The excellent cover art to Cynic's new Carbon-Based Anatomy EP might deceive one into thinking they had dialed their style back to the progressive, labyrinthine death metal of their 1993 debut Focus, but that's not at all the case here. Having been severely disappointed with last year's Re-Traced EP, which served as a poppy and wimpy deconstruction of several tracks from their excellent Traced in Air album, I am satisfied to say that this is all new material, and much of it quite good. If anything, Cynic have all but drifted away from the technical thrash and death roots to snug comfortably into this hybrid of prog and post-rock, with an even huger dedication to the influence of world music that they've shown on either of their full-lengths.
Granted, it would be unlike Cynic to backtrack. It's just not in the nature of these musicians to move in any direction but forward (stylistically), and this new EP is no exception. But they do hang on to some of their core characteristics, namely Sean Reinert's dynamic drumming and the fusion influence in Paul Masdival's guitars. There are very few moments here that even hinge on the band's former metal genre, with the exception of some of the ramped up chords in the title track or the manic, melodic tremolo sequences that crash through the jamming "Elves Beam Out". The real focus here, however, is the vocal arrangements, which are quite fantastic. Paul's got this amazing, clean voice somewhat similar to Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, but a lot of layered harmonies are strewn about the material similar to post-rock outfits like Efterklang, and it's simply remarkable to experience. Female vocals are also incorporated into the ethno ambient intro and interlude pieces "Amidst the Coals" and "Bija!", the latter a percussive, worldly romp.
My favorites are easily "Carbon-Based Anatomy" and "Box Up My Bones". The former for the climactic business of the bass-lines and the ambient backdrop that functions beautifully alongside the smooth escalation of the vocals, and the latter for all those reasons and more. There are a few guitar lines that function like synthesizers in the background of "Box Up My Bones" which create an insanely elegant atmosphere, and I also enjoyed the guest whispers used to counterpoint the lead vocals in the bridge, and the sifting from cleaner toned guitars to jamming variation. "Elves Beam Out" also warrants a mention for the great, spacey splash to the percussion and the sheer energy, even if the name is a bit of a throw off. Next to these, I'm not sure the female fronted pieces really measure up, nor the heavily ambient, scintillating outro "Hieroglyph", but at the least they provide some captivating transitions.
Carbon-Based Anatomy is not likely to satisfy fans of the old Cynic who have been ruing their decision to drift well beyond the metal sphere, but then, this minority probably didn't enjoy the long anticipated sophomore effort either when it arrived in 2008. Personally, I found the songs here to be growers regardless of the band's incessant transformation, and though the lyrics seem simpler than past works, they maintain the existential character the band have long championed. The production is extremely clean and accessible, as are most of the vocal line melodies, but the Florida band still implements numerous layers of complexity into their composition, and what's most important, you actually feel like you're on this journey WITH the band, rather than being outpaced by their staggering proficiency. Very enjoyable, but don't expect "Veil of Maya" or "The Eagle Nature".
Verdict: Win [8/10] (leave your arms behind)