grown on me, at least enough for me to acknowledge it as being better than what its detractors have dismissed it has. Cynic haven't lost a shred of their technical abilities, and fans of the fusion metal template won't come away empty handed. I'm still enjoying the album, even long after the familiarity has set in. Without the context of Cynic's past achievements, I may have been more enthusiastic about it; the truth is that in spite of my enjoyment, I cannot help but feel disappointed. Carbon-Based Anatomy included, I have fallen in love with everything Cynic put out before this. Kindly Bent to Free Us, via unfavourable comparison, strikes me as more of a passing affection. " Focus has solidified its place in the legendary pantheon, and Traced in Air felt like an instant classic had been born when it came out. Kindly Bent to Free Us offers none of that awe or promise. It's a disappointment in itself that the impression has been brutalized so much by the context, but expectations were expectations. Fortunately enough, if you're able to get past that red tape and approach the album without the context, there's plenty of enjoyment and wonder to behold in the mellower approach. Take it for what it is, I guess.

Report this review (#1139998)
Posted Friday, February 28, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars Cynic was always about change so, I cannot understand all the fans that criticize the band throughout their career for changing. I declare myself a big Cynic fan too and I always knew that this band would constantly evolve, sometimes even in unexpected ways. Finding myself in the uncomfortable position of not being thrilled by a new Cynic release for the first time, I have to clear out that it's not change that troubles me, only the quality of the result.

Most of you know what Cynic's universe is about: A perfect mix of jazz/fusion and metal, technical excellence, space atmospheres, futuristic visions and philosophy, all tied up together with an aura of mystique. Their two full length albums, ''Focus'' and ''Traced in air'', are masterpieces of extreme prog metal and their last effort, the ''Carbon based anatomy'' EP, introduced us to a new balance in Cynic's sound where jazz, metal, rock, space and even world music elements, created a unique and majestic blend that could perfectly sum up the best of 21st century's intelligent prog music. I expected nothing less from ''Kindly bent to free us'' but to step on that road and even evolve it, if possible. Were the expectations met? Are the above characteristics present? Push the play button.

''True hallucination speak'' kicks off with a typical space intro and the first riff welcomes us to the band's familiar complexity. By the middle of the song I realized that something was missing, there was no raw prog power, neither a real space mood. The chorus and the vocal bridge sounds almost cheerful and I was left with an awkward feeling ? to be polite- , especially considering the fact that bands always choose very carefully the opening track. Awkwardness gave its way to the first clouds of disappointment when ''The lion's roar'' set in. Major notes again ? no problem with that, too major for Cynic though -, soft verse and a chorus which, I hate to say, sounds almost cheesy. Of course, if you focus on the rhythm section the song is great but I couldn't help but feeling that this has a very commercial approach, almost like they tried to compose a hit song. Things fall into place with the album's title track, the main riff is really powerful and emotional, reminding very much of Fates Warning (Parallels era). There's a beautiful, mysterious mood throughout the song, before it explodes into a magnificent, pure jazz instrumental part at the end, certainly one of the album's highlight moments. ''Infinite shapes'' starts again with a ballad-like introduction and at that point, I realized that the band uses the same song structure all the time, a constant sequence of loud part-slow part, which works fine in some songs but eventually gets predictable. It's like the songs are not left free to breathe, flow and stretch. The chorus has a dark touch and it's the only part of the album that I thought the old growling vocals would greatly match. ''Moon heart sun head'' doesn't change much, melodic beginning, same developing, good drum groove, an interesting voice sample in the middle, that's all. By this time, one good song out of five was a nightmare scenario but, thankfully, the album's best tracks are the last three.

