Concert review: Cynic at Slim's

Last night, I saw prog-metal masters Cynic at Slim's in San Francisco. Having seen these guys pull off an amazing set alongside the killer lineup of Scale the Summit, Devin Townsend Project, and Between the Buried and Me at the House of Blues in Boston earlier this year, my expectations were set high. In addition, one of the main draws of the band's first headlining tour is the performance of their highly influential 1993 album Focus in its entirety.

First up was Dysrhythmia, a spazzy instrumental metal outfit. Despite the trio's obvious instrumental virtuosity, their short set was relentlessly exhausting and devoid of any melody. After about five minutes, I was impatiently waiting for them to get off the stage.

To my relief, Intronaut took the show in a completely different direction with their combination of earthy stoner metal grooves and psychedelic interludes. I had never heard any of their songs before the concert but was pleasantly surprised by the seamless blend of loud and soft dynamics. Pounding, tectonic rumblings gave way to shoegazy vocal harmonies and back again. The set ended with a drum off between Danny Walker and guitarist Dave Timnick. Definitely a band I'm going to follow up on.

After an agonizingly long set up time, Cynic took the stage and launched into "Veil of Maya," the first track off of Focus--and immediately stopped. Turns out frontman Paul Masvidal's guitar rig wasn't working properly, a problem that plagued the performance of the album. Both his solos and vocodered singing were too quiet during this portion of the set, resulting in a rather thin sound. The moshing of a few in the audience was really distracting from the music at times, as well. I mean, I'm a fan of a good mosh now and then, but not when some 250 pound metal dude careens into you during a jazzy instrumental piece like "Textures." However, the tight rhythm section of drummer Sean Reinert and bassist Rob Zielhorst kept the core of the songs running well.

Cynic really began to shine once Focus was laid to rest, performing the majority of their 2008 masterpiece Traced in Air and even including a song from Masvidal and Reinert's Portal side project. The sound crew finally fixed the levels on Masvidal's vocals and guitar, fleshing out the sound significantly. Surprisingly, the best moments of the show were the more subdued songs like "Nunc Stans" and a reinterpretation of Traced track "Integral Birth," during which Masvidal picked up an acoustic guitar and showed off some dexterous fingerpicking. On "Adam's Murmur" and "Evolutionary Sleeper," Cynic proved that they are among the best when it comes to playing fluid, jazz-influenced metal.

Technical issues aside, Cynic put on a great show. If you're a fan of any kind of metal whatsoever, I highly recommend checking out their "Re-Focused" tour. Dates can be found here.

Listen to "Wheels Within Wheels" from the band's "Re-Traced" EP below.

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