Magazine: Thrash 'n Burn
Article: The Dungeons Are Calling

Written by: Borivoj Krgin
Published: February 1992


Borivoj Krgin investigates Miami's Cynic, who, due to their various members' connections with the likes of Death, Pestilence, Atheist, Master and Monstrosity, are currently the underground's most popular unsigned band.


est known for their session work with some of death/thrash metal's most respected and talented acts, Miami's CYNIC aren't, nor do they wish to be perceived as, a typical group. Easily some of the most proficient musicians within the genre, the quartet - composed of guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal, drummer Sean Reinert, guitarist Jason Gobel, and bassist Tony Choy - are constantly pushing themselves to excel in their act, creating in the process some of the most technically-involved and musically-advanced material ever put on tape by a metal band.

Through the individual members recent involvements with such internationally-recognized acts as DEATH (Paul and Sean played on the "Human" LP and are currently touring with the Schuldiner-led combo), PESTILENCE (Tony performed on "Testimony Of The Ancients" and is also currently on the road with the band), ATHEIST (Tony wrote material for and played on "Unquestionable Presence"), MASTER (Paul laid down most of the guitar parts for the "And On The Seventh Day God Created Master" album) and newcomers MONSTROSITY (Jason guested on the "Imperial Doom" LP and has played live shows with the group), CYNIC have already established quite a name for themselves in the metal underground, resulting in an imminent, long-term contract with Roadrunner Records and the projected recording of the group's debut LP during the summer of '92. I recently spoke with Masvidal and Choy as the duo were preparing to complete their present touring commitments with the aforementioned acts.

Most of the attention given to CYNIC over the last few months has been a result of your contributions to other bands rather than your own achievements as a group. This will surely raise some doubts in people regarding your ability to get a record deal on your own rather than having to rely on other bands for exposure. "We haven't relied on other bands for exposure," says Paul. "We've taken advantage of the opportunity given to us by other groups for exposure. And we used it to our advantage knowing that it would benefit us in the long run, and it has."

Yeah, but your main reason for playing with all these bands was in order to get exposure, correct? "We want not just the exposure, but also the experience, travel and income," states the guitarist. "We're trying to survive as musicians more so than anything else. CYNIC is just where our hearts lie musically, and it wasn't just for the benefit of CYNIC that we did all this. There was a lot of personal and individual reasons. It just worked out for the best."

Do you think, in a way, that your involvement with these other bands has also overshadowed, to a certain extent, your position within CYNIC? By that, I mean, if someone hears the name Paul Masvidal now, they're more likely to think of DEATH rather than CYNIC, and by the same token, if they were to hear Tony Choy's name, they would more likely associate him with PESTILENCE and ATHEIST than with his full-time band. "That's cool," reckons Paul. "The whole thing is, they know, and most of the kids know we're not full time members. They know that CYNIC exists. That was the whole point behind it - almost to take advantage of it, this opportunity to be able to do these other records while these kids still know that we have something else and that we're not fully commited to these bands. They don't think, 'Paul Masvidal: member of DEATH.' they just think, 'Paul Masvidal's played on the record and is touring with them'."

"As for me," adds Tony, "Patrick (Mameli, PESTILENCE guitarist/vocalist) says it every night at every show, he announces me as a member of CYNIC and a guest session player playing with them. Everything relies, too, on a good friendship kind of a thing, helping them out while helping us (CYNIC)."

"Yeah, we're all doing each other favours," continues the guitarist. "They're helping us out with the exposure and the income and all that shit, and we're helping them out musically and performance-wise, so it's kind of like an equal thing."

Now that you've had a chance to realize your basic goals in terms of recording albums and touring the world, do you feel that the time has come for you to leave these other projects aside and concetrate fully on CYNIC, so that you may give this band the chance that it deserves? "We definitely intend to once all this stuff is put aside," confirms Paul. "Because CYNIC is always gonna be priority after this."

But you do acknowledge that the last twelve months have basically been spent in relative inactivity, with you in essence working around other bands schedules rather than your own? "If you look at it that way, in some ways it did hurt CYNIC," conceeds the six-stringer. "Because we haven't practiced as a band for the past... whatever - I mean, we went almost a year without really being a band, but it seems as though that much more separation is what's bringing about that much more dedication within us. It's like, us being that much further away from each other, all these other bands making us realize how much more we wanne be coming back to CYNIC. It was, like, almost a necessary lesson for us, 'cause we were getting almost bored with everything. At the time when we took all these opportunities coming to us, CYNIC was a complete standstill; we couldn't get a deal, everything was just hanging there, there was nothing going on. And then all the shit happened, and we got all involved in it, and held on to the idea of CYNIC and kept it going, and now that we've been away from it for so long, it's like we're all that much more into coming back to it. It hurts us to a degree, because we haven't been writing material, we haven't been... like, that side of things, but again, in the long run, it's gonna benefit us, because we're gonna have a lot more opportunity as a first-album band, because of all this other shit."