''Gitanjali'' steps in with a great tribal drum pattern before the big surprise of the appearance of the first, almost straight rock riff in Cynic's discography. Not bad, not bad at all! In fact, while maintaining the band's basic elements, this song is quite refreshing and it shook me alright. And then, at last?''Holy fallout'', by far the album's best track. This, my friends, is craftsmanship, this can only be composed by prog masters! From the very first notes, the enigmatic essence of Cynic appears and never leaves the song. Magic, mysterious, technical super prog that flows perfectly until the unbelievable slow, doom-like part in the end. Even post rock elements can be found and not only in the trippy e-bowed guitars of the outro. Final track ''Endlessly bountiful'' is here and?is this a glockenspiel?! Yes it is! Yes, it could have been written by Sigur Ros, straight post rhythm groove, choir, wise use of effects and a sweet epic mood, before the wonderful melodic jazz part that brings the album to an end.

I have to concentrate firstly on the cons. If compared to the previous full length albums, ''Kindly?'' lacks innovation and it doesn't feel as inspired. There are many parts that don't stand out as something special and it's difficult to accept that from such a special band like Cynic. Their music in the past could make someone feel like being part of an adventurous sonic journey from ancient civilizations to the very ends of the universe. It doesn't trip me that way now. Another weakness is the vocals, the vocoders and the mechanized voices don't fit so well in the new material. Masvidal's clean voice is quite ok but if the band keeps the present musical direction, greater expression and depth will be required. He doesn't have that range now. Finally, I think that they can expand the production and work in richest arrangements too, the sound is a bit dry.

There's no need to overanalyze the pros. Cynic's music is still better than the 95% of today's prog metal. Paul Masvidal is a genius and Reinert/Malone are one of the best rhythm sections rock music has ever seen and heard. Even the most mediocre idea is performed with absolute expression and precision. It's just that I always expect from them to create music as daring and challenging as it gets. Hopefully they'll do better next time.

For every other band this would be a four stars review. For Cynic, three stars are fair enough, they alone have raised the bar of their art so high.

Report this review (#1153147)
Posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Kindly Bent To Free Us" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US progressive rock/metal Cynic. The album was released through Season of Mist in February 2014. It's been six years since the release of "Traced in Air (2008)", but in the intermediate time Cynic released the two EPs "Re-Traced (2010)" and "Carbon-Based Anatomy (2011)". They also put out an archival release in 2012 titled "The Portal Tapes", which is a re-release of the 1995 Portal demo. Portal was a shortlived project featuring the core members of Cynic, founded after the latter disbanded. In addition to working on those releases, Cynic have also toured. Probably more than they ever did when they were initially active. So in short there are several reasons for the long break between the two full-length studio albums. Another reason is probably the core philosophy of of the band. While they definitely don't lack neither drive nor ambition, there has always been a tranquil and laid back vibe about them and a feeling that they will only release something when they are 100% satisfied with the material they've written. On this album they work as a trio consisting of Paul Masvidal (vocals, guitars), Sean Malone (bass, Chapman Stick) and Sean Reinert (drums, keyboards).

The music on "Kindly Bent To Free Us" is probably best described as progressive/alternative rock/metal with jazz/fusion elements and a psychadelic vibe. The latter is mostly due to the sometimes Beatlesque vocal lines and harmonies, but the whole atmosphere reeks incense smelling rooms and laid back days in the sun. Paul Masvidal has always been fascinated by spirituality and although some of the lyrics on "Kindly Bent To Free Us" make absolutely no sense, they still bring a smile to my face and they generally suit the tripped out atmosphere of the album well. The organic and warm sound production also supports that particular atmosphere perfectly. I'm not going to say we're completely in hippie land, but the thought of peace loving hippies often cross my mind while listening to "Kindly Bent To Free Us". On the other hand there is a sweet melancholy to the music too, so it's an album that explore different emotions.

The album features a sound that is very different from what we've heard from the band before, and yet again it sounds unmistakably like Cynic. The tracks are generally less metal oriented (only subdued clean and mellow vocals on this one. No growling) and less technical in nature and also a little more tightly structured and as a consequence more easily accessible compared to earlier material by the band. That's not to say, that the music on "Kindly Bent To Free Us" is simple or that there aren't technically challenging parts being played, because that is far from the truth. There is still fusion influenced drumming and a very busy fretless bass (chapman stick is used too) driving the music forward, but on top, the guitars, the vocals and the keyboards flow in an almost carefree atmospheric fashion. The material is greatly dynamic with both loud parts and more mellow subdued parts.

