Back in the day, I remember getting a second hand copy of Cynic‘s ‘Focus’ album from a record store in Wigan for a couple of quid. I had heard the name before, after hearing mention of them touring with bigger bands in the states in the mid 1990s while watching Headbanger’s Ball fronted by Vanessa Warwick on MTV Europe (would you believe she’s a dull property investor with a chicken neck now?). What sold it for me was the fact it was formed by Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, who played on the ‘Human’ album by Death which I believe to be their best ever work. Upon first spin, I was massively impressed by their complex ‘Mathematical Death Metal Jazzcore’ style with such storming tunes like ‘Veil of Maya’ and ‘Uboric Forms’. Strangely, they made one glorious début album and then vanished into the history books…
To reappear some 12 years later along with a tonne of other bands, such as Carcass, Pestilence, Nocturnus, and Forbidden to name to examples; as if to celebrate the proper return of ‘decent metal’ (as I define it). Between 2002 to present day, there has been many bands that have toured again and risen – Lazarus style. Cynic, were the least likely culprit to do this.
Even more surprisingly, Messrs Masvidal and Reinert decided to release a new album called ‘Traced in Air’. The highly proficient jazz styled technical metal was still very much there, but they had decided to reign in the heaviness and focus more on a sound that is more progressive rock than death metal. To me, this was no bad thing as I quite liked this album anyway and it found a nice niche amongst my Ozric Tentacles and Porcupine Tree albums. However, there was always a part of my mind that yearned and craved for the ‘Mathematical Death Metal Jazzcore’ of old; it was highly individual and nothing else on Earth sounded like them which is very refreshing for a critic like myself. I must say, it was still a very odd shift in direction that didn’t make sense.
Mr Masvidal and Mr Reinert decided on a short lived project called Portal and recruited other band members for this, and the history books mention that they had made a demo of this material. “The Portal Tapes” now closes a gap which explains their shift from extreme metal to a more floaty, ethereal, progressive rock sound. A lot like watching The Abyss, and then seeing The Abyss Special Edition which makes far more sense and explains the freaky water shape shifting aliens intentions.
“The Portal Tapes” is a very nice slice of progressive rock, slickly produced and very ‘hi-fi’ in its sound with soaring jazz inspired soundscapes. The mix of female vocals duetting with male vocals adds further dynamics and depth, and in essence the album isn’t metal in the slightest. To my ears, the style is more or a ‘chill out’ progressive rock album to listen to after a hard day at work, post coitus chill out, or perhaps something to listen to in the summer to cruise down twisty country roads in a car. In essence, if you are looking for something that is ‘Focus Part Two’, then you definitely won’t find it here.
The big question is, now that Mr Masvidal and Mr Reinert have finally called closure on this style shift – will they ever make a follow up to ‘Focus’? There are many people out there that wish they would (myself included), and get their ‘Death Metal Mojo’ back. Put it this way, Opeth had made the ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Damnation’ albums so that they can have a full on Death Metal stomporama, and Mr Åkerfeldt finally aired his deep obsessive love with 1970s prog rock once and for all.
Come on guys, you know you want to.