Progressive music icon CYNIC have released the fully instrumental version of the critically acclaimed 2021 full-length, “Ascension Codes”. The record is available now via Bandcamp and can be streamed, downloaded, and ordered HERE.
“Ascension Codes” is a remarkably far-reaching work, and if nothing else, a clear indication that CYNIC has landed in a place of mastery. The album, paradoxically, acts as both swan song and rebirth. CYNIC‘s continual state of development has met its share of challenges over the years, hurdles that threatened to dismantle the entity’s forward surge. Yet through hurricanes, breakups, and assorted acrimony both personal and existential, it remains inspired to create.
Their name is synonymous with what it means to be truly progressive in music. CYNIC‘s top-tier performance acumen and cerebral/spiritual/yogic themes finds them inhabiting a corner of the musical spectrum all their own. Their Venn diagram shows intersections with death metal, prog rock, thrash metal, experimental, new age, jazz fusion, and a myriad of other sonic expressions.
CYNIC‘s debut album “Focus” (1993), is a certified classic. Although that era ended with transformation into the short-lived PORTAL, and then a further splinter toward AEON SPOKE, CYNIC‘s reunion era has found them embraced in a way that proves how ahead of the times they were in the ’90s. Through monuments such as the “Traced In Air” (2008) and “Kindly Bent To Free Us” (2014) albums, the “Carbon-Based Anatomy” and “Re-Traced” EPs, and a surprising rebirth with the “Humanoid” single of 2018, the CYNIC legacy remains untarnished. Yet early in the creation cycle for their fourth full-length album, they experienced horrible events that tested the entity’s resolve.
The year 2020 will go down in history as a tremendously difficult time for the global human population. For the CYNIC family, the struggle was not restricted to a pandemic. It was two utterly senseless losses that threw the band’s immediate concerns into the background: the premature deaths of drummer Sean Reinert in January, at age 48, and bassist Sean Malone in December, at age 50, were shocking and unthinkable.
Reinert, a founding CYNIC member since formation in 1988, was highly influential to a multitude of young drummers. His work on 1993’s “Focus” and DEATH‘s watershed 1991 album “Human” found him sculpting extreme technical metal with a jazz fusion-inspired approach. Now taken for granted, that approach to the instrument and the genre was undoubtedly pioneered in large part by Reinert. Though parting with CYNIC in 2015, his imprint on CYNIC is inescapable.
The death of Sean Malone dealt another horrible layer of tragedy to CYNIC‘s 2020. In his many years with the band, Malone‘s virtuoso playing meshed intuitively with Reinert‘s. Together they formed a nucleus of kinetic, highly capable rhythmic dexterity that fueled CYNIC‘s celestial aims.
One of these deaths would have seemed unimaginable by itself. Both of them, in the same year, nearly broke surviving member Paul Masvidal. But the seeds of a fourth CYNIC full-length existed long before the deaths, and the guitarist, through a haze of grief and disbelief, pushed forward. “I wanted to make this record right after ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’,” says Masvidal. “I was raring to go, hyper-creative, in this total flow state. And then it all imploded.”
Parts of songs were in the gestation process as early as 2014. Masvidal says that Reinert and Malone heard elements of what ended up on the fourth album. Slowly, methodically, and with much careful deliberation, Masvidal eventually completed an album titled “Ascension Codes” to honor the memory of his fallen band mates. And while the album honors the lives and contributions of Reinert and Malone, it also pushes CYNIC forward for its own sake and through its own will to live. The album, paradoxically, acts as both swan song and rebirth. It is, throughout its 49 minutes, a vivid and highly cosmic journey into the very core of every impulse this band has ever explored.
“Ascension Codes” is perhaps the most ethereal sounding CYNIC album to date, but also skews heavier than previous album “Kindly Bent To Free Us”. The expanded lineup is surely responsible for the album’s far-reaching scope.
After Reinert‘s exit from CYNIC in 2015, Masvidal and Malone recruited drummer Matt Lynch. Found through a tip from BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME‘s Dan Briggs, Lynch proved to be a perfect addition to the band. As Masvidal notes, Lynch‘s “hybrid modern style is like a fusion of drum and bass electronic music influences combined with modern jazz/prog approaches. Lynch is a true original in that he’s a fully realized drummer constructing his parts as carefully as any other compositional element always is on a CYNIC record. Every single accent and note coming from him is birthed from a precise and inspired place.” We hear this throughout “Ascension Codes”, pushing the music along with finesse, adding shape and texture in ways only the most sensitive drummers can do.
But how to replace Sean Malone on bass? Masvidal‘s answer: don’t even try. The lines of bass notes heard throughout “Ascension Codes” are performed on bass synthesizer by keyboardist Dave Mackay. A British pianist, writer, producer and Moog/vintage synth enthusiast, Mackay has toured with everyone from Art Garfunkel to Plini (the latter providing the initial introduction between Mackay and Masvidal). Based in Los Angeles and London, Mackay‘s work is sensitive to Malone‘s touch, while also adding a throbbing intensity that offers CYNIC new low-end possibilities. “He’s got a vast jazz harmonic vocabulary,” notes Masvidal, “which is what’s needed in the context of CYNIC‘s music, especially for bass lines. I knew that I could never replace Malone. Anyone I would find would be expected to play like him, and that’s not fair to another musician. And things were too fresh for me with the loss of Malone, so I had to go somewhere new. With Mackay, I heard his groovy left-hand approach, and how musical he was across the board having played with a variety of musicians and styles. I realized he would bring something fresh to the table, and he provided a space for me to start again with a completely different instrument and forgo any traditional ideas I had about what CYNIC bass lines should sound like.”
