Album Review: Cynic – The Portal Tapes

Cynic [USA]
The Portal Tapes
Season of Mist
Progressive Metal

Brief history of Cynic:

Cynic, one of the modern pioneers of a ‘jazzistic’ approach to progressive music as what many would claim, have definitely according to research, been one of the bands who have gone through a painstaking musical journey of let downs and continuous troubles.

Having formed in the late eighties with only a guitarist (Paul Masvidal) and drummer (Sean Reinert), they only recorded demos from 1987-1991, which in the process led to the addition of their first bassist Tony Choy and second guitarist Jason Gobel with Paul simultaneously playing guitar and doing vocals for the band. This initiated the signing to RoadRunner Records in 1991 and their last and final demo titled Demo 1991.

Back in 1992 the band planned to record their debut studio album titled Focus but due to some complications in a contract with RoadRunner Records the album production was put on halt. Shortly after the incident, Paul and Sean toured with the band Death after having already recorded on their 1991 album Human and while on tour, financial issues arose which unfortunately led to Paul and Sean’s gear getting confiscated in UK for six whole months. Sad as it seems this is not all that was going to happen! During this period Tony Choy left the band.

After the departure of Tony Choy,along came the bassist Sean Malone replacing him as the bassist of Cynic. However just as things seemed fine, Hurricane Andrew struck on the day the band was all geared to record the album. This destroyed their practice space along with Jason Gobel’s home, forcing Cynic to only have the ability to further structure more songs and come out with new material. This destroyed the band’s plans to record in August 1992. Was this a blessing in disguise? Giving Cynic a longer time to plan and carefully construct an album that would have made or broke them.

As all the troubles and disaster had gone to pass and the addition of Tony Teegarden, their first full fledged aggressive vocalist, the debut album Focus was finally released on the 14th of September 1993 and the band toured till 1994 in peace, from the turmoil they was in previously. Plans were made to release a second album but due to conflicting ideas and commitment issues, Cynic went on a de-moralizing 12 year hiatus. Just before the hiatus had taken place a small side project named Portal was initiated but lasted long, this was a seed of a new idea that must have sprung out in the midst of all the troubles that were happening not long before, not to mention the addition of female vocalist Aruna Abrams to the music.

A miraculous reunion of Cynic happened in 2006 with a string of shows following. This was in my opinion, the time for Cynic to shine. 2008 came and a second album titled Traced In Air was released along with a third album sometime later titled Retraced, which stood till 2011 when the band released the Carbon-based Anatomy EP .Currently in 2012, an unexpected revamp of the Portal demos were released, called The Portal Tapes, which puzzled some and excited many.

Thoughts on The Portal Tapes:

After going through years of progressive ambient jazz-like metal and innovatively adding more one of a kind ambient elements as albums passed, Cynic has come to their latest release The Portal Tapes. The weirdest thing is that when The Portal Tapes was first done nearly 20 years ago and yet it sounds ideologically in some aspects more modern to me then their other releases not very far back, inspiration must have somehow hit them to produce something just so futuristic just as the band just came out of their worst times, before going on their 12 year hiatus back in the day.

Knowing the band’s history would show that they may not actually have had the intention of gaining more recognition based on trying to sound new, but instead recognition for their experience and how futuristic their ideas were back in the day when music was not supposed to sound like what they did. Furthermore, it may have also been in their best interest to release their purest and most meaningful ideas driven by the dynamic duo Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinart who had gone through so much together, still having the same elements from the past it appears to be rather somewhat more gentle.

Anyone that has ever had the chance to hear The Portal Tapes would know that the Cynic fans would have been left dumb-founded if it had been released back in the earlier days. Following behind the release of Carbon-Based Anatomy, The Portal Tapes album actually flows naturally with Cynic’s expected musical evolution. It compliments the band’s focus on creating ‘out of this world’ ambience through the use of eerie layers of synth, genius,jazzistically driven guitar melodies along with unique undescribable vocal lines, it also continues to display drummer Sean Reinert’s ability to drop the listeners jaw with his undeniably fantastic touch and musicality that complements every single detail of the band despite the complicated and challengingly interpretable music.

During the production of The Portal Tapes female vocals were contributed by Aruna Abrams to further enhance the vocal tonality, and this was an extremely smart move as female vocals are always a factor in creating a feel of warmth and spirit. Aruna’s vocal delivery was the perfect marriage to Jason Gobel’s unique voice. Aruna’s vocals are just as mellow as his are, but with his voice occupying the middle range and hers moving more towards the upper register, as most females normally do, everything blended to create a a vocal wall of sound that contributes deeply to the soundscape that is already happening in Cynic!

Cynic fans can expect nothing less from the sound they are expecting ,but, as for me not as impressive as the earlier works.i would prefer any day listening to Carbon-Based Anatomy or Traced in Air as opposed to The Portal Tapes. Like I said earlier, The Portal Tapes to me might have just been released with the intention to show off their creativity in their darkest moments in their lives and celebrate their success! I’ll recommend this album, The Portal Tapes to big Cynic fans but not to people who have not heard Cynic before. You’ve just got to start from scratch.

Cynic on the internet:
Official website
Season of Mist

2012 Heavy Metal Tribune | Warren B.L Estrop

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