Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cynic and The Ocean, December 15 Concert Review

Cynic is a very important band to me. They were one of the first, if not the first, band to make me realize that full-on death metal wasn't the be-all and end-all of music.

It's summer, 1994. I know who Cynic is, vaguely. They had a cool song on the Roadrunner compilation At Death's Door II. Two of their members played on Death's Human. And they're playing with Cannibal Corpse and Sinister in the town where I live!

I was there to see Cannibal Corpse, of corpse.


So there I am, right up front. "Where did they get these kids to be roadies for them?" I thought as Cynic's stuff was being set up. Then they start. They weren't roadies, it was the band... so there they go, playing newagejazzydeathy metal, with a slideshow and all sorts of fun stuff going on. As the opening band, they didn't get the full stage, so fans got to see Sean Reinert right up front, facing to the side, as he drummed away. We got to see Dana Cosley handling keyboards and the growling vocals (and check out Youtube videos from that tour - it seems when people realized it was the girl doing those... the crowd pops. Not so big a deal now, but 14 years ago?). I saw a Chapman stick played live for the first (and only) time in my life. (I read that Sean Malone wasn't on that tour, but

I was mesmerized. You can bet I went out and bought Focus immediately afterwards, and kept up on all things Cynic thereafter.

The rest of the crowd? "Play faster!" "Turn your guitars up!" uugghh. Not unanimous hatred of course, but it wasn't a very respectful crowd. Yet who should Cynic have realistically toured with in order to reach an audience? (didn't similar problems plague Anacrusis, Atheist, and Believer? Maybe they could have all toured with each other and drew 25 people a night...)

It changed the way I looked at music (expanding my horizons) and was a major source of my feeling disconnected from my fellow metal fans. For years, a person's opinion of Cynic's Focus was the sole qualifier for whether or not I would discuss music with them in any serious manner. These days, I'll discuss music with nonbelievers but if you don't rate Focus highly, then I don't rate you highly. People who don't like that album really have to be deaf or stupid.

(And if you find such statements absurd... eat shit, fuck off, die, or do whatever it is you do when you're not around me. I really don't care. There are things important to me, and things that are not. Music that moves me is important. People having a problem with music that moves me are not. Cynic is that good. Are you?)

Fast forward a few years. I'm online in 1997, on some internet chat room, looking for new music to investigate. I'm in some random place talking to some random people. "Well what do you like?" someone asks. Cynic is on the list, of course. "Then you should check out Opeth!" That was good enough for me. What can I say? I was easy then... So I buy Orchid and Morningrise, which had been recently released in the US by Century Media.

2008. Opeth and Cynic are touring. Together! In Europe... wait a minute... I'm in Europe!

They're going to play in Helsinki... wait a minute... I'm in Helsinki!

They're playing at the Kaapelitehdas... wait a second... my girlfriend lives in that same plaza! The venue is right outside the window!

Holy crap!

Money problems prevent me from buying tickets (40€ each!) until early November. Over a month before the show. Guess what? SOLD OUT!



What to do? What are my options? I'm not contacting Roadrunner to get on the guest list. Dare I contact Season of Mist? LotFP has rather fallen into a state of... uh... cobwebs as of late. And I was never close with that label. Dare I risk finding out that something I did as the prime focus of my life for just about ten years isn't worth a couple of free concert passes anymore?

No, not going to do that. I know! I used to know Mikael Åkerfeldt fairly well. Interviewed him a few times. Even went down to the studio in Örebro for a couple hours while he was recording during the Ghost Reveries sessions. Had his private number for awhile (long since lost...). I can email him and blah blah blah. But he's on tour. Does he read email on tour? And I haven't talked to him in a long time since, honestly, my interest in the band's post-Still Life stuff (and these days, post-MAYH stuff) isn't as strong as it used to be. ay ay ay.

And I'm doing all this because I want to see Cynic.

Day of show. The girlfriend and I walk the dog, passing Kaapelitehdas as we often do. Wait... there's a tour bus? At 10:30am? And who's that stepping out... is that... couldn't be... I'm not wearing my glasses so I walk up... it's Mikael! Is the day saved? No. He stops, I don't even know if he recognized me, but he explains he's sick as a dog and on his way to see a doctor. No problem. That is all.

