Album Review: Ascension Codes by CYNIC

by Nikita Alekseyevich Khrenov

2020 was a year of great strife and tragedy, a year where we lost both Sean Reinert and Sean Malone of Cynic. The passing of two icons of progressive metal had devastated the fans and the future of the group remained a mystery. To the surprise of just about everyone, Cynic announced the Ascension Codes was announced, with Paul Masvidal, recruiting Trioscapes drummer Matt Lynch and esteemed pianist Dave Mackay on synth bass, they have continued the Cynic legacy.

This album is a totally different beast from what we’ve come to expect from Cynic; with more of a free-flowing structure this album needs to be heard in one sitting, front to back. The various instrumental and ambient tracks help transition into the main songs of the album, creating a feeling like a classical piece with multiple movements rather than a metal album. Immediately Ascension Codes has a much more ethereal feel as compared to their previous work. The layers of sound, counterpoint, and harmonies just meld into a wave of dreamlike wonder. The first “real” song on the album “The Winged Ones” is a fantastic instrumental jam. Matt Lynch shows off his amazing drum chops with jazz tinged drum and bass beats driving the band as Masvidal and Mackay trade off melodies over a backdrop of heavenly harmony. One could easily mistake this song for something that came out of a JRPG, super catchy and captivating but below the surface it’s incredibly deep and intricate.

Singing doesn’t appear on the album until the fourth track: “Elements and their Inhabitants.” This is the first glimpse we have into the Cynic that we know and love, with a structure consisting of a verses and choruses, though it’s definitely something totally new. The voice sinks into the middle of the mix, enveloped by the rest of the band, as if the voice is speaking from far beyond our realm. It adds this heavenly feeling, really bringing the listener up in a hard-to-describe way. “Mythical Serpents,” the first single, starts very mellow but contains the interesting surprise to longtime fans, the return of harsh vocals. Now the mid-range screams are used to add atmosphere, but since their last record Kindly Bent to Free Us, was a full-blown prog rock record that stuck strictly to clean singing and more upbeat tracks, it’s a surprising addition.

By far one of the catchiest songs on the album is “Architects of Consciousness.” Really a song that perfectly captures the essence of this album. Starting out soft and subdued, it crescendos with Matt Lynch’s tight and tasteful drumming pushing the band onward, with an ear-worm of melodic guitar riffing front and center. Mackay’s bass synth is a major player on this song, rounding out the harmonic direction of the music, while he builds upon Masvidal’s licks with his right hand melodies. “Aurora” is an interesting change of pace, bringing the intensity and intricacy back just a little bit. Lynch is really given room to showcase his flexibility and endurance, with segments of breakneck drum and bass beats  coming between more laid back jazz sections, while melodies are more simple and elegant giving the brain a bit of a rest.

Ascension Codes is a masterpiece of progressive music, an amalgamation of all the different sounds and character of the albums that came before it.. Moving, thought provoking, and beautiful. It’s difficult not to get emotional listening to this record especially given the sad events that took place just a year ago, and while the newer additions to the band are incredibly talented and add a new layer of depth to the music, one can’t help but wish that the trademark beats and fills of Sean Reinert and the soulful slides and passages of Sean Malone were present. If this is the evolution of Cynic, then the future looks bright and promising.

Ascension Codes was released November 26th via Season of Mist. Purchase the album here: https://listen.cyniconline.com/bio


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