While the new musical direction probably comes as a surprise (or a shock) for some listeners, it really shouldn't if you payed attention to the musical style on the two preceeding EPs, which both featured a mellow and pleasant sound with only few metal elements. Also if you're familiar with Paul Masvidal's and Sean Reinert's alternative rock project 'on Spoke, the sound on "Kindly Bent To Free Us" might not be so surprising after all.

The 41:52 minutes long album features 8 tracks (9 if you own the deluxe CD book, which features the bonus track "Earth Is My Witness"). it's an album with a great flow, and while the material is consistent in quality and style, there are still enough variation between tracks, to easily distinguish between them. Telling the tracks apart is also helped along by the melodic and quite memorable vocal melodies. At first they might not seem that memorable, but once they get in your mind, they stick. A good example is the opening melody line in the title track, which returns in various forms throughout that track.

So is it any good? Well...this is definitely one of those releases where the listener's expectations and will to accept and embrace new musical ideas will be seriously tested. Cynic are still mostly known in progressive extreme metal circles and most of their fans probably come from that segment, and since they've considerably toned down the extreme metal elements here, the music on the album might not go down too well with the part of their fan base that still see them primarily as a metal act. On the other hand they've undeniably progressed and developed their sound in accordance with their creative muse, and it's always fascinating when an artist pursue what they really feel for instead of trying to satisfy their more conservative fans. In other words this is a fan base divider. Personally I find the album incredibly charming. I don't know what it is about Cynic, but with or without death growls, metal elements, furious fusion drumming, and blistering jazzy guitar solos, they always manage to transport me to a tranquil place and leave me in a completely relaxed state of mind. The music on "Kindly Bent To Free Us" is no exception. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

Report this review (#1156984)
Posted Thursday, April 3, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Your old gods are dead, but they still speak. Kindly Bent To Free Us, Prog-metal band Cynic's 3rd full studio album in 22 years (long story) is not the prog album your parents used to listen to. Hell, it's not even the prog album you used to listen to. This is prog for the 21st century and it sits in some uncomfortable territory. Fronted by guitarist Paul Masvidal, bassist Sean Malone and drummer Sean Reinert, they start you on your album journey on Hallucination Speak with a fade in of light synth washes and quiet churning guitars before introducing the song proper with louder crunching guitars that immediately hands off to chunky jazz inflected drum and bass rythyms as Masdival's clear vocal presents itself. His vocals will be the first and last non alien sound that you will hear on this album. The instruments will sound familiar, naturally, but It's the music that sounds alien and not in the way that you think it would. There are ghostly echoes of the prog giants that have gone before but in ways that are almost unrecognizable. Cynic's music feels as if it is an x-ray image of prog metal or like glimpsing the spirit of a departed loved one.

There are traces of the prog metal music that existed before but it has been somehow metaphysically changed in ways that we'll never really understand. The album's second track, The Lions Roar, is more of a traditional anthemic prog metal song with subtle jazz inflections with an almost poppy chorus that belies it's complex layering. The title track is where we get into the heart of the beast which starts with slow melodic verses that switch over to waves of technical drum mastery by Reinert of manic flowing polyrythyms and intense bass drumming that is absolutlely breath taking before changing back to a slower pace as Masvidal and Malone both weave delicate melodies and a tricky time signature around him that then explodes into a locomotive powered percussion peice by Reinert supported by powerful and precise playing by Masvidal and Malone; so that it feels that a miss by any one of the three by even a fraction of a second would send the entire work crashing to the ground.

These four signature song structures are repeated before the song concludes with an extended chorus that shows how Malone is so integral in assisting Reinert maintan a sense of groove in even their most technically proficient workouts. Infinate Shapes introduces an industrial guitar sound to go along with the jazz and tech fest while Moon Heart Sun Head continues the tech magic that builds up to a good old fashioned middle eight section that is introduced by rapid foot work and a heavy hits to Reinart's toms and snare that then starts off a majestic ascending major scale guitar solo that makes you think your on your way skyward toward a some cliched crecsendo before it unexpectably reverses back on it's self where it comes to pause for a split second on a minor note before resuming a rapid spiraling climb back up the fretboard where the solo finally resolves itself and evaporates into the either. This solo will give you the feeling of being pulled forward off your feet at the speed of light and just as quickly thrown backward again before slowing regaining your equilibrium.

