The Morningside – TreeLogia (The Album As It Is Not)

27/11/2011 § Leave a comment

A few bands could take a leaf out of The Morningside’s book. Treelogia is the third release from Russia’s learned apprentices of death doom metal, but it sees them regressing their output rather than enrobing themselves in an entirely new fabric. Whereas the pull and sting of a new album may be too stressful for some, The Morningside have taken the road of reworking and expanding a track from their 2007 debut, and annexing another 35 minutes of music onto its length. Given that two out of the tree main songs from “The Wind, The Trees and The Shadows of the Past” were highly becoming and polished – if derivative – the odds were in their favour to choose well. “The Trees” sees itself rerecorded and expanded from 9 minutes to 12, and gets pole position and a renaming as The Trees Part One. Parts Two and Three are entirely new material, though keeping the same themes as their predecessor lyrically and musically.

Most websites can’t seem to decide exactly what Treelogia is. Some call it an album, others call it an EP, whereas the official description of the release is that it’s a single, albeit one that comes in at nearly 50 minutes. Mind you, in these days when traditional concepts of EP length are being both toyed with and ridiculed by bands like Moonsorrow, the tag hardly means anything anymore. Treelogia certainly feels more like an album, and even in name likes to play with the construct. The idea for the original track of “The Trees” to become something greater instilled itself many years ago in the band’s mindset, and it now comes to full realisation as this doomy triptych.

It’s an intelligent move rather than a work-shy one. The Morningside have always been keen to involve their fanbase in their work, being masters of their own output and schedules; they even uploaded a work-in-progress copy of their sophomore album, Moving Crosscurrent of Time, for free download before the gold release hit the record stores. Treelogia continues the band’s unbroken run of quality and is arguably superior to both their previous albums with its slow, introspective pacing, excellent guitar melodies and Igor Nikitin’s perfectly grating vocal performance. Part One is a familiar piece to most fans, only being lengthened by an ethereal intro. Part Two, however, is one of the best tracks the band have ever come out with: Nikitin sounds better than ever with his piercing, gritty vocals before the track explodes into an excellent instrumental solo, one which most doom bands would relish to feature so effectively. The 20+ minute Part Three tones down the murky heaviness and gives us some more ambience with its intensity, though still retaining the metallic strength of its forebears.

Treelogia is a work born very much from honesty. There’s an indubitable alchemy, commitment and crispness to its sound. Gone are the somewhat wayward, meandering strains of Moving Crosscurrent of Time: with this release the music comes from the band’s very soul more than ever, the musk and kindling of the woodland essence transmitted with almost perfect accuracy. Treelogia is confident of its purpose to capture and display a forested atmosphere in musical form; all the beauty and danger of the seasonal downturn have their parapet here. It’s a composite, heartfelt, luscious work of death doom metal, both inspired by and honouring the Autumn. It’s also an album that concentrates very much on melody – that which resonates within nature and inside the heart of all those who understand and respect it on a personal level.

The wonder and marvel of nature is something which The Morningside have got soldered onto their consciousness. Unlike so many metal bands who pile on the prosaisms of forested rituals, The Morningside are able to pay respect to their musical and wordly inspirations effectively. In this light, Treelogia becomes less than a dedication to the natural world, and more of an offering. It’s the Moscow quartet’s understanding and love of the darker side of the earth, put across with skill and feeling. Ever since their first album The Morningside were a formidable addition to classic death doom metal: it’s about time that they garnered the attention they so richly deserve, and with this proud addition to their already impressive catalogue, they can count themselves as one of the finest in their genre today.

