Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Cynical Pair

CYNIC (UK) – “Suburban Crisis” CD ’08 (Vergette, Eng) – I have to admit, the first thing that happened to me when I opened this package from Vergette Records and took a gander at this disc was that my chin hit the floor. After taking the few minutes that were required to pick up, not only the lower half of my face, but several teeth, my tongue and my uvula, I sat back and reflected on what I was holding in my hands. It didn’t take long for me to get my brain cells back on track enough to realize that this was easily the most mind-blowing CD packaging job of the year. Seriously, I would expect this kind of awesome work on something with the kind of monetary clout behind it like the new Journey album. And hey, nothing against Neil, Arnel & the boys, as they concocted a top-shelf slice of AOR genius with “Revelation,” but let’s face it: they’ve then got the bucks on board to make it look like a million smackeroos as well. On the other hand, I had never even heard of this English CYNIC until reading about them on With bands from the underground, who I love to support, I’m also very used to and understanding of a pinch being saved in the visual presentation. Hell, I’m down with how hard it is just to get a record recorded, much less gussied up enough to catch the public eye and I’ve looked past many a white sleeve & Sharpie-labeled CD-r to get to a diamond in the rough. But here, I first open up a gorgeous digi-pack (complete with artwork by Hugh Syme, he of Rush fame) to find a CD that looks even better than the cover! This baby is one of those black discs, made to look like a record, with the grooves on the front & label in the middle. Shit, this looks so good I don’t even want to touch it! Next, I pull out an immaculate 16 page lyric booklet complete with more killer artwork. Now, I begin to get depressed…sad, actually. And the reason for this is that, upon looking at what is resting in my hands, I realize that there is no way the music is going to be able to match it. No, I think, this is going to be a dud or, maybe worse, simply mediocre and a riveting example of style over substance.

Then, I noticed something…the album was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales, legendary recording site of Rush’s “A Farewell To Kings,” as well as countless other greats like Sabbath & Van Der Graaf Generator. Coupling this with my prior knowledge that CYNIC has 2 lead guitarists and a history that goes back to a formation in 1979, at the birth of the NWOBHM, I felt at least hopeful as I slid the glistening jet-black disc into the player. Some 38 minutes later (Yes, an album that’s actually the length of...wait for it…an album!) I felt drained, happy and in one of those special moments, a joy at why I do this site. You see, as McCoy’s go, “Suburban Crisis” is the real one. Opening with “Suicide,” the band instantly shows their NWOBHM pedigree, with inspired mid-paced riffing that could easily sit side by side with that of any band from the era. Immediately captivating my attention are the vocals of Shaun Grant (also one of the 2 lead axe men). His vocals are sometimes gruff, although far from anything remotely “death metal.” In fact, I’d have to call him a very unusual cross between Lemmy and Mike Lezala (from English gods, Legend). Also coming to the immediate fore on this first song is the tremendous production job courtesy of Matt Butler. This record has all the sound of walking into a small club and hearing a hot-ass band on their top form, with all the amps, effects and mikes having been set up perfectly. Raw, clear as hell and I love it! The mid-paced crunching continues with “Ten Years From Now,” this one laced with a scalding Schenker-eque solo. We then come to one of the absolute highlights, the 8 ½ minute “Dark December.” Much as you’d expect from it’s title, this is a moody epic of the highest order. It opens with an acoustic guitar, overlain with plaintive soloing reminding me of Glenn Tipton on an early Priest masterpiece like “Run Of The Mill.” Here, Grant tones down the guttural side of his pipes a bit to really sound a lot like Mike Lezala. The song then escalates through several flowing changes, from a galloping, Maiden-ish middle leading into another melodic solo of stop-in-your-tracks quality and on to a ripping, fast-paced coda. While some bands may shoot their wad by putting a number like “Dark December” this early on in a record, CYNIC is just getting warmed up. Moving through the title cut with it’s clever Bon Scott lyrical turns, through the “Obsession”-era UFO styles of “Rebel Eye,” this sounds more like a band of hungry 20 year olds than guys who have been around nigh on 3 decades. But perhaps this is a perfect duality, in that CYNIC may be this good because they’re also committed enough to get back to forging their art in 2008 (their last effort hit the streets in 1989). And in fact, rather than losing steam, these guys pick it up even more through “Faithless One,” “Do Or Die” and “Eight Below.” The entire band is completely on fire as the album reaches it’s climax, with guitarists Grant and Dom Heptinstall playing fiery multiple & harmony leads off each other as the simmering rhythms of Tim Batkin (drums) and Gary Curtiss (bass) rumble beneath. How good is CYNIC and this “Suburban Crisis” of their’s? If you’re reading this article and love the very best things about ‘70’s hard rock and early ‘80’s metal, then please, if you never do me another favour, buy this album now. This is one pure and rare case where the book is even better than it’s cover. No fake McCoy’s here! 10.0

