When Cynic released Focus (Roadrunner) in 1993, Paul Masvidal (guitars/vocals), Sean Malone (Bass), Sean Reinert (Drums), and Jason Gobel (guitars) collectively carved a new reference point into the timeline of prog-metal. Like fellow Floridians, Atheist, and their Dutch contemporaries in Pestilence, Cynic were among the few artists at that time to discover death metal’s ability to seamlessly absorb different elements like jazz, new-age, symphonic, electronic, etc., proving that an otherwise unlistenable style of music can be sophisticated, melodic, complex and beautiful. Reception for Focus was mixed at the time, especially among the death metal scene of which Cynic were a part. Combine that with an industry that casts aside anything they can’t place in a neat little box and things can get pretty rough for a young band. But rather than let adversity win, Cynic got up, brushed themselves off, and disappeared for fifteen years.
In 2008 Cynic resurfaced with Traced in the Air (Season of Mist). Looking back, it was probably the right amount of time to let pass between albums. The decade and a half preceding Traced in the Air was a musical landfill full of flannel and angsty fourteen-year-olds who cut themselves just to feel something. Toward the end of the 2000s, things started to shift, Focus was starting to get the respect it deserved, and younger forward-thinking metal bands like Between the Buried and Me, Obscura, The Faceless, Fallujah, and a host of others, appeared on the scene, directly citing Cynic as an influence. It’s as if Cynic’s biggest mistake in 93’ was being so far ahead of their time that their impact on music skipped a generation.
Traced in the Air Remixed (Season of Mist) takes the monumental 2008 recording and gives it the 2019 sonic treatment – and the result is breathtaking. Mind you, the 2008 release sounds just fine — we should be thankful it even happened in the first place – but it does retain a bit of that older, muffled Florida death metal ambience that, while not necessarily a bad thing, just doesn’t quite hold up these days. And who better to remix an album from one of the most influential prog-metal bands of the past than Adam “Nolly” Getgood of Periphery, one of the most influential prog-metal bands of the present.
Getgood, who has also worked with Devin Townsend, Animals as Leaders, Good Tiger and Haken is quickly establishing himself as the premier knob-twister of modern prog and a reason he’s on his way to becoming the most in demand producer for state of the art metal bands. On Traced in the Air Remixed the difference is immediate, Nolly has given this album a crystalline quality; the synth sounds are more atmospheric, the drums are more crisp and powerful, the vocals more emotive, the guitar crunch is more in-your-face, and Sean Malone’s re-recorded bass lines more earthy and rich. I’d argue that from a sound quality standpoint, it can now compete with any current metal release. Still, great audio quality doesn’t mean anything without great songs – and by Ganesha, this album has them.
Traced in the Air is an important album. After fifteen years, expectations were high — you can’t just take off like that and expect to come back like nothing happened. But without saying a word, Cynic walked across the room, took us by the hand and pulled us close – we resisted at first, our tiny fists pounding against their taut, muscular chest. We tried to resist but couldn’t. Deep down, we were just happy to have them back.
Traced in the Air Remixed opens with Nunc Fluens, a short foreshadowing tune that fades in then builds with intensity with pulsing tribal rhythms, cosmic vocals by Masvidal, and a snappy measure of staccato guitar riffing — all these elements come together to tell you, ‘yes, this is a goddamn Cynic album.’ The second track, Space For This reinforces that with an intro of shimmering guitars and bittersweet vocals provided by Masvidal and folk singer Amy Correia, then leaps into metallic urgency. The dynamic Evolutionary Sleeper follows and gives us more of Cynic’s trademark bliss to brutality then back to bliss again, providing some outstanding solo sparring between new guitarist Tymon Kruidenier (Exivious) and Masvidal.
Integral Birth and Unknown Guest bisect the album and feature these metal shamen at their most Cynic-ist. Sounding both primal and futuristic. Masvidal’s minimalist vocals describing the landscape while Malone’s bass lines growl and prowl beneath kinetic guitar playing. The heartbeat, provided by Sean Reinert, cannot be understated. Reinert’s drum playing should be studied by percussionists everywhere — pummelling, but with a finesse usually reserved for the most accomplished jazz drummers. He’s Richard Christy meets Tony Williams.
From the opening notes, and up to this point, Traced in the Air Remixed is like a psychedelic journey that continually pulls you in deeper with each track (and with each repeated listen). With that in mind, the second to last tune, King of Those Who Know is akin to a breakthrough experience after a heroic dose of sonic DMT. Heartbreaking ethereal moments that evoke Pat Metheny give way to ferocious crunch. Masvidal and Kruidenier’s guitars drive through your soul like pixelated serpents, propelled by Reinert’s perfect rhythmic choices, and softened by Malone’s bass lines that pulse and glow like polished amber. King of Those Who Know finishes on a blissful vibe then the album ends, rather somberly, with Nunc Stans.
There is one aspect of this remix that may polarise some, and that is the complete removal of the death metal vocals provided by Kruidenier. Honestly, I had to revisit the 2008 version to confirm they were there in the first place. I was surprised at how prevalent they were on the original release — and wholly unnecessary. Focus can take sole credit for getting me acclimatised to that style of singing, and I would have no issues if Cynic decides to bring the death rasp back on future releases — as long as it’s on their own terms. They are definitely not missed here.
Much like what I imagine a mystical psychedelic experience accomplishes, Traced in the Air Remixed does on an auditory level. After it ends, you’re left exhausted and in an introspective state, not quite understanding what you just experienced — except that you know it was profound.
Traced In Air Remixed is out now.