Considering the fact that you basically had to take a year off from CYNIC in order for you to properly see these projects through to the very end, how are you preparing to handle potential future situations that may involve a clash in touring/recording activity between DEATH and CYNIC, or PESTILENCE and CYNIC? "It's like I said before - when it comes down to it, CYNIC is our priority," confirms Paul. "That's the deciding factor for us - PESTILENCE or DEATH - if they're willing to wait or they can go ahead and find somebody else. It's up to them, really - whether they're gonna be patient enough to think that our services were that good that they'll say, 'OK, we'll wait for 'em no matter how long it takes. It was worth having them and we'll wait.' It's up to them."

So, you would have no problems with it if these two bands were to look elsewhere for other musicians if you weren't available to play with them during a specific time period? "No, not at all," insists Tony. "We came in at the beginning just helping them out. It was always their option to look for other players if they wanted to. We were just there 'cause we had the opportunity, and we took it. CYNIC was our priority, and our priority's gonna start taking in soon. I guess, they will have to either wait, or find somebody else. They've talked about it a couple of times already..."

What is it that CYNIC offers to you that these other bands, like DEATH or PESTILENCE, or ATHEIST, can't offer you, that makes you so dedicated and committed to this one project? "It's the most free-form expression possible with absolutely no limitations musically," says Paul. "It's just something there musically and personally that we'd like to hold on to and don't wanna throw away. We all have the same ideas, we are just on the same level when it comes to music and things like that. It would be stupid to abandon it, just like the whole idea of this income of these bands that we're working with, that's almost stupid to abandon. As far as I'm concerned, CYNIC is in another world next to PESTILENCE and DEATH."

"It's also the getting-used-to point of things," continues Tony. "We're so used to each other as far as working overall, it's like, I can show Paul a rhythm, and right there, he can show me another rhythm, and Jason can come in and whatever. It just clicks very quickly, as far as writing."

It's clear that the two of you and Sean have kept quite busy in the last year doing these other projects, but it appears that Jason has been left somewhat in the background almost. Has this lack of activity affected his outlook on the band and his dedication and commitment to the group? "He's just very excited and envious of us that we're in this situation," reckons Paul.

Has that created any tension within the band? "Not at all," states the guitarist firmly. "He, in his own way, has been just as productive, practising and working and playing with some other bands locally around here, he's doing his own thing. So, it hasn't been like a waste of time for him at all."

"We're all really anxious to get the CYNIC thing going," adds Tony. "We're just waiting for everything to end, just so that we can get our stuff going, and see what CYNIC can really do."

You stated earlier that you were basically appoached to play with DEATH and PESTILENCE as, more or less, hired hands. Do you perceive yourselves as hired hands? "Yes, we still totally consider it that," admits the guitarist.

Is that the way you approach it - as a job rather than something you fully enjoy doing? "It's not like we're onstage going through the motions, as you made it seem in your live review," says Paul making reference to my writ-up of DEATH's New York show in the last issue. "It does get a bit monotonous sometimes (the live performance), but it's not something where you say, 'Yeah , my job, I gotta do my job.' It is completely work, but it's something we wanne be doing, so to a degree. At least it's involving music, and we're getting paid for it. That right there is the bottom line. As long as those two things are happening, then it's not that terrible. But with Tony, there's not as much separation on the business end of things as to where it is with Skott (Carino, current DEATH bassist), Sean and I, as opposed to Eric (Greif, DEATH manager) and Chuck (Schuldiner, DEATH guitarist/vocalist). There's two different things going on there. Tony is just in on it with them."

"Yeah my deal with PESTILENCE is totally personal," states Tony. "I'm very good friends with all the guys, that's how it all works."

Anybody that's fairly familiar with CYNIC's music and that knows what you guys are all about would probably find it difficult to believe that you would find DEATH and PESTILENCE material to be musically-challenging and interesting to perform. Do you personally get bored playing these songs night after night? "As far as me and PESTILENCE, these guys wanna progress," says the bassist. "They wanna get better, they're getting in the same thinking mode as far as the challenge (aspect of playing). They're willing to do the same shit. Like, they're getting into the same music that I am. Everybody is progressing. I don't find PESTILENCE boring (to play) at all. As far as PESTILENCE goes, I'm still a fan."

"Yeah, it's just fun to play," adds Paul. "And Chuck also, in particular, intends to progress, too, and has that whole idea - musicianship and becoming more involved and all that - whatever. But the thing about DEATH's live show, for example, is there is so much more space and stuff in the music that allows for a lot more improvisation, it's just challenging in that way, to just have not everything so structured, to just be able to be free and... just be able to go on spontaneous things at moments, like, with leads, and drums- Sean's constantly doing different stuff - it allows more space for improvisation, which, live, is great to do."