And that's that, until about 7pm, when Chrissy calls me. (By the way, she moved to Finland based on my example, and met her now-husband while here. I change lives. :P) Opeth canceled! Cynic and The Ocean are now playing some other club (Dante's Highlights). Doors open in two hours! The day is saved!

So the girlfriend and I head down and arrive about 8:50. There is already a line formed around the block. Oops. Chrissy and Ossi arrive soon, and inform us that the club is small; we may not get in. So I panic and come up with a series of improbable and comical plans to clear out the line in front of us (including running down the line farting, or walking the other way around the block, then up the line bitching that the show is sold out and nobody else is being let in) when a person in front of us assures us that the club can hold a decent amount of people and not to worry. She really did seem nice so I don't think there was an unspoken "So shut up, OK?" attached there. She did say she was there to see The Ocean. I haven't heard that band, ever. "They're like a mix of Isis and Opeth!" Isis? Ah, shit. Shit.

We get in. Walk right up to the stage. Close. Not close to full yet. Argh, Chrissy!

Maria, the girlfriend unit, aka my non-penised companion, at age 34, has never been to a concert before. She's not a metalhead. She doesn't even listen to music on her own. (and now she has 700 CDs in her living room... hahahaha!) So she's enjoying the people-watching opportunities this show is providing. But this is a well-behaved crowd, all things considered, so I need to take her to see some rancidly tr00 black metal show or something soon.

The Ocean are up. Some bad signs: They have a computer running at the side of the stage. None of the band members have long hair, and a couple even have trendy haircuts. They start playing. It's shit. The singer has a very generic "core" voice, the band is for the most part playing very simple heavy rhythms, no riffs here, and there are backing tracks providing violins and keyboards.

It's shit. Shit. SHIT. Actually, if you take out the backing tracks, it's nu-metal. The band sucked. Sucked hard.

I can deal with that. I've watched a lot of shit bands and not gone into convulsions. But then the fetuses they call fans start moshing. To this? And it's not a proper mosh. Or even anything resembling... I dunno... anything. It's a bunch of smiling kids jumping around like retards (seriously... they had that crooked arm movement and everything) and bumping into each other and spinning arm and arm and shit. Uh, guys? The band's over there. Stop that! I don't want to lose my good spot for Cynic, but I really don't want to deal with these turds ramming into me every three seconds either. I consider taking a cheap shot at the next one to do so... I consider it for the rest of the set, really... but getting into a fight would mean missing Cynic and probably not impressing the girlfriend very much. So I suffer.

Then The Ocean's computer breaks, and that's when they change from a shit band to a fake, poor excuse for a quasi-pseudo-poser-ass metal band. I mean, up to that point, they had all the moves down. The violent GRRRRR faces while playing guitar, the oh-so-emotionally-wistful look during the quieter parts... you know, that fake and infuriating "stage presence" that metal bands insult their fans with.

But their computer breaks... and they can't go on. Not only would we miss the pre-recorded violins and keyboards, but they're drummer's playing to a click track. Run by this very computer.

Apparently, their drummer can't keep a beat. Which is the entire point of a drummer. Dumb fuckers.

So the singer, ever the pro, kills time by addressing the crowd. "This is the best reception we've had on this tour... give yourselves a hand!" "It sucks that Opeth couldn't play..." blah blah blah. I hate that shit. He couldn't just talk to us... he has to do the Rock Star Stage Pose conversation.

His speech was just as fake as the metal his band plays.

Then... the greatest thing I've ever heard. He leads the chant of "Fuck you!" directed at their computer (not at themselves... you know, the band that couldn't play dead-simple tunes without help... hey guys... it's called... rehearsing... you're opening for Cynic and Opeth... it's something you should have looked into). At their computer!

They finally decide to "play old-school... without the click!" He said that!

After the set, I catch up with Chrissy. I start voicing my complaints. Chrissy, lover of many things False Metal (only a problem because she says she's all about metal), starts listing excuses. "Do you think they have the budget as openers of this tour to bring a keyboard player and a violin player and..." blah blah blah. Like I, as a listener, should care about the artist's budget issues? It sucks, or it doesn't. And the problem with this band wasn't their budget.

