"Kindly Bent to Free Us" is the next logical step in the evolution of Cynic, I suppose. Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert had showed waning interest in the metal element throughout "Retraced," an EP featuring 'reinterpretations' of anthems from "Traced in Air," and "Carbon-Based Anatomy," which shed the skin of the heavier elements for a sublime, rock-influenced coat layered in progressive philosophies and designs. "Kindly Bent to Free Us" is pretty much the completion of Cynic's conversion over to the progressive rock station, which might be fine for some, but I'm not awestruck. It seems in a lot of ways that the ethereal ingenuity and complex algorithms of Cynic's yesteryears have gone from a million screaming spirits to a feeble creative whisper.
No, I'm not close-minded or indifferent to change. It requires a copious amount of open-mindedness on the listener's behalf to enjoy Cynic in the first place, because the group's music is, you know, transcendental and in a universe of its own. "Kindly Bent to Free Us" is nonetheless like running into a former lover-perhaps small talk occurs, maybe a burst of arbitrary updates; but the bigger points float above like a halo and overshadow the whole tκte-ΰ-tκte, left untouched. "Kindly Bent to Free Us" in essence scratches the surface of the Cynic machine without exposing much of its multipart, enthralling layers; it pretty much ends up sounding like a dialed-back "Traced in Air" mixed with the color of "Carbon-Based Anatomy"-tame, passively technical progressive rock tracks.
The performances are, as expected, absolutely wonderful. The chemistry validated between Masvidal's algebraic guitar playing, Reinert's stylistic percussion, and especially the zesty, jazzy bass performance of Sean Malone, the album's MVP, is a storm to behold. But this magic is to be expected, and despite the corky jazz influences and showmanship that is remarkably sharp yet modest, "Kindly Bent to Free Us" proves little worth mentioning. Although I would say there are interesting elements present in tracks like "True Hallucination Speak" and "The Lion's Roar," the songs themselves are not attention-grabbing; they manage to be procedural and bouncy, but at the same time overtly accessible, which renders many of Cynic's exceptional ground rules trivial and makes the band's works, by some sorcery, unreservedly forgettable.
The eight songs each have their own corks-take, for example, "Gitanjali," a tune that steps up the speed and technical riffing and wouldn't sound out of place on "Traced in Air." Unfortunately, there's just not enough captivating material to truly make "Kindly Bent to Free Us" a quest that rivals the consistency of Cynic's former journeys. One of the record's saving graces is Paul's vocal performance; the mixture of machinelike vocals and clean singing adds ample depth to the otherwise banal material. However, his lyrics about tripping balls, charkas and stuff are noticeably ridiculous and even occasionally distracting-the worst offender being the soft bridge of "True Hallucination Speak" wherein he mutters, "Pop, snap, crackle and pop," in what must have been the result of Frosted Flakes iced in DMT instead of sugar.
I like "Moon Heart Sun Head" and the title track for different reasons; the former's hypnotic, tribal atmosphere is excellent, while the latter captures an element of instrumental intricacy the likes of which meet the standards of Cynic's former releases. The rest of "Kindly Bent to Free Us" is a haze, though, and the group's colorful ambitions fail to preserve dull rockers like the poppy "Infinite Shapes" or the mellow spine of "Endlessly Bountiful." A lot of it boils down to personal preference, as the performances and Cynic's spirits are magnificent as always, and I can see why some might like this, but I don't. As a longtime fan of the band, Cynic has moved on to a realm that doesn't sit well with me, and that's okay; they don't need my approval to continue the celestial journey.