Fifteen years ago, my pal Scott Gleason (I really miss this guy, anyone know where he is? Scott, you out there?) foisted this record on me. He said, “It’s death metal, but with New Age lyrics… you’ll love it!” The high schooler in me was skeptical. Really? “No, no! Check it out… there’s a synth voice, a growler voice and an opera voice! And there’s these jazzy breakdowns… and you’re going to love the drummer!”
Thus began my slight love affair with a “death metal” record.
I mean is it really “death” when divine sentiments like the following (from “How Could I?”) are spread throughout the album?
How could I forget such a revelation
To love without fear and learn without question
How could I regret the meant occasions
I must begin this day again
Yeah, yeah, maybe a wee bit pretentious, but I think we all need a little of this in our lives. Especially set to some extremely technical, highly rhythmic, and headbang-worthy music!
Fast forward to 2007.
My pal John Longstreth have always had a little Cynic fanboy party every time we talk about music. Two years ago he mentioned that the death metal rumor mill delivered the news that the band would be reuniting for some European festivals and touring. Then came the news that Cynic was recording again and would release Traced in Air in the fall of 2008. I found the album, released fifteen years after their first to be excellent. Very thick sounding, expressive and balancing on a clear-cut line on the same path as Focus.
The U.S. tour announcement came with the band to be supporting Meshuggah across the country throughout February. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the NYC appearance, however it was revealed that the band would be embarking on another short tour opening for Dragonforce which was stopping in my own backyard at Northern Lights!
It was quite a shock to walk through the doors of Northern Lights for the first time in at least five years. Gone were the giant TV screens and sports flags mounted to the walls. The space felt emptier — a little more “warehouse” than “venue”, but I expect that since Ted Etoll recently purchased the business with another partner that this strip-mall haven will eventually see some aesthetic improvement. Already the bookings there have become more interesting and although I can’t say I’m totally interested in seeing the likes of Bret Michaels or Gavin Rossdale, it’s shows like these that could increase the support of live music in the area – a notion that is more than fine by me. Kudos to Ted and Stan for trying to do something.
I caught the end of Daath, the opener. Their energy was certainly up, and their attempts to rile the stolid crowd proved to have mixed results. Something was off-putting about their way-too-bright light show which was continually foiled by the half-left daylight streaming in through the back of the club.
Between band changeovers, I wandered to the front to see if I could secure a spot to geek out to the technical wizardry of the band up close. It was unknown at that point whether Cynic would be a “big pit” band where I would easily get squashed by anyone with any momentum. Luckily, the four members united to conjure an odd sense of calming among the crowd and no fist was thrown, no shoulder flung. I could see mouths dropped, some older folks mouthing the words, and people generally transfixed on what they were witnessing. To me it meant a lot to close the circle by seeing a performance of this material, despite only offering one song from that seminal Focus album (“Veil of Maya”) in their 40 minute set.
The sound was excellent throughout, even though I was thrown off by the lack of amplifiers on stage. Turns out both electric guitars and the electric bass were run direct through heavy processing and piped through the PA straight through the board. Kind of a physical weirdness to get used to, but I suppose the sound would have been much more difficult to control if amps were entered into the equation. Paul Masvidal’s heavily effected vocals even sounded natural in this case, blending seamlessly with the interlocking guitars. Drummer Sean Reinert IS one to be loved, as Scott so predicted in his Cynic pitch to me. Crisp, yet fluid fills were the mainstay, along with a patient use of double bass drum passages and energy guiding control of the musical helm.
There was an obvious contingent of real Cynic fans there, judging by the “THANK YOU FOR PLAYING TOGETHER AGAIN” calls between songs. A true reverence between performer and audience was apparent, but nothing could bring the band back for an encore. We would have to settle for that brief set of whirling beauty. Here’s to hoping they will come back around for a headlining tour and get to stretch out to combine songs from their whole catalog.
There was nothing that could have prepared me for DRAGONFORCE to follow Cynic. I stuck around due to the urging of some friends, despite feeling like I should just grab the $60 Cynic hoodie and bail to home. I’m glad I waited — these six dudes from the UK really delivered quite a performance. What with overhand guitar tapping, copious amounts of hair (their shampoo and conditioner contingent must take up a trailer of its own on tour!), synchronous stage moves, Keytar wrangling, guitar LICKING, giant fan for hair-blowing, and constant crowd-chiding — this band is truly full of all the components to put on a rock show you will never forget.