In 1993 a band called CYNIC set the standard for not just progressive death metal (you could make the argument for ATHEIST and even PESTILENCE too), but also progressive rock/metal with the seminal "Focus". Vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal had a vision for a band that would break the mold and succeeded in making an album with drummer Sean Reinert, guitarist Jason Gobel, and bassist Sean Malone that 15 years later continues to influence scores of thinking man's bands. After an eternity, Masvidal and Reinert (also credited with keyboards), along with bassist Sean Malone and guitarist/vocalist Tymon Kruidenier, decided it was time to begin writing the second chapter of the CYNIC saga, which will soon be available in the form of "Traced in Air", a brilliantly composed progressive metal/rock album.
Notice I didn't use the term "death" in that description. Even though "Focus" fell loosely into the progressive death category, the only trace of death left in the CYNIC sound on "Traced in Air" is the occasional accent growl. "Traced in Air" is a progressive rock (and to some extent metal) album that sees CYNIC soaring to melodic heights never before seen from the band. I suspect the "Focus" diehards will be split into two camps over this one; those who wanted "Focus Part II" and those who recognize that CYNIC has never been about standing still and see the album for what it is — a stirring work of progressive music.
Others will complain about the 34-minute running time. It is a specious complaint anyway, as one of the qualities inherent in "Traced in Air" is the ability of the album to suck in the listener from the first notes and take him/her on a journey through a multitude of musical movements somehow compacted into the span of a four- or five-minute track, then deposit the explorer back on earth with a yearning to do it all over again. In other words, "Traced in Air" is an album accessible enough — thanks to the level jump in melodious songwriting — for the average fan and complex enough to leave musicians in a state of wonderment.
As individualistic as this collection of songs may be, there is an underlying sonorous thread that seems to tie everything together. Book ends "Nunc Fluens" and "Nunc Stans" contribute to that effect. The opening track is the sound of rebirth, rising from the depths, as Reinert's tribal drumming builds to a dulcet vocal and ultimately a charming riff from Masvidal, signaling the arrival of CYNIC's second coming. It is on "The Space for This" and especially highlight "Evolutionary Sleeper" on which the band's musical growth is most apparent. Both demonstrate a heightened sense of melody, not the least of which is due to Masvidal's new and improved silky vocals. The contrast of mellow flow and explosive, yet controlled, composition is most apparent when one hears the light picking and sweet croon that builds to shimmering chords and the active percussiveness of Reinert on "The Space for This" or something as simple as the addictive chorus of "Evolutionary Sleeper".
While the vocoder is long gone, Masvidal does use an effect from time to time that he calls the "android." The vocals are but one part of a dense tapestry where every nuance, every flavor, is meticulously placed for maximum impact. As alluded to above, the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate elements works amazingly well, one example being the pairing of growls and clean singing on "Integral Birth", the raw edges marrying the pristine beauty. Incidentally, it is the kind of thing one hears from the work of SCULPTURED, surely students of the CYNIC school.
The attention to detail grows ever stronger with each spin of the disc. It could be the nectarous solo on "The Unknown Guest" or the initially startling, but eventually fitting, chant of "Om Shrim Maha Lakshmiyei Swaha Om" on "The Unknown Guest" or the soothing vocals of Amy Correia and the closing section of jazzy picking on "King of Those Who Know".
Some layer music for the sake of complexity. CYNIC does it with purpose and with an ear to allowing the listener to discover new treasures as the digging gets deeper. I'd not be surprised to find more than a handful of reviewers rating "Traced in Air" as high as 9.5 or 10. I can't go quite that high, probably because I'm more appreciative of the music than fanatical, but "Traced in Air" is most worthy of being considered one of the year's best albums.