Cynic - Carbon Based Anatomy [EP] - 3/5
I suppose I should issue this disclaimer, as writing this I realised it became as much a rant as a review. See, my affiliations with this band have been rocky at best, always seeing them fall short of holding my interest; first discovering their debut 'Focus' at the same time as fellow jazz death metal band 'Atheist,' guess which held my attention. Then came round two, the return with 'Traced in Air' which initially got a lot of negative attention for being so different and not really death metal at all; certainly not what I was expecting and again, quickly fell from my attention. Now I find it time for round three, an EP following the same vein as their more recent effort, combining a sci-fi concept with death metal, jazz, prog and ambient. Apparently.
Personally, I don't hear where the death metal comes in at all. It's about as much death metal as slipknot are (which in case wasn't obvious, they aren't, and if you thought otherwise you can get off my blog). I barely hear any jazz either, and I don't mean because there's no sax solo's or the like, just that there's no jazzy instrumentation; there's none of the light upbeat tone or atmosphere that typifies the genre. We occasionally get a jazzy drum beat - the drumming being one of the few points I have little complaints about, at least when they remember to play - and the odd guitar solo, but it's so intermittent it feels like a fleeting influence. So please, lets stop pretending they've tried to make an odd fusion of styles because it's just ambient rock at its heart. Electronic ambient plus rock. Maybe there's a hint of prog in the song structure and choice of instrumentation, but thats about it.
Tribal elements come and go, elegant vocals that soon disappear and are forgotten so the guitars can twang some chords for a catchy pop hook. It's like a really atmospheric pop/rock album at times, only prevented from sounding like whiny teens by the sci-fi element, the guitars pumping out simplistic melodies over the keyboards used to further promote the atmosphere. It actually reminds me a little of modern post-hardcore emo, though admittedly much of this comes from the vocals ("Drop the knife / The longing never ends / Not whilst you're human" - I mean honestly). You can take that as you like, all I'm saying is perhaps we have more 'I'm not OK' fans than people are willing to admit, but I digress.
All solid concept albums need a solid concept and the idea of aliens is always one I welcome, but whilst they promote this sci-fi feel in what feels like a teaser prologue for the album to come, the emotion that comes twinned with atmosphere feels absent. I don't know if we should fear them, welcome them, or ask them for a game of chess. Perhaps this is intentional, to create an air of mystery and suspense to see how the next album kicks things off properly weaving an epic tale involving our benevolent new alien race, or perhaps not, only time will tell. All I know is it makes this release feel a little unfinished, unresolved, and altogether vague. I mean just run through that title track, the tribal elements clearly setting a scene, perhaps in the amazon rainforest; an alien finds a tribesman and yells 'Oi! Homosapian! You there with the carbon based anatomy. Oh drop that bloody knife I only wanted a chat, so stop getting defensive and lets talk about how awesome I am. Yeah, bet your life must be pretty depressing being a human and all, dont you wish you were more like me? Here, let me show you how well I can shred this guitar...' Ofc everyone is allowed their own interpretation, but to me it doesn't seem to quite fit.
I've got nothing against them taking multiple influences either, hell I relish in the world of avant-garde, it's just the manner they're used that annoys me. Used once or twice and then discarded like a cheap trick to break up an otherwise monotonous album, the tribal elements in particular lending a pleasant 'DeadCanDance' vibe but seem a little random; are aliens really invading tribal villages in the amazon? Or was it just used for the hell of it?
I've read other reviews and it makes me wonder if were listening to the same piece. It's made many an end of year list and racked up many fans for the band, but in case it wasn't abundantly clear, I don't get it and doubt I ever will. I must be missing something, and feel free to point it out for me, but it feels like little more than ambient for metalheads; for those unaware of the work since Brian Eno it might feel revelationary, but for the rest of us just seems lacking. Not necessarily bad, only lacklustre. Mediocre. Inconsistent. You keep your Cynic and i'll go listen to Chimp Spanner, Ayreon and Kalisia. There have been a number of sci-fi themed bands emerging of late and this hardly sounds like anything noteworthy to my ears. Bring on the hatemail!