And now it’s time for something a little different from our usual, spare Play One Note fare. It’s Carbon-Based Anatomy, an absolutely gargantuan deluge of busy ideas careening between arpeggiation, aggression, and calm from Miami’s Cynic, a band that got its start and made its name with an unabashedly weird and aggro blend of early death metal and jazz fusion, and now makes music that sounds like…this.
What “this” means is difficult to say, because antecedents for this record’s sound are few. So I’ll cop out and say that this EP is an uncommonly wide-ranging take on contemporary progressive rock. Atmospheric and peaceful at times, crushing and aggressive at others, Carbon-Based Anatomy also reaches tremendously emotional highs and lows, ranging from the expansively triumphal to the helplessly fragile. All of which is to say, Cynic covers a lot of ground on this brief EP.
Speaking of brevity: Carbon-Based Anatomy consists of only six songs, three of which are bookends or interludes that improve cohesion while serving as necessary palate-cleansers. I write “necessary” because stuff this massive is often taxing after a while, an effect frequently compounded by the bloated album lengths that typically accompany all-in, in-the-red records of this nature.* Blessedly, Cynic hits the perfect length here: It’s easily digestible in one sitting, and feels cohesive and satisfying to play through.
That’s more of an accomplishment than it sounds. On the three fully-fledged songs, there’s hardly a stray shaft of light or a breath of fresh air among the torrential onslaught of sounds Cynic throws at us. So while Carbon-Based Anatomy may be unapologetically huge and emotionally open, it’s never a drag.
The EP’s mass may nevertheless raise other concerns, especially because the in-your-face maximalism of the whole thing (and I mean the whole thing: the music, the conceptual framework, the grandeur, the scope, the naked emotionalism of it all) might come across to some as excessively self-important, music made by blowhards who like talking about (their own) capital-I Ideas. Furthermore, Cynic makes music with a seriousness that, positioned against today’s default stance of ironic detachment, is deeply uncool.**
However, though it’s evident that Cynic is thinking very big thoughts with a very straight face here, their fearless experimentation and commitment to originality never gets in the way of Carbon-Based Anatomy‘s consistently high quality. This is moving music made by guys who just so happen to mean every damn second of it. Don’t be fooled by their band name: on Carbon-Based Anatomy, Cynic is refreshingly earnest.
*I have never ever willingly put on a Dream Theater album (and I am so disdainful of that band that I’m not even gonna look up if you spell it “Theater” or “Theatre”), but I’m absolutely sure that their tiring atrocities plod on for hours on end, for example. For a less contemptuous comparison, consider your average marathon Hawkwind record.
**This is something that shouldn’t be understated. My roommate, who had never once complained about my wide-ranging listening habits during the two-plus years we’ve lived together, finally snapped when I was listening to Carbon-Based Anatomy the other day, calling it “emo” and begging me to turn it off. I didn’t help my case at all when, after she asked me who Cynic was, I described them as “death-metal fusion from Miami.” Strikes one, two, and three are all contained in that brief phrase.