Rating: 4.5/5

Gru – Cosmogenesis

01/10/2011 § Leave a comment

Piotrek Gruszka has created a monster, a behemoth among progressive metal music when it’s at its direst need of rehabilitative innovation. For me the Lerpouses, The Animals as Leaders and the Unexpects of this world aren’t cutting it. There was a time when progressive metal still had a soul, and that soul is frequently ripped out and replaced with over-technicality and glib showmanship. All too often we forget that it is possible to have both feeling with technique and though they’re not mutually exclusive, it’s a very difficult elixir to concoct. I’ll admit I was concerned about this one, yet another progressive album with space-like artwork and space-like themes which hackney the underground to saturation, but Gru seems to have an understanding of this subject which works at a genetic level. This is a reasoning-through of the macrocosmos from a microcosmic perspective.

It may have swallowed him whole. Cosmogenesis was released over Bandcamp as a free download back in October 2010, and though I’m late to the party with documenting my own critique, this album is such a perfect contribution to the progressive metal genre that it should not be overlooked. Gruska has been quiet recently though. Maybe Cosmogenesis dealt with all those negative ions in his system which were released cathartically in the production of this octet; maybe he’s gone into hiding, drowned under a deluge of positive comments and amorous feedback; or maybe the call of what cynics and the embittered like to call the ‘real world’ has snared him in its lockjaw. The album has disappeared from the free download section – as has the ability to purchase the thing – but it’s still streamable and the half-savvy among you could acquire a download with ease. Gru has enigmafied himself, but his oeuvre lives on.

As caution-inducing as the spacey theme might be for some, concerns of bloated synth sounds and bubbling overlong reverb diatribes should be put to rest. Yes, this album does like to season its delivery but it’s never overdone. Gruzska is an astounding guitarist and songwriter, being able to transmit the fullest force of intense emotion in each note he plays. The guitar is not just an instrument but an annex, with an ice-clear link between his intentions and execution. Gruszka is able to syphon off each last drip of meaning from his core into the solos which pour forth on Cosmogensis, and each one has it’s own voice, it’s own call, it’s own song within a song. The guitar tone used throughout the album gives a feeling of distance, depth and regression, each note played with fervour, patience and understanding, whether they be the long, drawn-out accents of “Aurora” or the staggering artillery-fire of semiquavers which assaults us towards the end of the second track stunner “Nebula”.

All the work is undertaken by Gruszka from playing, programming and production in much the same way as the excellent Cloudkicker’s output. Where Cosmogensis excels is in its modesty. The album comes in at 34 minutes, any more would be sheer overindulgence when the message – whatever exactly that is – has been fully delivered. Piotrek chooses not to eke things out at the mercy of album-length alone and this debut is all the stronger for it. It strips its layers and reveals more to you as time go on: the extra sprinkle of melodics in “Fermi Paradox”, the beautiful introspective middle eight of “Stellar” and those tinges of rising and falling syths in the background of “Andromeda”. And these discoveries and their causal sensations will keep you coming back time and time again. No vocals are needed here, the guitar provides voice enough alone, and beams its meaning into us so directly and alchemically that no further lyrical exposition is required.

The best kinds of technical metal albums shouldn’t feel technical. As listeners we shouldn’t be thrown puzzles and musical riddles which we have to sit down and unravel over and over before they dare to show us some scuffed nugget of meaning or enjoyment. Most of the time Comosgenesis feels so genuine that it hardly comes across as to how technical and uninhibited it actually is. Give it further reruns and the tempos, the time signatures and the astounding dexterity will present themselves, but almost unwillingly. Gru isn’t here to show off technically but to present ideas, themes and emotions, which just happen to be with a thorough and skilful understanding of this genre, and in doing so gives us one of the best works of heavy music I’ve come across in the last twelve months. These days the old progressive metal superstructures may be being razed and dismantled, but Gruszka holds one of the final pieces.