Gitanjali has spacey tribal like moans from Masvidal as well as more complex guitar playing throughout with Reinart back to his tasteful but never overplayed tech flourishs with creepy almost subliminal keyboard washes floating throughout the sound mix. Holy Fallout is an anthemic prog/tech metal closer that again shows off the skill of all three musicians before fading into How Bountiful, a gentle Masvidal thanksgiving tome to the earth and universe. Kindly Bent To Free US is an album that is deceptively complex and layered and demands a lot from it's listener (It took a lot from this reviewer to just remember this album's basic outline after just a few listens with songs that average a duration of no longer than 5 minutes): but it should be in every 21st century prog fans collection as it is one of those rare albums by a group on the cusp of becoming genre defining as well as genre breaking at the same time. Indeed, the old gods do speak.

Report this review (#1189931)
Posted Monday, June 9, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Kindly Bent To Free Us is my first album from Cynic, so I want it to be known that the merits of this release are not being compared to the other two albums that are highly rated. When I first saw that Cynic had shorter albums and no epic 20 minute songs, I was less than thrilled to give them a shot. Boy am I glad that I did, and now I am very excited to get the other two releases. This album touches on metal, progressive rock, jazz, and alternative rock. It has layers of depth, and I have not been bored for one second. I think the people that love prog want some complexity, and Cynic has it in spades. The precision of the musicianship is what initially grabbed my attention, but every listen unveils nuances from the very complex layers. There are times where I feel like I am listening to OSI, and other times when it feels like a fusion jazz record. I recommend this album to everyone that loves music.
Report this review (#1199747)
Posted Sunday, June 29, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars I think when the buzz started around Cynic's new album, Kindly Bent To Free Us, I was probably the only one in need of introduction. The band released a legendary album in the early 90s, titled Focus, that existed more in a death metal-inspired world of progressive music, which is probably why it flew under my radar for so long. After its beloved debut, Cynic returned in 2008 with Traced In Air, which by all indications, lived up to 15 years of hype. By this measure, at the time that the band settled in to release Kindly Bent To Free Us, the hype was absolutely through the roof.

All good things come to an end though, and as I was being introduced to Cynic on the first single, "The Lion's Roar," the very thing that caught my attention about the song was at the same time, alienating hordes of fans. Namely that, instead of technical death metal that embraced jazz fusion, I was met with jazz fusion embracing, well, itself really. I recognized that, in spite of a more streamlined genre approach, the band was brimming with talented musicians and interesting ideas, and so as older fans dropped the hype bandwagon, I was more than happy to pick it up myself.

There's something of a curse to hype, of course, and certainly an art form entirely unto itself when choosing which song to introduce new material to listeners with, especially when that new material is a stylistic departure. "The Lion's Roar" gave me indications of up-tempo jazz fusion, but as Kindly Bent To Free Us really unfolds, so much more of the release is somber, with post-rock leanings. The closing track, "Endlessly Bountiful", in particular stands almost exclusively on the vocal textures of Paul Masvidal's tastefully overproduced voice.

The band is actually much stronger with its more subtle passages, interlaced throughout the record, than the overt melodies that made "The Lion's Roar" the standout single that it was, and yet even as Cynic showed itself as being, in fact, more talented than what originally attracted me to the album, I still find its style to be one that is very difficult to fully appreciate. There's a lot of melodic recursion throughout the record, and as framing devices, they're absolutely wonderful. However, the juxtaposition of the different styles is difficult for me to wrap my head around. Similarly, there's moments like on "True Hallucination Speak," where the atmosphere of the song feels like it's aiming to be quite profound, except I'm hearing "Pop, pop snap crackle and pop," and now I'm thinking about breakfast cereal.

