In 1993, a Floridian death metal band named “Cynic” crafted and released an album which would forever be a benchmark for other acts to chart their work against. They called their brainchild “Focus”and it has forever stood at the very highest point of the rather small sub-genre of “Jazz Metal” and, in my mind, metal as a whole. Maybe the only album to be released since that can compare in my mind is Traced in Air, released fifteen long years after their first opus, and boy have they been practising.
This release is sometimes tagged as “Death Metal” due to the band’s previous work, but anyone expecting “br00tal” riffs and machine-gun blast beats will be disappointed, as this is much more a progressive jazz rock/metal fare, filled with irregular meters and hugely technical drums and guitars, but very melodic and done with an organic touch. This is very deep, emotional metal; not technical for the sake of it, but because that’s the music they feel.
One of the first things noticeable on this release is the vocals. Most of the vox employs the use of a vocoder, which gives it a very ethereal quality. It isn’t as intrusive as the vocoder used on Focus, sounding more synth than robot. Clean vocals are utilised every now and again and growled vocals sparsely decorate the music, more often than not providing a backup for the lead vocals rather than taking centre stage.
Guitars are played courtesy of Paul Masvidal (also known for his work with Death, Portal and Aeon Spoke) and Tymon Kruidenier also of relatively unknown Fusion Metal act Exivious (look them up, now). Melody comes before technicality here, it just so happens that the melodic phrases they come up with are rather technically impressive. The tone is slightly distorted and very clean sounding, there is no unwanted noise and every note cuts through. The chord voicings are interesting, the riffs meaningful and the solos nothing short of beautiful. The solo in “The Unknown Guest” gets me every time.
The drum-work on this album is awe-inspiring, featuring very creative rhythms and impressive fills from Sean Reinert (Death, Portal, Aeon Spoke, Aghora). His provides more than just a solid base for the music, becoming very prominent alongside the guitars.
The prolific Sean Malone (Aghora, Gordian Knot, OSI, Clockwork, solo) plays bass and Chapman Stick on this release. Unfortunately it he is not mixed as high here as he was in Focus, but he helps fill out the music nicely.
Few albums can really touch me or make me feel the music as Traced In Air. It is a landmark release which will undoubtedly stand the test of time and still move listeners fifteen years on as their debut still does. Traced In Air is an album second only to Focus in my mind and you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this.
01 – Nunc Fluens