Rating: 5/5

Falloch – We Are Gathering Dust

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Even though we’re at the warmest time of the year, the dying of the evening light signals the slow downturn from late Summer into Autumn, as we approach the movement into contemplation that the equinox creates. The essence of the calmer months is something that should be all too familiar to Scottish introspectors Falloch, who draw a lot of their inspiration from colder climes and the powerful forces of nature. “Where Distant Spirits Remain”, their début album released through the metal behemoth Candlelight Records, is a more placid offering from the label, foraging in various corners of post-rock, folk and progressive metal, drawing inspiration from bands such as Agalloch, Alcest and Les Discretes. Even though I initially thought the band name was a shameless sidling up to Agalloch, in turns out that Falloch Falls near Glasgow is the root of the band’s namesake, but you can still look at it and instantly know what you’re letting yourself in for by giving them airspace.

The band is currently only two members deep: Scott McClean taking care of vocals, guitar and drums and Andy Marshall on vocals, guitar and bass duties. The music has a very personal tinge to it, possibly something aided by the paucity of band members, seen clambering over tundra, tangia and snowy hills in the promo pictures, of which there must be all too many in Scotland towards the latter half of the year. Everything about the band, from the music to their image, is white – the white of cold, the white of pure emotion, the white of simplicity and the white of canvas, beckoning creativity, change, challenge and emotional control. It’s the scrap between these constantly fluxing states which Falloch attempt to wrestle with and this début is the cathartic product of that endeavour.

Where Distant Spirits Remain is very much a work of homage. A homage to nature, to sorrow, to solace and to those other bands whose sound is so close to Falloch’s own. This is not music created just to preach of personal torment and loneliness but to share that solace, understand it and interpret it through various paths. Falloch are heavy on their atmospheric metal but they also care to indulge in the territory of post-rock, at times shoving it to the prow of their musical movements and using it as a tool to elevate the listener above the all too desolate essence of ethereal loss that assails their music. Where Distant Spirits Remain is not so much about presenting emotion as exploring it, empathising with it as a vast ranging territory which can never be fully mapped out or moderated, and which always hides its own idiosyncrasies, myths and enigmas.

The musical territory is a little too vast even for Falloch, though. At seven tracks and 52 minutes, you can be sure to expect some long numbers here. It’s so vast, in fact, that Falloch have a tendency to get lost in it themselves. A lot of the songs contain a great quota of musical variety, summoning clean acoustic passages, glimmering post-rock and faster, energetic elements reminiscent of those black metal/shoegaze bands who swirl around the atmospheric metal scene. The songs have direction, certainly, but it’s too much of a scenic route than a direct path, the kind of country drive that goes on a little too long, and what once felt like a good idea before you set out starts to feel tiresome and dull, and returning can’t come quick enough. This is possibly not helped by the long instrumental sections which, most of the time, are just too simplistic to be interesting and though Andy’s voice, for its part, is pure and fluid as the music itself, I can’t help feeling that it’s a little too weak even for metal of this kind, the real pain and pallor behind the words getting stuck suppressed in his throat.

Falloch clearly have ghosts to reckon with, whether they be personal demons or the ghosts of personal want and chance which desire to make Where Distant Spirits Remain so much more than it is. This album wants to be greater but it lacks a certain conviction, a certain true soul which at times makes the music feel as blank as the white hills which Falloch walk. What causes bands like Agalloch or Alcest to be so effective for some is the true heart and atmosphere of nature converted to musical form, and though this heart also may reside within McLean and Marshall themselves, the transmission is lacking. Where Distant Spirits Remain, though occasionally successful, doesn’t inspire as much as its inspirations and lot of the time it wanders, drifts and strays into a miasma of washed-out indifference. A little more of that biting cold would do wonders for this music.

