Traced In Air, the reunion record for the underground prog-metal men of myth Cynic, received near-universal acclaim from anyone who had ears and the will to hear in when it was released in 2008. The sophomore album was an unexpected success, and they subsequently toured the hell out of it and gained more mainstream metal fans than many, including the band themselves, ever imagined.
The carefully crafted Traced In Air is outstanding for its forward-thinking approach to metal, its unique and brave use of vocoder for singer/guitarist Paul Masvidal, its incredibly tight arrangements and its overall technicality. So what could you do to reinterpret it?
Well, you could just strip away all those outstanding elements. Which is pretty much what Cynic did here.
Containing radically bare reinterpretations that are sometimes indistinguishable from their previous versions if not for the mostly unchanged vocal lines of Masvidal and melodic hints, Re-Traced is minimal, electronic, a little jazzy, a little acoustic, but more than anything, inaccessible. Not that that’s a bad thing, but at the risk of questioning Cynic fans’ taste, the Focus and Traced In Air crowd won’t bite for this. They might “respect” it, but when it comes right down to it, the reworked arrangements of “The Space For This,” “King Of Those Who Know,” “Integral Birth” and “Evolutionary Sleeper” aren’t even close to their originals and mainly appear to be curios.
They also seem to reveal a sea change in the way that the band perceives itself. With only Masvidal’s vocals left untouched (minus some effects of course) and everything else reworked or muted, it displays an assumption on the part of the band that his vocal contribution was the most integral or essential aspect of each song. And maybe they’re right, but in this quasi-dub (“Evolutionary”), quasi-trip-hop (“Space”), quasi-guy-with-a-guitar (“Integral”) scenario, every uncomfortable aspect of his voice that the audience warmed up to (remember: vocoder) is out in front. And with the fantastic original arrangements now altered, slower and more indulgent—though there are clever moments—Re-Traced becomes a very questionable experience.
It’s also telling that the Re-Traced cover art is merely the outline of the cover art of its source material.
The EP is generous enough to include one new song, “Wheels Within The Wheels,” which they had performed on their winter tour with Between The Buried And Me and Devin Townsend Band, and it’s a fairly good contribution, but for fans who are looking for Cynic to blow their minds again, Re-Traced may have the opposite effect.
In A Word: Strange