Kindly Bent to Free Us

Cynic’s polarising shift away from their technical death metal roots has created enormous debate since they reunited with the largely successful but divisive Traced In Air in 2008. The trio of Paul Masdival, Sean Malone and Sean Reinhert made their new found intentions very clear with the increased experimentation, strong melodic sensibilities and progressive bent of the material, taking their songwriting further off the metallic path with the highly experimental and melodic EP’s: Re-Traced and Carbon-Based Anatomy. This brings us to their third full-length album, Kindly Bent to Free Us, and not even the most optimistic Cynic fan would have been expecting a drastic shift back to the death metal roots of their classic debut. In fact, to put it out there from the get-go, listeners that couldn’t stomach Traced In Air or either of the EP’s will find little to enjoy here. Cynic have finally severed the tenuously attached metallic wires from their mainframe, filtering virtually any remaining semblance of ‘heavy’ out of their songwriting repertoire.

Instead, Kindly Bent to Free Us finds Cynic fully embracing the spacey progressive rock and strong melodic sensibilities that has steadily infiltrated their songwriting over the years. Throw some poppish hooks into the equation and the patience of the average metalhead will surely be tested. However, blasphemous abandonment of their metal roots aside, Kindly Bent to Free Us is not all that bad an album. Listeners that have enjoyed the brave artistic twists of Cynic’s post-reunion career and have come to accept the changes to their sound will likely get on board with at least some aspects of this occasionally excellent but flawed album.

Firstly, the album still contains the songwriting and musical hallmarks of Cynic version 2.0, albeit in another altered form, with the tricky time signatures, jazzy undertones and combined virtuoso talents of the trio prominent throughout the album. So instrumentally speaking, there’s plenty of good stuff on offer. Unfortunately the songwriting doesn’t always stack up across the album’s 8-track, 40-minute duration. And while none of the songs are downright terrible in any way, the songwriting in general is frustratingly patchy and the execution is certainly not as smooth as expected from the veterans.

This is also the most vocal-centric release of Cynic’s career, and at times the approach stifles the impact of the band musically, while to put it simply, some of the vocal melodies are a tad flat and deflating. Not to say Masdival can’t hold a tune or stamp his mark vocally on a song, it’s just that Cynic have always shone the brightest as an incredibly fluid, technically advanced unit with a knack for creating challenging and memorable compositions. Therefore the vocoder-infected vocals work much more productively as a contrasting aspect rather than focal point of their music. This flaw isn’t a deal breaker but occasionally it hampers the impact of the songs, and for many Masdival’s increasingly soft and dreamy vocals might be a bit too tough a pill to swallow.

Opener “True Hallucination Speak” is propelled by buoyant riffs and a jazzy current, driven by the exceptional rhythm section and some pleasing vocal melodies, before the second half of the song drifts a little too far off course, failing to capitalise off the impact of its stellar first half to deliver a knockout blow. Meanwhile, the infectious “Infinite Shapes” and spacey grooves of “Gitanjali” are both solid tunes peppered with stirring moments, building towards a more substantial climax or pay-off that never eventuates, leaving the songs loitering in a frustrating, unfulfilled limbo. The album’s biggest misstep comes via the lacklustre closing track “Endlessly Bountiful”, ending the album with a whimper. The song is an atmospheric snoozer with annoying vocal melodies and a lack of interesting musical ideas.

On the plus side, the musicianship is uniformly outstanding, with the intricate drumming of Reinhert, and fluid, show-stealing bass playing of Malone standing toe-to-toe with the inventive, dexterous guitar work of Masdival. Some of the instrumental passages flow like liquid gold, and the album as a whole has a chilled out, dreamy vibe that coupled with the progressive angles and complex musicianship results in a musically challenging but laidback listening experience. And when the album hits its peaks, the valleys don’t seem quite so low, such as the more rousing moments on “True Hallucination Speak”, or the dazzling musicianship and ethereal melodies of album standout “Moon, Heart, Sun, Head”. The urgent prog-rock flair and propulsive rhythms of the excellent title track recall the stronger moments from Traced In Air, and although the unshakably catchy “The Lion’s Roar” will be too sugary for some tastes, for the rest of us it’s a snappy slice of pop-infused prog with hooks to burn.

In the end Kindly Bent to Free Us comes across like a transitional album for Cynic and perhaps a gateway to greater things to follow. Amongst the album’s issues, the meandering songwriting misses the mark too often and fails to make the most of some promising ideas; the semi-androgynous vocals don’t always work; and the production is surprisingly flat and devoid of any real sonic power. Yet despite the album’s flaws, Cynic continue to create challenging, engaging progressive music and Kindly Bent to Free Us features enough diamonds in the mix to marginally overshadow its shortcomings.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
March 24th, 2014


  1. Commented by: bast

    I totally agree with the last paragraph’s conclusion.

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