It wasn’t until Cynic’s long overdue reunion in 2006 that they convincingly morphed into the progressive rock renegades their much revered debut album Focus had noisily hinted at. In fairness, even the most primitive of the demos on this comprehensive collection of the Floridians’ earliest efforts showcases a band with no shortage of technical dexterity.
Even as teenagers, guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert were consummate musicians with a self-evident instinct for using complexity for their own groundbreaking ends. Of course, back in the late 80s, Cynic were very much part of the fledgling death metal scene, their technicality and muso flair setting them apart from their more thuggish peers and, as Focus would later confirm, marking them out as true progressives in a scene that generally favoured aggression and speed over depth and subtlety.
The first four tracks here were recorded in 1991, not long before Cynic hit the studio to conjure their debut, and while the full, kaleidoscopic splendour of later songs like Veil Of Maya and Textures – both of which, incidentally, have become band names for Cynic’s 21st century offspring – is not quite at boiling point amid the churning atonalities and jazz inflections of Lifeless Irony and The Eagle Nature, it’s not hard to imagine the short leap of faith it took to blossom into the epoch-shattering oddballs we know and love. Admittedly, there is no guarantee that anyone bewitched by recent Cynic albums like Traced In Air and Kindly Bent To Free Us will be similarly enthralled by what is, in essence, a raw and unrelenting collection of death metal demos. Something like Dwellers Of The Threshold, from the band’s very first demo in 1988, will make perfect sense to metalheads with a penchant for Rush and Voivod, but the dream pop and art rock vibes of Traced In Air are conspicuous by their absence. And presumably that’s the point here. Bang your head or shake it wearily, this is where it all began.