As the demand for new and innovative music increases, some bands are becoming tougher to peg. Their music contorts, manipulates, stretches to create new variations within a genre. Rap borrowing from rock and jazz, jazz from rap and rock, and rock from everything. There are even degrees of rock ranging from pop to death metal. One band with the potential to beat the name-tag game and create their own style is Miami-based Cynic. Struggling against conformity, they're not your typical metal band. Their original recipe calls for a mixture of abstract vocals and a measure or two of jazz.
"We're all very picky and feel strongly when it comes to our writing," says guitarist and singer Paul Masvidal. "We all have something unique to say musically, and it's wonderful when we mesh it together and turn it into Cynic."
Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert formed Cynic in 1987 and were joined by bassist Tony Choy and guitarist Jason Gobel. Their music was rooted in metal, but their 1988 and 1989 demos failed to generate label interest. In 1990, Masvidal and Reinert had the opportunity to tour and record with the metal band Death, while Gobel was out fretting for his friends in Monstrosity. "Cynic wasn't really existing at that time, but because of the publicity we got playing with these other bands, Roadrunner Records wanted to hear some of our new material," says Masvidal. "They gave us $500 to do a three-song demo, and while we were on tour with Death, we were negotiating a contract with them."
Although the deal had been struck and they were signed to Roadrunner in 1991, Cynic didn't rush into the studio to begin recording. Their first setback: Their equipment didn't come back with them after the Death tour. It was confiscated and took six months to return. When they finally got geared back up, Hurricane Andrew did some extensive remodeling to their practice room. There was also a change in the band lineup, with bassist Darren McFarland replacing Choy. (McFarland was replaced during the recording sessions by Tampa bassist Shawn Malone.)
After their period of turmoil ended, Cynic finally recorded Focus, at Morrisound Studios in Tampa. Their eight-song debut was released in September, and in November the band toured Europe for four weeks. Because Malone is currently finishing his master's degree in music theory at the University of South Florida, he was unable to accompany the band in Europe. The rest of the band knew he was close to graduation and didn't want to hold him back, so friend and bassist Chris Kringel (from Wisconsin, not the North Pole) filled in.
The band is planning another tour soon, but it remains undecided whether the boys will take another spin around Europe or if they will stay in the U.S. One thing the band doesn't want to do is lose any momentum. Because of the near ghost-town club scene here, the band is ready to head back out of Miami. "I'm saddened by Miami's music scene," says Masvidal. "Clubs are closing, which kills a band's drive. When you're starting out and playing
your first few shows, it's the interaction with the audience which gives you a sense of hope. Music is such a strong cultural foundation and Miami has so much culture. But where are the places to hear its music?"
The music on Focus adds an interesting dimension to the metal scene, but Cynic's style can equally draw and repel listeners. Musically, these four are tight and well-schooled. Their Focus is on solos, instrumental sections, bizarre lyrics.
Both Masvidal and Gobel share solo space, proving to be formidable allies. Guitar synths add texture, while time changes and varied arrangements are the only predictable characteristics throughout the album. Cynic isn't a band spewing out gritty metal, but rather a group of musicians thoughtfully composing a progression of music that undulates from its roots in metal to layers of fusion.
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Their musical diversity is interesting, but when those lyrics hit, you either become a Cynic fan or just cynical. Computerized, robotic vocals as well as cryptic growls and ethereal harmonies riddle their arrangements. The band is obviously aware of this distancing quality -- their album insert is prefaced with a request for open-mindedness.
After much debate and experimentation, the band decided on a vocal attack they hoped would be as innovative as their musical expression. Masvidal did the computerized vocals, but asked singer and guitarist Tony Teegarden of Epitaph to handle the hardcore wails. "I didn't like my heavy voice," says Masvidal. "I got frustrated singing that way and I didn't want to be mute in two years from doing it. Tony's voice was similar to my own, and because he's also a musician he could relate to the music." Teegarden will be reproducing those brutal vocals in live shows.
Since the late Eighties, Cynic's sound has continued to evolve, and although their debut is grounded in aggressive music, they are beginning to experience a little metal fatigue. Focus marks only a point of reference in their musical growth as their second release, tentatively scheduled for September, will pick up where the first left off. The band will incorporate more orchestration and a sequencer while continuing to explore different vocal approaches. "It won't be so much of a roller coaster ride as far as the vocals go," says Masvidal. "The heavier stuff on Focus is really a part of our past. As we've grown, there's a lot more we're trying to say as artists. The aggressive element is not in my heart any more."
Cynic performs at midnight tomorrow (Friday) at the Plus Five, 5715 S University Dr, Davie, 434-1224. Admission costs $5 and $7.