California based prog metal band Cynic is back with their third album in 21 years, yes, it's been 21 years since Cynic released "Focus" back in 1993. While Nirvana was in the spotlight and Metallica was still touring their most commercially succesful album (don't get the idea that I like Metallica), Cynic released the influential debut which originally received mixed-to-bad reviews from the metal scene. Cynic cited the backlash as one of the reasons for their break up in 1994, but when they returned from their sleep more than a decade later, metal had gone a long way since 1993 and "Focus" had become a cult classic, inspiring bands like Scale The Summit and Between The Buried And Me.
Fifteen years after the release of "Focus" came "Traced In Air", which was a direct continuation of the sound of their debut album (only a little softer), and was generally well received by fans of "Focus" and progressive metal in general. A series of experiments with the softer and more melodic side of the band came later ("Re-Traced", a reimagining of "Traced in Air", and an EP titled "Carbon Based Anatomy), which bring us to the release we are looking at today.
"Kindly Bent To Free Us" is the culmination of around 5 years of experimentation, and though it retains the sound and textures of their previous work it also makes away with the heavier guitar work and harsh vocals of "Focus" and "Traced in Air". The music remains moderately complex, the drums are groovy and constant and there's still guitar solos here and there, but Cynic no longer sounds like a metal band. With a runtime of just over 40 minutes the album feels a little short for a 6 years wait and it's 8 songs are over too soon even with a 5 minute average lenght.
The lyrics are someplace between spiritual (there's a little excerpt of a speech by Alan Watts) and just cryptic, but with a little imagination you can make something out of them (except the lyrics in "True Hallucination Speak", which sound just like that). The vocals retain the robotic and cold style of their previous albums, if a bit more melodic, but the main strength of the "Kindly Bent To Free Us" is the instrumental section.
Guitars, bass and drums never outshine each other, not even during solos, so the music feels generally complete and engaging, like some kind of futuristic version of a rock band from the 70's. The zeppelinesque riffs (yes, that's apparently a commonly used term), the sweet fretless bass and a good use of ghost notes give the songs a pleasant sense of speed and groove, and while the music is generally a little cold the album certainly climaxes with the song "Moon Heart Sun Head", a 5 and a half minutes little progressive piece.
Cynic may not have reinvented themselves, they rather disposed of half of the elements that composed their early sound, but the end result doesn't feel limited, if anything it leaves them a lot of ground to explore.
For fans of: modern prog rock, post rock
Highlights: "Moon Heart Sun Head", "The Lion's Roar"