ALBUM REVIEW: Cynic – Ascension Codes

It’s been a rough road for Cynic frontman Paul Masvidal over the last year or so. With the sad and untimely deaths of bass player Sean Malone and former drummer Sean Reinert, it would have been reasonable to assume that any new music produced under the Cynic name would cast a bleak shadow indeed.

However, alongside the versatile and spectacularly talented drummer Matt Lynch, and with additional assistance from bassist/keyboard player Dave Mackay and vocalist Max Phelps, Masvidal has produced yet another progressive masterclass. Exhilarating and uplifting, Ascension Codes (Season of Mist) is another natural and organic evolution for the band, even if at times the experience can be tempered somewhat by frustration.

Introspective and spiritual, Masvidal’s yogi lifestyle continues to influence his music, this latest record following the same celestial pathways as 2014’s Kindly Bent to Free Us (Season of Mist). A multidimensional story of release and awakening, almost every song is preceded by a brief interlude with an oblique and perplexingly coded title, these short-lived atmospheric intervals integral to the album’s overall aesthetic but also often stunting its momentum.

With the complete absence of harsh vocals, the record also chooses to eschew lyrics for long periods, at some points becoming an almost entirely instrumental affair. In fact it’s not until after ‘Mu-54*’, the dazzling ‘The Winged Ones’ and ‘A’-va432′ that Masvidal’s electronically modified vocals make their first appearance on the staccato jazz-fusion of ‘Elements and Their Inhabitants’.

Leaving aside the occasionally distracting ambient interludes, the band’s fourth release includes some of their strongest individual compositions to date. With its breathy electronica, fluttery rhythms, rolling basslines and a suitably powerful chorus, ‘Mythical Serpents’ is pure prog heaven. ‘Architects of Consciousness’, Aurora’, and ‘In a Multiverse Where Atoms Sing’ all sparkle with that certain cosmic Cynic weightlessness, the latter cut sounding like Voivod worshipping at the altar of Pink Floyd. However, while ‘6th Dimensional Archetype’ surges and excites, the glorious final section of ‘DNA Activation Template’ struggles to free itself of the previous four minutes of ambient atmospherics. Finishing on a high, the album concludes with the airy prog of ‘Diamond Light Body’ and, of course, one final floating instrumental.

Cryptic and elegantly inscrutable, Ascension Codes takes you on an inventive and otherworldly, if occasionally baffling journey about life, the universe and everything.

Buy the album here:

8 / 10