Kindly Bent To Free Us is tremendously successful at accomplishing Cynic's "loftier" artistic ambitions, and there's no lack of talent or tact, but on the bottom end I find it difficult to access, and lacking in a more simple appeal to accentuate the more intricate and advanced brilliance. While I can appreciate the accomplishments that Cynic achieves, I'm just not enjoying them very much.

3.0 // 5

Originally posted at

Report this review (#1211394)
Posted Friday, July 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, the Cynic have come back!! "Kindly Bent To Free Us"(KBFU) follow the previous "Traced in Air" after 6 years. Judging from the final result, the waiting has been well paid, because Paul Masvidal (Vocals, Guitars, Keys, Synth), Sean Malone (Fretless bass, Chapman stick) and Sean Reinert (Drums and Percussion), have performed a very good job. Who knows Cynic knows also they are one of the reference band for the tecnical death metal (together with Death, Atheist, etc.), but during the years the band has explored other aspects and sounds, with the basic style of Cynic always present. With these premises, let's say that KBFU is not like the previous full-lenght; first of all, the growly style for singing has disappeared, so we are quite away from the masterpiece "Focus" (the last year was the 20th anniversary). Maybe this aspect will be not well accepted from someone of the old fans, but is to take in account that in the last releases (The Portal Shape ? EP 2012, Carbon-Based Anatomy ? EP 2010), there's no growl. but as said before, the band is exploring other sounds and musicality. This aspect doesn't means that Cynic are giving a bad album, but rather a different album, as usual from Cynic in each full-lenght release. Speaking more properly of music, there's a lot of different atmospheres and influences, from jazz to fusion till the "new age" in some passages, but the progressive roots are never abandoned and this is the "trademark" of the entire album. The best "episodes" in my opinion are the first track "True Allucination Speak" and the title track (the drum patterns is very nice), just to clarify the ideas. The first part of the album for me, is the best, reminding some 70's prog composition, and the most musical rich part (specially the first 3 songs). The remaining songs are also interesting, as "Moon Heart Sun Head" with 2 atypical guitar solos considering the context, but very interesting for who plays guitar. A special mention goes to Reinert behind the drums, and also to Sean Malone with the Bass Guitar creating a great sound and performance!! I think that as all the great albums, KBFU is an album that need more listenings before to be understood, appreciated. Even if is not a masterpiece like "Focus", KBFU is a modern progressive album that will make happy many progressive music fans. Enjoy!
Report this review (#1285250)
Posted Sunday, September 28, 2014 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars CYNIC puts out exactly what i personally like in a band, namely quality over quantity and absolutely no one can accuse this unique band of flooding the market with throwaway filler. The mystery with CYNIC has always been since releasing their debut album "Focus" and then calling it a day if they would ever put out another bizarre hybrid recording. After 15 years the answer was yes! reappearing with a followup in 2008 with a new sound in with "Traced In Air" which shifted gears a bit but pretty much carried on a lot of what was expected from "Focus" with the unique death metal / jazz / space rock / ambient thing neatly assembled into a nice little package that only this band could create.

Luckily the world would not have to wait another decade and a half for a followup. The band was ready for some serious business and began releasing EPs. With "Re-Traced" we got a taste of CYNIC dropping a huge swath of their metal sound and then with "Carbon-Based Anatomy" where they cemented the toning things down in the metal department by going down an atmospheric post rock and ambient path.

That brings us to their much awaited third album KINDLY BENT TO SAVE US arriving 21 years after the debut and 6 years after their second. Anyone who follows CYNIC should expect the unexpected by now. The band has their influences dipped in so many cocktails that strangeness is guaranteed to emerge in unforeseen ways and ideas evolve as sporadically as their songs shifting from one complex time signature to another with as many tones and styles to match.