Ultimately Mackay delivered above and beyond, with a real awareness of a bass player’s role in a progressive trio context. First, by holding down the harmony and being “in the pocket,” while also creating an independent and dynamic voice within that space. Mackay has a rare combination of skills and the vibe he locked into with Lynch with sounds like a rhythm section from the future. Plus, his Moog synth tone offers a low-end depth that’s never been heard in our recordings.” On December 5, 2019, Dave Mackay shared the stage with Paul Masvidal for a performance of the guitarist’s solo material. On bass that evening was Sean Malone. After the gig, Malone told Masvidal, “We should bring Mackay in for the new record.”
Michael Berberian, president and founder of Season Of Mist Records, remained close to Masvidal throughout the 2020 losses of his bandmates. Michael states: “I have, by now, released close to one thousand albums. None have been more dramatic, none have even been more difficult than this one. I can’t listen to ‘Ascension Codes’ without goosebumps, a mixed feeling of pride — because it’s a musical milestone, but it also contains a lingering layer of sadness. I hear Paul‘s pain on this record. I can feel it, I can touch it. But it’s transcended. ‘Art is to console those who are broken by life,’ said Van Gogh. Here is a demonstration of that.”
“Ascension Codes” was mixed and co-produced by Warren Riker, who worked with AEON SPOKE, CYNIC in the “Traced In Air” era, and mixed Paul Masvidal‘s solo acoustic trilogy. “Riker‘s a wizard who gets inside the music and commits. He expands boundaries as a mixer, always finding new ways to push the sonic envelope,” says Masvidal.
Keeping things in the family, Martina Hoffmann‘s original painting titled “The Landing” graces “Ascension Codes” with breathtaking scope and presence. The visionary work inspired by Martina‘s time walking the beaches of Brittany, France after the death of her longtime partner, the artist Robert Venosa (whose artwork adorns all CYNIC releases between 1993 and 2018) followed by the loss of her mother, the subject of the piece features the arrival of a great mothership made of light and flesh, not machine but an organic entity that has brought hope and infinite possibilities. Masvidal says of Hoffmann: “Martina‘s art has always held a special place in my heart, and I’m deeply grateful for her love and support. When I first contacted Venosa as a teenager, it was Martina who encouraged him to lend his work to the band, because she heard something in our music. She is like the divine mother in this CYNIC/Venosa lineage,” Masvidal says. “Her spirit and multidimensional talents are truly a gift to this world. I feel that she is one of the great artistic voices of our age.”
“Ascension Codes” Track listing:
1. Mu-54* (0:32)
2. The Winged Ones (5:08)
3. A’-va432 (0:28)
4. Elements And Their Inhabitants (3:09)
5. Ha-144 (0:30)
6. Mythical Serpents (6:24)
7. Sha48* (0:19)
8. 6th Dimensional Archetype (4:07)
9. DNA Activation Template (5:25)
10. Shar-216 (0:23)
11. Architects Of Consciousness (6:20)
12. DA’z-a86.4 (0:34)
13. Aurora (4:34)
14. DU-*61.714285 (0:30)
15. In A Multiverse Where Atoms Sing (3:48)
16. A’jha108 (0:28)
17. Diamond Light Body (5:43)
18. Ec-ka72 (0:47)
The year 2020 will go down in history as a tremendously difficult time for the global human population. For the CYNIC family, the struggle was not restricted to a pandemic. It was two utterly senseless losses that threw the band’s immediate concerns into the background: the premature deaths of drummer Sean Reinert in January, at age 48, and bassist Sean Malone in December, at age 50, were shocking and unthinkable. Reinert, a founding CYNIC member since formation in 1988, was highly influential to a multitude of young drummers. His work on 1993’s “Focus” and DEATH‘s watershed 1991 album “Human” found him sculpting extreme technical metal with a jazz fusion-inspired approach. Now taken for granted, that approach to the instrument and the genre was undoubtedly pioneered in large part by Reinert. Though parting with CYNIC in 2015, his imprint on CYNIC is inescapable. The death of Sean Malone dealt another horrible layer of tragedy to CYNIC‘s 2020.
As of 2021, the future of CYNIC is unclear. Does “Ascension Codes” mark their final phase of growth? Surely the music finds them laying out a most ambitious trail of spiritual sonic travel, but to call any CYNIC album “ambitious” is redundant. They are, by their very nature, an ambitious band. “Ascension Codes” nine main songs are infused with explosions of color and energy. The struggle to attain ascension is as important as ascension itself. And after much searching, CYNIC has again achieved oneness with the numinous.
- Paul Masvidal / Guitars, Vocals, Lyrics
- Dave Mackay / Bass Synthesizer, Keyboards
- Matt Lynch / Drumscapes