CYNIC (US) – “Traced In Air” CD ’08 (Season Of Mist, US) – So there’s a NWOBHM band called CYNIC who put out their last album in 1989. They just put out the follow-up in 2008. There’s also a band from Florida called CYNIC who delivered their first record in 1993 and released that one’s successor in 2008. Now, would you consider me cynical if I thought this was all to weird a story to believe? Well, guys & dolls, you know what they say, the truth is always stranger than fiction and this one is the truth. Unlike our English cynics, this bunch are somewhat more well-known. Having formed in 1987, they graced the world with their debut, “Focus,” in 1993. With a pedigree that included the most brutal of early death metal (guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal & drummer Sean Reinert were in the line-up of legends Death at one point), that was merely a jumping off point for these guys. As “Focus” proved and now “Traced In Air” continues some 15 years later, CYNIC have combined the virulent aggression of death metal with not simply highly technical musicianship, but that which would actually turn the heads of a lot of jazz musos. In fact when I listen to this new CD I’m reminded bizarrely of a band who could somehow play death metal in the jazz section of a Barnes & Noble store and get kudos from both a kid in a Deicide shirt and a bespectacled guy eyeing a John Coltrane CD. You can go anywhere on this disc and this wildly original style is right there, whacking you in the face with all the subtlety of a hazelnut latte poured over a bank Marshalls. From the spacey bookends of “Nunc Fluens” & “Nunc Stans” to the twisting labyrinths of “The Space For This” and “King Of Those Who Know,” CYNIC alternately (& sometimes simultaneously!) caress with deft brushstrokes and hammer with a blunt instrument. Credit some of the left-field feel of this baby to things like Masvidal’s dueling robot-vocals & axe Frippertronics, Sean Malone’s touch on the Chapman Stick & Tymon Kruidenier’s growls. Still, the thing that makes “Traced In Air” a breath of fresh air is the songs themselves, certainly written with an ear for the unusual and yet kept focused (ouch, Ray, you’re killing me!) enough to be a more than palatable listen. I realize that the super-high-end structures & playing here might be considered twee by the smash-your-cranium-only death metallers. Similarly, the brain-battering parts may send the proto-typical “prog metal” nerd running for his mommy. All the same, anyone interested in hearing some “extreme” music that is not only way-different, but “extremely good” ought check this one out. Go ‘head…don’t be a cynic. 8.0

NOTE: To add to the Lincoln-Kennedy freaky coincidence factor between this UK and US CYNICS, the band’s “Traced In Air” is also less than 40 minutes in length (a bit of a joy, in the plethora of today’s commonly bloated releases) and it also comes housed in a breathtaking heavy-cardboard book-like package (with a poster!)...another of the most visually striking CD’s of the year.


Mark said...

Looking over the Realm site, it's really come a long way, Ray. You've recaptured the zaniness and underground spirit of the old Chaos mags!

raysrealm said...

I like being zany. :-)