KINDLY BENT TO SAVE US may have jettisoned all traces of death metal growls and replaced them with indie rock type vocals but the musical compositions remain as complex if not more so than anything the band has released before. It's too much to grasp on a single listen. This one has taken me a while to appreciate because it is so dense and, well, unique. Of course there is a lot of what came before but on top of the sci-fi and Buddhist inspired lyrics, we get plenty of progressive metal, clean guitars, lots of staccato, complex rhythms that fuse the world of rock and jazz so seamlessly that it deserves some kind of new designated style nomenclature.

Overall, this album is a mixed bag with me. I agree with all the others that this is not as memorable as the first two releases in its scope or intensity but i totally disagree with anyone who writes this off as mere crap. The sophisticated approach on this release is phenomenal. I enjoy every single track musically and the only reason i cannot rate this album higher is because of the vocals of Paul Masvidal which don't have the inspiring effect that the music does. The consistency of the clean style of vocals just seems a bit weak in the mix. I do miss the growls for they added some much needed contrast that matches the music.

If there were to be a huge swath of vocal influences on top of the music maybe like that of bands like Darkology or Hell, then this could have been another full-fledged masterpiece of epic proportions, but that it is not, yet i really enjoy this album a lot despite the disappointment factor and my own desire to micro-manage the project to please myself. Despite it all i am certainly not sorry it was released but i hope they can improve upon this formula in the future.

Report this review (#1353331)
Posted Sunday, January 25, 2015 | Review Permalink
2 stars Experimentation is one of the riskiest gambles in music, particularly in metal music. On one hand, there's the task of catering to the already established fanbase, but then there's either the hunger to expand that fanbase or to explore completely uncharted territory, usually with varying degrees of success. Most of the time, successful experiments have still managed to receive some sort of backlash from the community, going to show that you can't please everyone. Cynic's second album, Traced in Air, is pretty much the epitome of that phrase in the progressive metal world; while being a fantastic follow-up to the groundbreaking prog/jazz/death metal debut Focus, there was still a certain crowd who didn't think it was "metal enough" or more prominently, "long enough." If you were in the "not metal enough" category, then you're really going to be shocked at their newest effort Kindly Bent to Free Us. Then again, judging by the group's EPs following Traced in Air (Re-Traced and Carbon-Based Anatomy), there was a clear indication that the band were heading toward a softer direction. Hell, Traced in Air was already much lighter than Focus. When you get down to it, experimentation is a refreshing change when it's done well; however, this new record (reinventing Cynic's sound yet again) is nothing short of complete garbage.

Kindly Bent to Free Us is quite aptly named, as the entire experience sounds kinder and gentler than the group's previous records. You'll hear 100%-clean vocals from Paul Masvidal, as well as a more layered, textural sound based heavily on jazz phrasing and chord progressions. While the jazz influence was prominent on Focus and Traced in Air, it really becomes the forefront on this record as most of the guitar chords and bass lines are built around a jazz fusion framework, albeit frequently on the calmer side. However, the first song "True Hallucination Speak" is a bit of a false alarm, its guitar intro being quite atonal and suggesting something a bit more frantic. Even the groove it settles into is pretty technical from an electric guitar and bass standpoint, but then once the vocals enter the picture, everything sorta crumbles. First of all, Paul is not a very engaging singer for this album's more-distorted moments, often making the music underwhelming and pretty awkward. Truthfully, adding a few growls or vocoder singing would possibly have benefited these moments pretty nicely, but as is, the singing's not very fitting.

The music, while not offensively bad, seems really directionless; one of the worst things you can say about an album is that it doesn't leave any impression at all, and this album sadly nails it. "The Lion's Roar" has a verse in the beginning that sounds as if it were lifted straight from "Integral Birth" from the previous album, similar rolling drum beat and all. While it doesn't last long, it gives off a recycled feel about it and seems like a bit of a cop-out. Some song sections sound completely out-of-place and don't match with a given tone. The title track opts to build its dynamics up gradually, leading to an intense climax around the middle, when all of a sudden it just comes to a complete halt. The instruments die down, then drop off completely for a sparse guitar and bass segment before randomly bursting back into the distortion again out of nowhere. Why? Was there any purpose? It certainly didn't flow well, given its placement right in the very middle of the track. Perhaps if it was near the end it would have been able to serve more of a purpose to build to another climax, but it comes off as really awkward and unneeded.

