Fans of progressive, jazz-inflected Florida death metal band Cynic expect the unexpected. Without the proper perspective and background, however, Cynic’s latest official release The Portal Tapes, could take even diehard Cynic fans by surprise – especially if they’re expecting loud guitars and frenzied, elliptical beats.
Here’s the thing: The Portal Tapes was recorded in 1995 after Cynic broke up. The short-lived band, Portal, featured Cynic frontman Paul Masvidal, Cynic drummer Sean Reinert, and bassist Chris Kringel. Soured by the homogeneity and herd mentality of death metal, Masvidal and Reinert strove to preserve the atmospheric and jazzy elements of Cynic without all the noise. So they recruited wraithlike vocalist and keyboardist Aruna Abrams and recorded a textural rock album informed by jazz acts like Allan Holdsworth and ethereal pop performers such as Kate Bush.
As pleasantly meditative as the music is, The Portal Tapes is hardly metal, and only hints at the sonic accomplishments Masvidal and Reinert would make when they reformed Cynic in 2006 and created the astonishingly spiritual, airy, yet metallic Traced in Air. That being the case, The Portal Tapes is an interesting time capsule, marking a moment when the pair abandoned their roots and stretched their wings.
At its core, The Portal Tapes is Cynic without the heaviness or technical wizardry – which isn’t entirely a bad thing. “Endless Endeavors” rings and chimes with ominous energy, fueling Abrams vocals with spacey keyboards, an undercurrent of distorted guitar showers and syncopated drumming, and “Circle” displays the band’s jazz-fusion jones in a framework of Abrams’s and Masvidal’s gloomy, evocative vocal harmonies.
Although Portal lasted for just two years and one recording, Masvidal and Reinert’s shift to a metal-free sound wasn’t short-lived. After Cynic, the pair moved from Florida to Los Angeles and formed the alternative band Aeon Spoke, whose music was used in the TV shows Smallville and One Tree Hill as well as the film “Cry Wolf,” before getting their loud on again with Traced in Air, which, in retrospect, benefited from the sonic explorations they undertook between 1994-2007.