I suggested that if they brought the keyboard player and violin player and whoever else, and left home the losers who showed up, that I might have actually enjoyed listening to it. "I don't even know why I bother to discuss music with you," Chrissy says, and runs off. Haven't talked to her since. heehee!

After a short wait, here's Cynic. I waited 14 years to see this. Some of these people have been waiting their entire conscious lives to see this. It's a much different atmosphere than the Cannibal Corpse show in 94. I know the band. The crowd knows the band. And the band is actually liked by the people there.

The stage attitude is much different between Cynic and The Ocean. Cynic is much more laid-back. There is no intensity or aggression or attitude on the stage. Hell, the two Exivious guys they have on bass and guitar/growls pretty much just stand there and play. That's not very engaging, but neither is it fake poser shit. I can't see Sean Reinert from my position, so it's all about Paul Masvidal.

Masvidal is leading Cynic these days, with the sole writing credits on the new Traced in Air album. In some ways, Cynic is no more a "real" metal band than The Ocean, with all the heavy new age and jazz and what-have-you influences. But it so happens that many of those outside influences are things I listen to on my own anyway (Cynic started that in the first place... :P). And Cynic started in the 80s Florida death metal scene. In Miami rather than Tampa, but still. Masvidal has performed with, and recorded albums with, both Chuck Schuldiner and Paul Speckman. He knows his stuff, and any deviation from the norm is through choice and calculation, not because he's a young clueless rebel that doesn't know his ass from his elbow.

Cynic was a joy. Masvidal was an engaging frontman... never condescending by posing with fake attitude. He smiled, spoke softly, sat down at one point while playing, and had some real interaction with the crowd between songs. These were "just" a bunch of really talented musicians playing some awesome music for us... not TOUGH AND MEAN GUYS WHO WERE EXPRESSING THEIR ANGER AND... you get what I mean. There was a cool moment when Paul dropped his plectrum while finger-picking... it was snatched up by a fan... and when Paul was done and looked for it... the fan gave it back. The fan got it back himself after the song, but it was a cool little moment of mutual respect between musician and listener. At the end, there was no encore. They announced the last song, left the stage for a minute (to breath, take a piss, get a drink... whatever), then returned to break down their equipment. Again, no posing.

This isn't to say that the performance itself was listless or robotic or just going through the motions. Cynic's music is intense, and probably tough as hell to properly perform on stage. The intensity was there in the performance, it was just the kind of concentration that reminded me more of the musicians of a symphony orchestra performing more than the posturing of 99% of metal bands on stage.

And by playing for about an hour, they were able to cover a good deal of both Focus and Traced in Air, since both albums are right around 35 minutes each. They were able to present a good deal of their newest creation without disappointing anyone that wanted to hear old stuff. Veil of Maya, How Could I, Textures, Uroboric Forms, Celestial Voyage... I was a happy camper.

Yet I'm not sure what to think overall about Cynic in 2008. Their reunion seems convenient to take advantage of better economic times now than when they broke up (the overall economy may be in the toilet, but metal is more popular than it's been in almost 20 years). Of course the new album doesn't have the impact the first one did. Focus was a genre-breaking, breathtaking work of creativity. Traced in Air is three of the five musicians from the first album (plus another guy) revisiting that same creative space fifteen years later. It can't compare as far as impact.

But it is a good album, well crafted, and not at all an embarassment to the Cynic name. That they did get Sean Malone back on bass, that they got the same cover artist to embellish the new album, I think that stuff counts. This is a Cynic album in substance as well as in name, and I'm happy to have spent the 19€ to buy it. If it grows on me in the next fourteen years even a tenth as much as Focus did over the previous fourteen, it'll become one of my favorite albums ever. Time will tell, and a couple weeks with it is far too early to say anything other than "good album."

I had the privilege to talk to Masvidal for a minute after the show, and said to him many of the things that I wrote at the top of this post. He's created art that has, without any exaggeration, changed the entire course of my life (would I be sitting here on a keyboard in Helsinki if Cynic hadn't changed my attitudes so much in 1994?), and I had to express my appreciation.

I had a great time.

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