Cynic - Kindly Bent to Free Us

I have to say that the advanced word on Kindly Bent to Free Us, the newest long-player from seminal progressive death metal outfit Cynic, kind of had me worried. It wasn’t the purported lack of heaviness that raised the alarm bells in my head, because heaviness isn’t really something I’ve associated with Cynic; their jazz/prog side has always seemed more dominant to me than their death metal side. The disappearance of the vocoder on Paul Masvidal’s vocals didn’t really make me pause, either. It was the fact that the album wasn’t supposed to be as ‘catchy’ as the band’s earlier work that gave me cause for concern. There’s always a fine line with progressive music between boundary-pushing complexity and self-indulgent wankery, and a lot of what I was reading, while still very positive, seemed to indicate that Cynic might be staring to tread on the wrong side of that line with Kindly Bent to Free Us.

After listening to roughly thirty seconds of album opener “True Hallucination Speak,” though, I started to relax, and when the opening riff of second track “The Lion’s Roar” kicked in, all of my fears were put to rest. Yes, Kindly Bent to Free Us is the proggiest album Cynic has recorded by a pretty wide margin, but I think it’s also the warmest sounding, most accessible, and possibly the best thing the band has ever done. It also seems to be a very logical next step for Cynic, much the same way that Heritage was the logical next step for Opeth; anybody who had been paying close attention to Opeth’s evolution from one album to the next shouldn’t have been surprised that they ended up recording a really heavy 70’s prog record. Maybe it’s a bit more jarring a progression for Cynic since the evolution takes place over the space of fewer albums, but the two EPs they released in the five-year gap between Traced in Air and Kindly Bent to Free Us did seem to indicate the band was moving in a mellower direction.

What I do find surprising, however, his how much of a Beatles influence there seems to be in that mellower direction, and not just because a vocoder-free Masvidal sounds oddly like John Lennon. There are moments in nearly every song on the album, from the way the harmony vocals are layered in the mix to the rhythm guitar parts under certain guitar solos, that remind me of primarily Revolver-era and later Beatles, which is where I think some of the accessibility of the album comes from. It also makes the songs stick with me a lot longer than some of Cynic’s earlier material. I’ve seriously had the intro riff from “The Lion’s Roar” stuck in my head pretty much since the first time I heard it; it’s really proggy, but its also catchier than head lice.

A quick word about the production, which is really different from past Cynic albums: I’ve already mentioned the lack of vocoder effects on the vocals, but the album as a whole doesn’t have the same kind of sheen as their previous albums. Cynic has always sounded really antiseptic to me, but this album has a much more organic feel to it that I think fit the songs perfectly. There’s a lot more variety to the guitar tones as well, which makes Masvidal’s playing some of the most expressive of his career.

So while Kindly Bent to Free Us is indeed a very different kind of Cynic album, I think that the progression the band has made is a natural one and that the end result may well end up being regarded as the band’s masterpiece. If you’re a fan of progressive music, you need to add this album to your collection now.