Wednesday, May 4, 2011

\m/ \m/ Studies in Metal - Cynic

I like a lot of music, but if I'm being honest, Metal has been a part of my listening habits for the longest part of my life. The first cassette tape (yes, tape) I bought with my own money was Stay Hungry by Twisted Sister. MTV's Headbanger's Ball was appointment viewing during the high school years. I wore out Piece of Mind on the bus rides to school. Was blown away and unprepared for Master of Puppets. Grew my hair long and learned to play the drums.

Just like Rock and Roll sprung from the Blues, Metal sprung from Rock and Roll. And it's made a transition into its own genre complete with new and ever evolving sub-genres. I didn't even know that Viking Metal was a thing. Seriously. Look it up.

And here's the current intersection of those two things: Metal and my experiences with it. Maybe this will become a recurring post. We'll see how it goes.

I really do want to talk about Florida metal band, Cynic, though, and in particular their singularly inventive album, Focus. Cynic formed in 1987 by guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert, and rapidly rose in prominence within the metal scene. Joined by guitarist Jason Gobel and bassist Sean Malone, the band recorded demo tapes consistently from 1988 until 1991 when they were picked up by Roadrunner Records. Maybe it was the push by the label, maybe it was a better studio, or maybe it was just the right time, but their next recording would be their first "proper" record, the seminal and highly regarded, Focus.

Cynic took the basic frameworks of metal and death metal composition, but intertwined radically unrelated and opposing influences like progressive rock and even jazz, usually within the same song. In 1993 this was an incredibly original approach within metal and it remains a high water mark for the genre.

Masvidal and Gobel are highly proficient guitarists, and each song showcases some amazing fretwork. Further, there's no clearly defined rhythm and lead guitar roles here. Both Masvidal and Gobel play a dual lead and rarely play the same part at the same time. Instead, the songs are arranged to allow for clever interplay between the two that begs comparisons to the shared guitar work of Fripp and Belew era King Crimson.

Sean Malone's bass work is nothing short of astonishing. Playing either a fretless or a Chapman stick, Malone typically doesn't follow the guitar, but finds his own melodies within the space left.

Reinert's drum work is complex without being busy. He keeps a rhythm for the others to follow while also pushing the songs forward and insisting that the drums play an equal part in the arrangements.

And just as the dual guitarists employ some creative interplay, there is something similar in the vocals. Present is the guttural growling that's common among some metal bands, but contrasted against that is Masvidal's voice processed through what sounds like a vocoder, giving an ethereal, airy, robotic like quality.

The whole album is a study in contrasts.

Cynic disbanded in 1994 while working on a second release. Their follow-up to Focus would eventually arrive in 2008 with Traced In Air. Currently founders Masvidal and Reinert are exploring a collective quality of a revamped Cynic with revolving guest musicians.

If you're into Metal, and haven't heard Focus, you owe to yourself to do so. It's a landmark album that rewards multiple listens. As a sample, here's the opening track, "Veil of Maya."

As always, please BUY music and support touring artists.



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