Rating: 3/5

Egoist – Ultra-Selfish Revolution

01/09/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Egoist
Title: Ultra-Selfish Revolution
Label: SelfMadeGod Records
Genre: Progressive/ Technical Metal

Track Listing:

01 The Rest Will Follow
02 Lifeless Love/Loveless Life
03 On
04 Just Ones
05 These Strange Things
06 Near Warm Fireplace
07 (Not) The End
08 Bright Shift

Stanislaw Wolonciej has had his finger in a number of musical pies since the end of the 1990s, but as much as I love to think myself marginally knowledgeable about progressive metal, Egoist didn’t fall within the scope of my radar. Not only has Stan been doing work with Egoist but also NeWBReeD, Angerpath, Dream System and Spacebrain, and he makes it clear in his rather lengthy and whingey biography that he could have been the drummer for C-187 too, but he didn’t quite make the final cut and Sean Reinhart [again] made it instead. Mind you, considering the dreadful reviews that C-187 got, maybe Stan’s now feeling slightly less peeved that his name didn’t appear in the CD’s linear notes.

Egoist, as its name mockingly hints, ditches the need for other band members and sees Wolonciej taking care of all instrumentation, recording and mastering. Guitars, drums, bass, vocals and synth are all his own work and if you go to his MySpace page you can even see videos of him in his sterile beech-walled studio bouncing time signatures off the walls. Egoist is more than just a progressive metal outfit – Wolonciej throws in a number of influences which make the music straddle a gulf between progressive, technical metal and avant-garde, funk and metalcore. It’s as if someone has thrown a number of genres into a musical mixing bowl and decided to pour them haphazardly into one album. It’s less cohesive than it should be in spite of being played note-perfectly with some beefy and nicely compressed sound production. It’s the kind of thing that would be left at the end of a Korn, Textures and SikTh focus group – bands that do perfectly well in their own rights, but mixing them together is far too dangerous and unstable a compound.

The album’s songs jump and writhe all over the pace, mixing in slow, groove-like sections with spidery riffs, funk and even psychedelic passages. The problem, as is often the way for this sort of stuff, is that it’s hard to put a suitable vocal line to the passages. Wolonciej does have a capable voice but most of the time it’s entirely without emotion so it’s easy to come away from repeated spins of the CD without one memorable line having stood out. In the end, the vocals don’t seem to lead the music as much as the guitars do, which are really the star of the show here, being prominent, up-front and far more interesting. Vocals are also provided by Partick Mameli [Pestilence] in a couple of tracks which adds a different tinge to Egoist’s sound but, once again, it’s nothing particularly memorable.

Egoist does come across as little more than a very personal exercise in experimentation for Wolonciej. Clearly inspired by many of the main, important progressive and death metal bands of the 90s, as well as more modern metalcore bands, Ultra-Selfish Revolution is Wolonciej’s own interpretation and contribution to the style. He’s certainly an impressive musician and Ultra-Selfish Revolution is an ambitious showcase for his many musical talents, but there’s a big hole somewhere in this album, a yawning chasm where no hooks, emotion or soul seem to lie. The canny and consistent danger with technical releases is the sacrifice of meaning for experimentation and individuality, and this is all too often where bands like Egoist seem to fall. However, given Wolonciej’s chosen name for this project, a simple showcasing is all that was ever intended.

Ben Kuzay – In the Halls of the Punisher

15/08/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Ben Kuzay
Title: In the Halls of the Punisher
Label: Evil Ink Records
Genre: Progressive Metal

01 Sonic Aristocracy
02 In The Halls Of The Punisher
03 The Royal Palace Pt. 1: The Reading Room
04 The Royal Palace Pt. 2: The Crown
05 March To The Guillotine
06 Metropolis
07 Passage Through A Strange Place
08 The Road To Union
09 Defending The Fortress
10 The Suffering At Hope’s End
11 The Little Toy Train
12 Retribution

Ever heard of a band called Nightqueen? I thought not, but somewhere in the cruel maelstrom of time the worlds of this unknown Belgian Gothic metal group and an instrumental bassist from Wisconsin have collided. Nightqueen are one of the most delayed, reformed and malformed bands in the underground metal scene. They’ve been together since 2005, and in that time you can count on one hand the amount of live performances they’ve done – and on several hands the amount of line-up changes they’ve been through. For years I regularly visited their amateurish website and was amazed by their paucity of output, their laughably pantomime-esque stage wear and their banal and atrocious lyrics page – lyrics for songs which may as well have not existed since there were no samples. Their ‘news’ section featured gems like:

“10/12/2005 – a new band member has arrived. Da-Namite has just joined the band for the 2nd lead guitar. So Nightqueen is finally complete and will go on stage soon.”

