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Objet d’art

by David King on January 12, 2012

Carbon-Based Anatomy

It’s a rare thing to find something so succinct and perfect as Cynic’s Carbon-Based Anatomy, like a little music box of out-of-this-time, ethereal prog rock. The six-song EP is far from straightforward or bare-bones: The opening track is a bit of ambient noise and a female voice chanting. The ambient noise wells up until the unbelievably symmetrical drumming of Sean Reinert and throbbing bass line of Sean Malone creep into your ears, setting the path like a beam of light out of a hazy dream. Paul Masvidal’s guitar lines appear in your periphery like the scenery during a long car ride down an open stretch of road. And then he sings in a voice innocent like a child but disconnected and alien: “Hompsapiens and your carbon-based anatomy.” It is beautiful but sung in a pitying tone. The title track is a plea for peace that apexes with Masvidal backed by a chorus of children singing, “Drop the knife/leave your arms behind/just for a moment/calm the mind/the longing never ends/not while you’re human.” The bass and guitar tug and play like something out of Queen’s best rock moments, and the chorus continues behind Masvidal, making him float—inhuman—a heralded alien-peace messiah. There are two more ambient tracks on the disc, and two more full songs. The disc plays out a bit like Radiohead’s Airbag EP with the ethereal moments being in perfect position to introduce the meticulously crafted lullabies. “Elves Beam Out” is full of majesty and pomp, with Masvidal gushing, “Just breathing is enough/when elves beam out.” What is so curious about the EP as a whole is that Masvidal and his crew hail from Florida’s death-metal scene and even recorded with Death in the early ’90s. Their earlier albums were hailed as landmarks in the evolution of progressive metal, but comparing their 1993 release Focus or their 2008 reunion disc Traced in Air with Carbon-Based Anatomy is like comparing a human to a primate. The kind of character, impeccable song craft and musicianship displayed on the EP are simply stunning. The prospect that there might one day be a full disc of this kind of genius is almost intimidating.