Cynic, ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’ – Album Review
Since the release of ‘Focus’ in 1993, Floridian technical death metal innovators Cynic have held onto the status of being an “elite” band. Few underground acts have been bestowed with such critical praise, but Cynic have always been ahead of their time. That sensibility is retained with the band’s third full-length album, ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us,’ but the record is also certain to polarize Cynic fans for a host of reasons.
First of all, forget anything resembling death metal, because ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’ goes nowhere near that realm. In fact, many will argue that the record isn’t a metal release at all, though its technical mastery and unique concepts will undoubtedly appeal to a metal audience. “It’s a very personal album looking at the mind and how it works,” frontman Paul Masvidal recently told us in an exclusive interview. “It’s a journey into the dynamic nature of thoughts and how I’ve learned to live more in the perceived rather than the conceived.”
‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’ begins with ‘True Hallucination Speak,’ a masterfully crafted opener that takes a softer approach to technical music while reflecting nuances from works such as ‘Traced in Air.’ The tripped-out, Ayahuasca-inspired track studies the concepts of beauty and terror while Cynic dial up a heap of unapologetic prog with a bit of blistering guitar. Following the strong open, Cynic’s spiritually heavy third album hits yet another peak with ‘The Lion’s Roar.’ Some fans struggled to grasp onto the track after it was released as the album’s first single, but the song’s place in ‘Kindly Bent to Free Us’ makes much more sense as a next step rather than a specimen on display. We get our second taste of brain-scrambling guitar work on ‘The Lion’s Roar,’ but unfortunately, this is not a constant recurrence throughout the album.
Much like the first two tracks on ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us,’ the record’s title track relies heavily on rotating time signatures and atmosphere, while bassist Sean Malone dances around tightly knit production, boasting a tone that prog lovers will eat up. Its complex rhythms delve deeper into hypnosis and serve up the jazz influence all Cynic fans desperately hope for. ‘Infinite Shapes’ is another key track, arguably focusing on the sweet plumage of Masvidal’s voice with greater impact than any other part of ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us.’ Plus, we get some classic Masvidal vocoder in the mix.
Having progressed halfway through ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us,’ you’ll find that Cynic have set up a brilliant beginning-middle-and-end type of journey, which is arguably the goal when an act focuses on creating true albums rather than just a collection of songs. ‘Moon Heart Sun Head’ is a perfect middle point, keeping the mood mostly mellow while injecting Native American-like chant and a thought-provoking spoken-word sample into the song. However, the final act of ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’ begins to show the album’s frayed ends.
Although the album’s final three tracks are undeniably beautiful and well-written, the finale to Cynic’s third studio album leaves something to be desired. The band closed off ‘Traced in Air’ with the fairly mellow ‘Nunc Stans,’ but despite its sonic implications, the track still felt BIG. As ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’ focuses heavily on mood from front-to-back, maybe it’s fitting that Cynic’s most hypnotic and theoretically gorgeous album to date ends with a lullaby, but arguably, it just doesn’t hold up to the band’s phenomenally high potential.
‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’ is a deep, deep listen. If the record hooks you in, escape will be blissfully unlikely, just don’t expect Cynic to deliver another album two decades ahead of its time.