Cynic - _The Portal Tapes_
(Season of Mist, 2012)
by: Johnathan A. Carbon (5 out of 10)
I am driven to write this. Something calls me from an external dimension. Cynic's recent work is very much in the same vein as Ulver and Earth. All of these bands began in the realm of metal and eventually drifted to some place completely different. More importantly, all bands made landmark metal albums before embarking on their own journey.

Cynic is an esteemed member of the metal alumnus due to their one 1993 album _Focus_. While _Focus_ would be the band's only release for fifteen years, it stands as a masterpiece deftly combining the harsh style of death metal with proficient jazz elements. Cynic, much like Atheist and Nocturnus, were pioneers to the budding progressive metal style which would eventually bloom in the late '90s. During preparations for their second album, Cynic dissolved and would not be heard from again until their 2008 reunion. The history of Cynic is hazy at best, but their fifteen year hiatus contains even fewer substantial artifacts. _The Portal Tapes_ attempts to rectify this fact by reconstructing a lost portion of history.

Portal was formed immediately after the dissolution of Cynic. The new band was created by the three original members (Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinhart, Jason Gobel) along with a new bassist and keyboardist / vocalist. While Cynic began as a death metal band with jazz influences, Portal took things further by becoming a full fledged card carrying progressive act. _The Portal Tapes_ are the demos and working material produced by the band before their eventual dissolution. I only give this much history for release as listening to Portal requires a lot of patience. This is, of course, unless you adore openly and proudly progressive hard rock.

Much like Cynic, Portal is based around the idea of exploration. Through surprisingly short songs, the band twists and turns through the dark recesses of the metaphysical. The strong vocal presence by Aruna Abrams and Paul Masvidal encases the complex yet fluid instrumentation. Cynic's penchant for jazz is explored once again but in softer, more melodic layers. And while _The Portal Tapes_ sounds like a forgotten heavy metal artifact, it took me several listens to get through the whole damn album.

To be honest, I dislike the majority of progressive metal. It is not anyone's fault except for my own -- well, maybe Dream Theater. Portal's step away from the work of Cynic could have been a fruitful endeavor given the right audience that does not include me. "Cosmos" is one of the few songs which shows promise, with dense layers of intrigue and songcraft. It is also one of the few songs which allows itself to embrace the heaviness which has come to define their past. When Portal completely sheds its metal background, however, it becomes too safe and completely devoid of complexity or excitement.

I, again, say all of this with reservation as Portal represents a band caught two steps away from greatness. Cynic would later reform in 2008 with _Traced in Air_, with a more successful progressive definition. Aruna Abrams would go on to have a successful career as a progressive trance vocalist. _The Portal Tapes_ is an artifact which hazily displays an alternate future. It is interesting historically, but frustrating as a record. I still laud the work of Cynic but am very skeptical regarding their many side projects done outside the metal world.


(article published 6/5/2012)

3/19/2014 A El Naby 9 Cynic - Kindly Bent to Free Us
12/8/2011 D Lake 10 Cynic - Carbon-Based Anatomy
1/15/2009 J Ulrey 9.5 Cynic - Traced in Air
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