This year, it seems like the trend is for bands to release EPs, rather than the investment of a full-length. Thinking about the current climate of the music industry, it's now possible for artists to throw a new bite-sized offering at their fanbase in between longer albums. While I do not think that anything could replace the album form as we know it, some EPs this year have been changing the way I feel about this shortened form. Legendary band CYNIC blew me away with their album “Traced In Air”, so it is natural that I would be eagerly anticipating whatever they would be coming out with next, be it something short and sweet, or longer and involved. As one knowing the scope of CYNIC's work would guess, “Carbon-Based Anatomy” shows a new side of this band, and despite my first apprehensions that this would be a non-essential collection of songs for fans to enjoy during the wait for an album, I have been so pleasantly mistaken. Were it not for its brevity, I would have to trouble saying that this is a contender for the greatest thing that CYNIC has ever done; a concise, yet celestial masterpiece.
“Traced In Air” is still heavy on this band's mind, as can be heard from the somewhat otherworldly direction the band has been taking with their music since then. The biggest surprise to me- and biggest change- this time around is the total dearth not only of 'Death Metal' (of which these guys are best known for) but Metal in general. I am not completely sure where they fall now, but I think 'Progressive Rock' is without a doubt, the best thing to call them now. A band that comes to mind when I hear this is the latest incarnation of ANATHEMA; plenty of atmosphere, leanings towards Post-Rock, strong melodies and an evasion of the typical, now-cliche things that people associate with Prog. After hearing “Traced In Air”, I figured it was a natural step to eventually wean out the somewhat out-of- place growls in their music, but to hear them not even relate to Metal is a risky move for them, but one I think pays off very well.
Despite being six tracks, I think “Carbon-Based Anatomy” could have worked just as well as one track; over the twenty-odd minutes of play length, there is not much of a break from the music. The most that a listener might get to signify a change of track is perhaps a quieter section that draws on a little longer than it might have naturally. The album opens up in a very spiritual way, with plenty of ambiance and a female singer crooning very spiritually. Given Paul Masvidal's background in philosophy and mysticism, it was not a surprise to hear the EP take this opener, but it works so well. It takes a couple of minutes for the album to introduce the CYNIC that we are more familiar with, never getting particularly heavy mind you, but the technical guitar riffs are still thankfully here. One thing that may be a little overdone is Paul's use of vocorder, which has been a staple of his work since the heyday, but here, I think it's sometimes used a little gratuitously. He does have a good, warm voice, but filtering it through a machine so much does take away some of the effect.
The only thing that irritates me about “Carbon-Based Anatomy” is its short length. Taken for what it is, the EP is a masterpiece, but I am always left wanting more by the time it is over. Especially when taken into account that a couple extra tracks would have made this a very comfortable and satisfying length, it is a very tantalizing album, although the music here at times even surpasses what the band accomplished with “Traced In Air”. Most of all though, I have to congratulate the band for constantly moving forward. Even when their developments on “Traced In Air” were sometimes polarized, CYNIC has not been discouraged, and continues to change their sound into something fresh. For this, “Carbon-Based Anatomy” is the best short-form album I have heard this year.
(Online January 18, 2012)