I’m not sure if anyone expected another Cynic album after what was a disastrous 2020 for the band. Long-time drummer Sean Reinert (who left the band in 2015) passed away that January, and bassist Sean Malone also passed in December. That would bring any band to its knees, but Paul Masvidal already had the seeds of a new album underway, and the guitarist soldiered on to ensure these creations would see the light of day in what serves as the band’s fourth full-length release, Ascension Codes.
Ascension Codes acts as a tribute to the band’s fallen members as well as, perhaps, a look ahead at paths Cynic may take. Despite its short length (49 minutes) it is a sprawling and ambitious undertaking. Nine full songs accompanied by nine ethereal segues and interludes makes for an enthralling listening experience.
Delicate, intricate, at times heavy and hinting of a long-gone era while at other times looking forward into potential new vistas, Ascension Codes traverses most of the planes we have come to expect from Cynic since their rebirth. As one might expect, the musicianship is amazing. Masvidal’s guitar lines weave, plunge, and skyrocket atop the band in otherworldly fashion.
Matt Lynch has been drumming for Cynic since Reinert departed in 2015, and is simply a wonder behind the kit. His work is so intricate, complex, and precise, yet at the same time perfectly suited to each moment in each song. Lynch would clearly be just as comfortable in an elite jazz outfit as he is here, and focusing exclusively on his drumming through an entire listen is a thing of wonder.
Not to be outdone, however, is Dave Mackay. Malone has not been replaced on bass – Masvidal says that would not be possible. But Mackay plays bass synthesizer here, and like his cohorts lays down some sublime material. The bass lines mesh perfectly with everything Lynch and Masvidal play, and to top it off Mackay’s other keyboard work adds a ton of cosmic atmosphere to the album.
Downsides are hard to find on Cynic albums, and if one is a fan of all their work since Traced In Air this will once again be a listening experience filled with joy and wonder. Masvidal’s heavy use of Vocoder effects on his singing will continue to be a distraction for some, but beyond that there isn’t a lot to frown upon here.
A good friend of mine says Cynic are annoying, but that they are also very good. I couldn’t have said it better myself. The plethora of segue tracks and the continued reliance on the Vocoder put Ascension Codes near the top of the pretentiousness ladder, but at the same time the songs themselves are super, and the musicianship is second to none. Add it all up and we’re left with an album that, like the cover art, is beautiful, complex, and other-worldly.
(released November 26, 2021 on Season of Mist)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
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