Wed Nov 19 2008
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
Early jazz-rock fusion outfits such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra achieved face-melting volume in the late ’60s. Still, few at the time could have envisioned that the genre would eventually dovetail with a style as aggressive as death metal. But that’s exactly what happened in Florida in the early ’90s, when bands like Atheist and Cynic pioneered a strange hybrid of churning brutality and jazzy nuance that’s proved hugely influential to the hypertechnical outfits, such as Behold… the Arctopus, that are currently swarming the metal landscape.
Focus, previously Cynic’s lone full-length, has long been considered the benchmark of the fusion-metal minimovement. The 1993 LP seemed definitive, but remarkably, the band has topped it on this reunion effort. Traced in Air is both heavier and more beautiful than its predecessor, and not just because of vastly punchier production. Whereas the earlier effort’s sprawling ambition defied its title, this new release feels thoroughly compact.
The album’s strongest track, “Integral Birth,” can seem schizophrenic, ping-ponging between glassy melody and proggy riffage—not to mention crooned and growled vocals by Paul Masvidal and new member Tymon Kruidenier, respectively. But these disparate elements disguise the piece’s core catchiness. On Focus, it was the overall oddness of the sound that caught the ear; here it’s the songs. Traced in Air reveals that fusion metal was more than a novel tangent: It’s a viable direction that has the potential to revitalize both genres.