“20/12/2005 – the band said goodbye to rhythm guitar player Da-Namite.”

Of course you can’t see where this is going. Ben Kuzay can if he’s reading this review, and he’s probably feeling quite uneasy because of it. The thing is, Ben has had a lot of experience in the music industry, being a session musician. But he’s also had a lot of experience of being in different bands: bands which he doesn’t seem to spend an awful lot of time in. For instance, Ben’s first band, Lacerte, lasted less than a year. And his second one, Second Impression [geddit?], lasted six months. You may think that’s normal when musicians are starting out – but wait – there’s a pattern here. Ben joined Wykked Wytch in August 2001 only to leave four months later. He joined A Tortured Soul in November 2007 only to leave three months later. I’d love to know the reasons for such impressively short track records, and things like this from his biography are even more intriguing: “Apr.-Sep. 2001 – Ben Kuzay joins forces with Duane Timlin (Divine Empire, Judas Iscariot), and in a band, the name of which will not be disclosed, Ben and Duane play many shows throughout the Milwaukee and Green Bay areas.” What was that again – ‘the name of which will not be disclosed’. Why ever not, was it a secret project? It couldn’t have been because of all those shows in Milwaukee and the Green Bay areas [wherever those might be]. However much doubt there might be surrounding this small cereal of events, one thing’s for certain – Mr Kuzay seems better off on his own.

So what happened after all this? Ben decided that the world didn’t understand and he should form his own project, so In The Halls of the Punisher was his first contribution to the starved and pining Milwaukee metal scene. This album is a couple of years old now, and has since been superseded by the as-yet unreviewed [by HH at least] Perpetual Desire. In The Halls of the Punisher features plain but striking dark artwork and a couple of pictures of its creator looking uncomfortable in front of a camera. In the linear notes is the message, “each song on this album is the sonic emanation of an emotion, or idea, or an experience I have had at some in my life”. I’m sure every other musician out there feels exactly the same, apart from maybe the Melvins when they were putting out Colossus of Destiny.

Ben can certainly play the bass well, and that’s what’s supposed to be concentrated on here after all. The whole album is his own work including keys, electric guitar and the songwriting. The drum programming was a joint effort between Joel Wanasek and you know who, the music straddling a line between progressive and neoclassical metal. Each song is bass-heavy but not with regard to slow, lumbering, doomish basslines, rolling grooves or even catchy riffs – a lot of it seems to be to do with just how fast the bass can be played. And yes, Ben can play it very fast, impressively fast, but after several tracks of hearing another arpeggio at 160bpm the interest factor starts to decline.

In The Halls of the Punisher is not terribly atmospheric even though it does have its moments: March To The Guillotine has an ingenious closing section and Metropolis has its own inimitable dusky urban charm. Unfortunately, lot of the other numbers descend into the same fast spidery riffing and though it’s clear that Ben can certainly play his instrument well, there’s a difference between fast fretwork and building structured, deep songs concentrating around basslines. In spite of each track here holding pertinent meaning to its creator, to the objective listener it comes across as little more than a mish-mash or musical speed trials, interspersed with only occasional moments of mood just for variety. Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from Mr Kuzay in the future. There’s a Gothic band in Belgium that’ll undoubtedly need a new bassist soon.

