Often considered one of the most innovative and progressive factions to ever bless the overgrowing realm of metal, Cynic's splashy discography has been the center of overwhelming acclaim. The reassembly of Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert accumulated a pair of releases before this little EP, including the band's first album in over fifteen years ("Traced in Air") and an EP ("Retraced") that features what the group calls "reinterpretations " of some "Traced in Air" material. "Carbon-Based Anatomy" pretty much continues where "Retraced" left off, the material again angling towards an experimental degree while the metal elements are largely suppressed. Now I've noticed something about Cynic since their reunion. There are, of course, two different voices: one that wants the band to openly embrace their lighter direction, and one that would sacrifice a goat for another "Focus," or the group's heaviest record, by a long shot.
And honestly, there was never a problem on my end until now. I consider "Focus" to be a monster slab of revolutionary music; fifteen years later, it's still ahead of its time. "Traced in Air" has a noticeably softer direction with a few extra shades some might label questionable, but hey, it's all good here. "Retraced" is...uh, "Retraced." The problem? Well, it's all becoming too piecemeal and tedious, even by Cynic's standards. "Carbon-Based Anatomy" poorly represents everything that Cynic is and was, because it (a) fails to show any legitimate progression on a creative spectrum, and (b) sounds like a legendary band fading into musical fogginess, minus the perplexing features of Cynic's past discography.
Probably the most bothersome facet of "Carbon-Based Anatomy" is its flow and general presentation. You may notice there are six tracks in total, but only three are actual authentic Cynic anthems. The opening "Amidst The Coals" starts with female vocals of a spiritual essence while ambient-like, maybe folk-inspired chimes echo in the background; it’s effective as an opener, I suppose. However, the ambient/folk characteristics take control over the tribal "Bija!" and the closing "Hieroglyph" as well. Now normally this wouldn't be a problem, but for an EP that barely runs over twenty minutes, a good seven are coiled into these nonfunctional sections. They are annoyingly stuffed between most tracks, and keep in mind they’re not demonstrations of technical riffs and calculated percussion patterns somehow weaving in and out of Cynic's usual web of spiritual idealism, just useless interludes.
The actual songs make a noticeable impression on the band's legacy, keeping some of Cynic's finest traits at the forefront of strangely progressive numbers like the title track and whipping out nifty solos that are thankfully brought up to the head of the EP. Sean Reinert sounds a bit passive compared to his earlier works, yet he remains strong overall, and so does Paul handling the enjoyable vocals. The spacey, atmospheric elements are stronger than ever, and the aggressive tones are completely gone. Yea, there's a lot of weirdness to go around, but it all feels somewhat lacking and void of Cynic's absolute touch. Don't get me wrong, this is undeniably Cynic, but I still feel like the overall performances and ideas fail to achieve the same level of excellence and addictiveness compared to their older albums, of course.
Also, the vocoder? Gone. Harsh vocals? Absent. Mind-bending transitions? Not really. These are qualities that made Cynic...well, Cynic, but now it appears they've turned away from their initial identity, and I can't say that's a change for the better. So yea, "Carbon-Based Anatomy" lacks the creativity and prose that most of Cynic's past discography boasts. The aggression of "Focus" has no place in its quarters, and the simple hint of joy coursing throughout "Traced in Air" simply does not exist here either. And as I said, the traditional features of Cynic make appearances that are few and far between. As a huge fan of Masvidal and Reinert, I can’t call “Carbon-Based Anatomy” anything more than a massive disappointment.