The biggest issue with the album is that everything just becomes a giant blur after only a few minutes of listening. Nothing ever stands out or comes off as being engaging, no matter the dynamics. While "Infinite Shapes" has an extended clean intro that seems welcome to break up the monotony, the distorted portions go right back to the same old jazz chord progressions and the same slow pace. Despite the experimentation on this album, as it consists of more clean sections and even more jazz fusion and soft rock elements, I think the boys in Cynic forgot that it's not just the experimentation that defines an album, but what how you execute it as well. On another note, Sean Reinart's drumming is seriously underplayed here. He usually goes between 6/8 and 4/4 time signatures, and oftentimes his drumwork will simply follow a precise stacatto guitar and bass melody or just keep the rhythm section in check as Paul's lead work and vocals adorn the foreground of the music. Considering how talented Reinart is on the drums, this seems like a serious step back in his work with the band. Hell, despite some solos here and there, even Paul Masvidal is really subdued here as well. It's worth noting that a decent chunk of this album bears a strong resemblance to a certain Cynic side project known as Aeon Spoke, which does indeed focus more on the lighter elements of Paul and Sean's musical influences. This just begs the question: why would Cynic go this far in Aeon Spoke's direction when there's already an Aeon Spoke around? It brings the already-tenuous credibility of Cynic's recent sound change to a pile of rubble. This album is just not worth listening to for any reason other than to hear how far a band can fall in such a short time. This isn't a slight dip in quality, it's an avalanche. As the final track "Endlessly Bountiful" slowly crescendos from a soft progressive rock ballad into a beautiful burst of distortion and energy, one can only wish that this musical epiphany had occurred way earlier in the record. As it calms down and ends with a whimper, it's realized that the album ends the same way as it began... being unmemorable.

(Originally posted on Sputnikmusic)

Report this review (#1445846)
Posted Tuesday, July 28, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
3 stars Cynic has an epic reputation here on Prog Archives, blending styles from many different places of inspiration to create a sound that is artistic, dense, heavy, and challenging. It's the kind of music that gives fans of modern prog that heady, Crimson-like fix of unapproachable yet enjoyable metal. Some of the fun might come from simply knowing you've got the gusto to enjoy such an obscure and cerebral band as Cynic! Kindly Bent to Us continues that tradition, which sadly will be the group's last album, having "officially" disbanded. Yet, for a band that has produced only 3 albums in more than 20 years, I don't think that's saying much.

I have mixed feelings about Cynic's discography. I didn't care for their first album, but loved their second, Traced in Air. Fortuneteller Kindly Bent to Us isn't quite as good as that second release, but it still has a lot to enjoy. I didn't find it nearly so "experimental" or a "new direction" for the band as others described. Kindly Bent to Us has a lot going for it, it just has a harder time connecting to the listener.

The first thing to note is that overall this album is much more mellow than either of the two that preceded it. While the group's metal sound is intact, it's not as aggressive or powerful. This gives the album a more nuanced feel that is more textural than Focus, yet less complete feeling than Traced in Air. Regardless, this album still offers a high amount of dynamic and tempo changes to explore. From a songwriting perspective, the tracks are structure-less and complex. They aren't schizophrenic, but certainly don't have conventional melodies or rhythms to latch on to. It's the kind of music that demands careful listening, because the disjointed combination of sounds makes for bad background music.

There is a lot of variety crammed into the 40 minute running length, and each song has at least one stunning instrumental moment or artistic hook that pulls you into its web of sounds; though, the second half grab me much more than the first. The band's instrumental playing is very much the standout of the album.

All in all a solid purchase for those who enjoy their metal complex and highly nuanced, though I don't think Kindly Bent to Us will find regular rotation in most people's listening because of it's unapproachable. If you're new to Cynic, check out the more memorable Traced in Air first.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Report this review (#1478804)
Posted Friday, October 23, 2015 | Review Permalink

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