Tormenta – S/T

01/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Tormenta
Title: S/T
Label: Self Released
Genre: Progressive Metal

Track Listing:

01 Mirages
02 Collisions
03 Fievre et Calculs Morbides
04 Le Retour de la Noyee

Tormenta’s self-titled EP is a great starting block for any progressive metal group. The band formed in 2005 and it’s taken them three years to put something on CD that’s worth charging for. Visually they don’t give much about themselves away save for moody photos taken against rural French architecture and the odd piece of surrealistic sculpture thrown into their MySpace page for good measure. After all, what’s the point of being a progressive metal musician if you can’t confound at least some of your potential fanbase with clichés? Nevertheless, even though this might seem like a pretentious start, Tormenta’s music comes across as anything but. This four-track offering of instrumental progressive metal takes itself seriously but modestly, and it’s very clear from the first microtone that the band know what they’re doing.

The packaging of the EP is a little bit confounding – at first glance I thought this was some kind of EBM or industrial disc with it’s cyclical, swirling patterns and spacelike artwork. The concentric circles in the band’s logo hint at planetary rotations while the inside of the sleeve – a figure of the human anatomy beset with organs, cogs and belching fumes – looks like something David Lynch would have doodled in film studies. Taking the band’s Frenchness into consideration I should be thankful that the track titles are linguistically coherent with not too much ‘wacky’ wordplay, puns, in-jokes and recurring instances of the letter Z. In fact, the subtlety of the artwork seems to fit quite nicely with the band’s downplayed attitude.

There are no vocals on this EP – Tormenta have set themselves up as an entirely instrumental band, at this point anyway. There are two sets of lead guitars and backing drums with no bass or keys. The EP starts off with the melodic “Mirages” with its skipping, rollicking guitar lines, played confidently and deftly. The song changes from slow, staccato’d guitar to high, speed-metal solos. “Collisions” is a heavier piece putting more emphasis on lower-end power chords and alternating time signatures. “Fievre et Calculs Morbides” is quite possibly the most complex of the four songs, employing stoner-like doom sections with classic rock and faster progressive sections, whereas “Le Retour de la Noyee” is the slowest and most ambient of the four. This isn’t just any old Dream Theater or LTE worship album: there are heavier, more metalcore influenced frissons, and more than a couple of times I was able to detect the slightest nod towards bands like Sikth or Textures.

Tormenta’s EP is a great opener for a promising band. The playing isn’t first-rate and sometimes the drumming and timing is little bit sloppy, but not enough to detract from the overall feel of the music. Of course at this stage it’s not quite as accomplished as other bands like Spastic Ink or Sleep Terror but it’s definitely going in the right direction. Tormenta have shown themselves to be a serious and talented band with the potential to do something impressive in the years to come. A little more experimentation and a little less holding back should provide for some very absorbing releases indeed.

Cynic – Traced In Air

01/01/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Cynic
Title: Traced In Air
Label: Season Of Mist
Genre: Progressive metal

Track Listing:

01 Nunc Fluens
02 The Space For This
03 Evolutionary Sleeper
04 Integral Birth
05 The Unknown Guest
06 Adam’s Murmur
07 King of Those Who Know
08 Nunc Stans

Reunions are becoming increasingly fashionable. Not only have Cynic decided to reform and treat us to another eight-track prog smorgasbord peppered with extra-terrestrial vocals and spidery basslines, but Aethiest have threatened a comeback record in 2009, as have Pestilence. It’s the battle of the pioneering death metal bands, first prize going to those who make their metal the most jazzy and have the most elitist fan base. Now all we have to wait for is Chuck Schuldiner to rise from the grave and give us an eighth Death album in the ultimate posthumous reunion to really take the wind out of Cynic and Atheist’s sails. How the hell can you compete with that?

The problem with reunions after a long period of absence is the looming threat of a flop. Or worse still, a mediocre record. I sincerely hope that Atheist can pull something good out of the hat after sixteen years but I won’t be surprised if their sabbatical has sapped their inspiration and we’re left with something that’s as exciting to listen to as Frank Muir reading the shipping forecast in binary. As for Cynic, they’re really at the mercy of the legacy they helped create: it’s like the British inventing football and cricket only to be beaten at them by every other country.

