REVIEW: CYNIC – “Ascension Code”
One of the more surprising announcements in the metal world this year was the announcement that Cynic will be releasing their fourth full-length album, ‘Ascension Code,’ in late November. With the departure (2015) and untimely death of drummer Sean Reinert, and the tragic death of bassist Sean Malone in 2020, I never expected to see another Cynic album. At this point, the band is Paul Masvidal, and whatever hired hands he’s working with. Losing two members who played on every album, and who were your entire rhythm section, isn’t a small thing to move past, both emotionally and musically. But Paul rose to the challenge and delivered an uplifting album in the midst of sorrow, and a better album than I expected.
Replacing Reinert is Matt Lynch who came in during 2015, and is making his Cynic album debut. As for replacing Malone, Paul didn’t even bother trying (a wise move), and the bass parts are played on a bass synth by keyboardist Dave Mackay, and it works out fine.
The album begins with “Mu-54*” and no, this is not the result of my cat walking across my keyboard, rather it is one of the short ambient instrumental “codes.” I hope you enjoy it, because there’s one between literally every single (ok there is one instance without it, but still) song. The first proper song is “The Winged Ones,” which is a signature Cynic instrumental, fast, complex, and a true marriage of progressive metal, jazz fusion, and a touch of electronica. Paul’s playing is sharp as ever, and intricate drum patterns stand up to expectations. After another ambient section, we get to the first vocal track “Elements and their Inhabitants.” The vocals for this rather short piece are done in typical Cynic fashion, which is to say they are clean and electronically modified. It’s a nice heavy piece of music but cements the fact that there are no death vocals to be found anywhere on the album if such things concern you.
This is probably the most “celestial” album that the band has done to date. With Paul’s yogi influences and lifestyle, this shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who’s been paying attention to the band since 1993. Their last album, 2014’s ‘Kindly Bent to Free Us,’ was very much in that vein, but this album definitely takes it further. The two albums are really quite similar in many ways, the lyrical themes of light, introspection, spirituality, etc. are all there, and the music, light while retaining heaviness is their signature in this era. So much in fact, that while the whole album is certainly enjoyable, there is little that really sticks out as anything special either.
There is an exception of course; the last proper track “Diamond Light Body” is a real burner for much of it, and I would say the heaviest and most aggressive (relatively speaking) track on the album. The soft electronic elements are there of course, but the band really goes all out for much of it. It would act as a perfect closer. Except there is of course a 45 second floating instrumental to end it off.
And that brings me to my biggest complaint about this album, the constant short, twiddling little instrumentals kill any momentum and energy the actual songs bring. The only two songs that don’t have a break between them, “6th Dimensional Archetype” and “DNA Activation Template,” have the best flow and the most amount of energy on the album. With the exception of the opening one, which sets a solid tone for the album, these bits add nothing to the album, and detract a good deal, due to the constant stopping of actual substance, and disturbing the flow. The album is otherwise solid, nothing special as far as the band, and genre are concerned, but given the personal, and world circumstances that surround the making of it, a surprisingly good piece of work.
Cynic is one of the most important and foundational bands in the progressive metal genre, and they have been for a very long time. Through incredible loss and sorrow, the band has managed to come together, and record a solid album that can only be called Cynic. ‘Ascension Code’ will please long-term fans, and be a fine introduction to the later era for people not familiar with it. If you’re looking for something uplifting, yet heavy, this is a fine album to look into.