Cynic - The Portal Tapes
Season Of Mist
Pop/Progressive Rock
10 songs (45:33)
Release year: 2012
Cynic, Season Of Mist
Reviewed by Charles
At the risk of seeming contradictory, since their reformation Cynic have been sort of prolific, but also sort of slow. It would be nice to see a follow-up to Traced in Air, but instead so far we have had a proliferation of less nourishing sustenance (and Traced… itself was far too short, anyway). There’s been a re-working of that record, a short follow-up EP, and now a re-release dragged out from the darkness of the post break-up 90s. These recordings were never (until now) under the Cynic name. Instead they were the result of sessions as Portal, featuring the core of the band (Masvidal and Reinert) plus various others including the female vocalist Aruna Abrams. Listening to The Portal Tapes is an ambivalent experience. One the one hand, this release does not demonstrate the compositional or musical depth of either of the Cynic full-lengths. But on the other, there are a number of moments here that engage you in quite a striking way. Call it Stockholm Syndrome, but whereas I at first found this tedious, it has become ferociously addictive.

In essence, this is a gentle progressive rock record which is instantly recognisable as the softer side of the Cynic of Focus and Traced in Air, but shorn almost entirely of its metallic elements. So, all present and correct are the twangy fretless bass, brittle rhythm guitar jangling, rolling tom-heavy drum patterns, and some brilliant fusion guitar solos. Conspicuously absent, though, is dynamic contrast. Given that the metal guitar input here is so emaciated and weak, songs have lost that element of unpredictability and instead are rather simple. Most of the tracks here are linear, chorus-oriented pop tunes, albeit delivered in an esoteric fusion-inflected way.

Note that “tunes” is definitely the right word to use here. This is the catchiest, most melodious that Cynic or one of its alter egos have ever sounded (including the very mainstream-sounding Carbon Based Anatomy EP), but it also seems totally frozen in its time. Some of these songs have choruses that remind me of the summery American alt-rock with which it was originally contemporaneous- Crawl Above, Mirror Child, for example. Others like Road to You, thanks to the male/female vocal interplay, remind me almost of Lacuna Coil’s earlier stuff (not intended as an insult, by the way). But most striking is the closing track Not the Same. Any TV producers reading: if you ever create a science fiction remake of The Gilmour Girls set in a futuristic utopia and acted by robots, use this as the soundtrack. Embarassingly, I actually quite like it. Must be getting old.

The soloing is great. Whereas Traced in Air frustrated with its restraints on virtuosity, some of these songs (e.g. Circle) really allow Masvidal to stretch out, which I love. But there are also instrumental weaknesses. I don’t think Reinert has nailed his distinctive style here as strongly as he does on later records. Opener Endless Endeavours is the closest we have here to the darker Cynic sound, and his drumming seems to weigh it down somewhat rather than buffet it forwards. Occasionally the vocals lack a bit of energy, and sound somewhat hesitant (no robovocals either).

The Portal Tapes is of definite historical interest, but it also creeps up on you as effective prog-pop. Those who think Cynic has been getting far too un-threatening for comfort will completely despise this. It is, by contrast, essential if you like twinkly and swooshy synthesisers.

Killing Songs :
Road to You, Mirror Child, Not the Same, Endless Endeavours
Charles quoted no quote
Other albums by Cynic that we have reviewed:
Cynic - Kindly Bent To Free Us reviewed by Neill and quoted 80 / 100
Cynic - Carbon-Based Anatomy reviewed by Alex and quoted 80 / 100
Cynic - Re-Traced reviewed by Charles and quoted no quote
Cynic - Traced In Air reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
Cynic - Focus (Re-Issue) reviewed by Ken and quoted CLASSIC
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There are 4 replies to this review. Last one on Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:16 am
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