Fifteen years on, it would almost be impossible to live up to the expectations that their sophomore album would amass. It’s not like the Cynic members have been totally silent though – they’ve had their fingers in multiple other projects such as Gordion Knot, Aghora, Portal and Anomaly; each one retaining a progressive flair to the music whether it be in the field of rock or metal. Nothing they’ve done since Focus in 1993 has been quite as heavy though, and it’s probably still the most intense album that Reinhart, Malone and Masvidal have come out with. Traced In Air differs from its predecessor mainly by removing all the ‘death’ from the death/prog side of the band’s sound and we’re left with a more or less straight progressive metal album that still sounds very much like Cynic, but with not as much auditory assault for those who couldn’t quite take it in the first place.

Still, the problem for me wasn’t that I couldn’t take Cynic’s sound, I just couldn’t understand it. Such a sentence will have many a fan convulsing and gnashing their teeth in glee since they’ll tell you that you have to work hard to really ‘get’ Cynic and if you can’t, well, that’s your loss. However, the problem is there’s really not much to ‘get’ with the band, especially when filed alongside their contemporaries. The technical proficiency isn’t up for debate – each member is clearly a very skilled and talented musician – but the music is quite crushingly bland.

Traced In Air is certainly more accessible than Focus though, mainly through the use of hooky riffs. The first two tracks, Nunc Fluens and The Space For This, both include simple guitar riffs to retain your interest and keep the flow of the music moving nicely, but when the vocals come in it feels like we’ve taken a step back. A lot of people will know that the vocals in Cynic were always different to other bands’. Mixed in with the death vocals you’d get ‘alien vox’: slightly distorted and digitised clean vocals – sometimes called ‘Cher’ vocals since they sound like someone’s got a bit trigger-happy with the autotune after one two many Camparis. This certainly sets the band apart from others, but does it make the music sound good? Well – yes and no – it’s great to have a different herb thrown into the progressive metal mash it does get quite irritating and the vocal melodies are also deserving of improvement: the notes seem to hover about a central point by one or two tones only and when you have such astoundingly dull vocal passages fronting a song, it doesn’t really matter what the instruments are doing. I have tried, time and time again, to concentrate on some of the excellent basswork and drumming in Traced In Air but failing because of the Twiki-esque vocals getting in the way. It’s like trying to appreciate Spastic Ink when someone’s blowing London’s Burning into a kazoo over the top – you just want to pick them up and throw them into a soundproof box, David Blaine style, so they don’t sully the much better stuff that’s going on around them.

Otherwise, Cynic are still able to create quite spacey, relaxed progressive metal. Traced In Air has an almost ethereal feel to it and isn’t that demanding on the listener, unlike many other progressive metal albums. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean it’s particularly interesting either and a lot of the songs run together like overdiluted watercolours on the same palette, and by the time we get to King of Those Who Know it becomes more and more difficult to care in spite of one or two more interesting moments on Adam’s Murmur or Integral Birth. As a result, a lot of the album ends up sounding like Aghora, but just not as strong.

Returning to Cynic after fifteen years was certainly a bold move but a lot has happened since then. Death metal has evolved, progressive metal has evolved and now there are albums which have surpassed the template that Cynic laid down. If you’re already a fan, Traced In Air will certainly float your boat but it won’t turn many of us onto them if we haven’t got the hype yet. Cynic haven’t really set themselves apart much with this release, and when put alongside all the other progressive metal bands of the 21st century don’t have much to offer apart from slightly strange vocals and Sean Reinhart’s idiosyncratic bass-playing. A lot of people may look at Traced In Air as a glorious continuation of their sound and a perfect successor to Focus, but in 2008 that doesn’t mean much. Cynic may have advanced a stride or two with regards to their own sound, but everyone else is halfway round the course.

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