It’s respectable to try something new in an established field. To do otherwise is to defer to comfort, and there’s nothing bold about that. Which is why it’s impossible to hate Miami prog-death metallers Cynic. With both their vocoder-heavy 1993 debut Focus and their spacey 2008 comeback record Traced in Air, Cynic have stretched the boundaries of death metal while trying to open the minds of its fans, and for that they must be commended. But with their new EP Carbon-Based Anatomy, one wonders if the band has strayed from one beaten path only to stumble onto another.
Technically, the music on Carbon-Based Anatomy is fine, especially Sean Reinert’s drumming, which is both primal and intuitive, instinctual and multifaceted. And when Paul Masvidal and Max Phelp’s guitar parts do come together, they’re thoroughly odd and entertaining. But there is no metallic base to the EP, no bedrock on which to build its airy sprawl. Opener “Amidst the Goals” and the following title track feels less like they’re breaking death metal’s mold and more like they’re biting off Mono, Muse, and Asobi Seksu. “Box Up My Bones” has some interesting moments, but Masvidal’s clear vocals smack pretty hard of Damon Albarn. The spoken word piece at the end of closer “Hieroglyph” makes one think of a film student’s senior thesis.
Maybe this paints an unfair picture; obviously Cynic don’t sit around in berets and turtlenecks smoking Galoise 100s and talking about “intangibility.” But where their previous efforts had a base in metal with a lean towards arty progressiveness, Cynic’s new EP tries to hard to straddle the line and winds up in limbo. Hardcore fans of the band will no doubt find something to like on here, but those seeking blood and thunder should look elsewhere.