Tony, prior to your work with PESTILENCE, you were working with ATHEIST, and it was even mentioned that you had become a full-time member of that band at one point. However, it appears that there's been a turn of events in the meantime which has resulted in them getting another bassist (Darren McFarland) into the group. What exactly happened to cause the split betweeen you and the band? "I can't say I should have never been so enthusiastic (about playing with ATHEIST), 'cause that was my reaction," says Tony. "I was giving them my 100% dedication, which... that's what kind of screwed things up in the thinking mode kind of way, I led them to expect too much of me, while I should have drawn back and told them from the very beginning, 'No big expectations.' I guess I was doing a good job for them, and they were giving me exposure with this album and all this stuff. But, I should have never... I can't say 'promised', 'cause everybody promised everybody a lot of things, which weren't delivered at the end, obviously. The whole thing, the enthusiastic part, it got too crazy, it got too involved, and just talking and..."

Can you be a bit more specific? "Basically, the reason was, ATHEIST didn't have a tour lined-up," elaborates the bassist. "But PESTILENCE had this U.S. tour, and it was very benficial for me, 'cause I was touring with Paul and Sean (PESTILENCE suported DEATH on the first leg of their recent U.S. tour), we were all gonna return at the same time, we were all together, Kelly (Shaefer, ATHEIST guitarist/vocalist) still tells me, 'face it dude, you wanted to make money, and you wanted to tour, it wasn't a personal (friendship) thing,' but it was, I wanna make that clear. Sure, it was very convenient, but also, it was personal, too. PESTILENCE are great friends of mine, as well as ATHEIST. That's all that happened. I guess they only saw their side of it until now, when everything is cool."

Recently, there was an interview in Metal Forces with Kelly Shaefer, in which some statements were made regarding CYNIC and your long-term future as a band. More specifically, it was implied that CYNIC really didn't have much of a future beyond the first album, and that your families are financially stable enough to where you really are not concerned about having a career in music. If you want to clear the air on that and set the record straight, this is your chance... "The money thing and all that, not being concerned with money, is ridiculous," states Paul.

"Yeah, that was really ridiculous," agrees the bass player. "I don't know where that came from. But, as far as the one-album deal, the only way I could see Kelly saying something like that was 'cause our expectations and seriousness about our music was towards college and stuff. But we know... we have a lot of desires for CYNIC, we want CYNIC to grow , there's nothing that we want more. School's always gonna be there, and we're just gonna do what we can with CYNIC. But as far as the other stuff, like the money..."

"I don't even know where that came into it," continues Paul. "That was just out of reference, really, because one of the main reasons, besides exposure and everything, of us doing all this outside stuff, was for the financial aspect, to actually receive income as a musician, so that we could somewhat think that we could maybe survive one day. Like, to have the hope, or the inspiration to say, 'Maybe I can make a living out of this', I would love that, I wish that was true, that I could just not have to think about it and just be able to hang out and write, and to have income coming from families.That would be great, but unfortunately, it isn't true, and we are more serious than ever about our music and making a career out of it."

CYNIC's music contains the aggression and lack of vocal variation that is common in thrash/death metal bands, but it also features a variety of tempo changes and complex musical passages that are probably more synonymous with more progressive forms of music. As a matter of fact, your material has been described by some as a bit of an acquired taste - meaning that it will only appeal to a selected group of people rather than the general heavy metal fans. How much of a future do you, as a band, see for the kind of music that you are playing? "We don't even wanna place a label on it, 'cause there's no telling what we will sound like by our second record," says Paul. "At the rate we're going, not just musically, but also listening-wise and everything, there's just so much we wanna do and aren't even capable of yet, but intend to be eventually. Metal isn't even in our heads anymore. It's just music, and that's it. Just putting out music that we're writing at the time and not concerning ourselves with what style it is or what label you can place on it, it's just not even a concern. There's no telling what this band will sound like by our second or third record, if it comes to that. It might be a whole other thing. Like, the first record might sound like one band, and the second might sound like another - it's just really hard to describe, because we're so spontaneous when it comes to putting across an idea musically and not holding back. There's just no limitations, so it's hard to even predict."

In sharp contrast to your music, however, the vocals thus far have been pretty one-dimensional, wouldn't you agree? "Yeah, that's the one thing that almost holds us back," reflects the guitarist. "Though the vocal style keeps everything pounding and keeps that edge to it, there are other things vocally that we could touch on that would make the music even more exciting, instead of just the same growling style, not stuff that I necessarily could do, but that we can do as a band."

Do you forsee yourselves getting a more versatile singer, or will you be keeping the formation as it currently stands? "Not necessarily getting a singer, but just doing something bizarre and different instead of the same death metal thing," reveals Paul. "Just something new, and totally putting our music in a whole other dimension, so that we're just not even next to anybody."

Listening to your latest three-song demo, which was recorded specifically for Roadrunner Records, it appears that there's a bit more of an emphasis on making the music accessible than has been the case before - the material is still highly complex, but the riffs come across as a bit catchier and melodic in places. Has all the criticism regarding the uncatchiness of your songs made you rethink your approach somewhat? "To a degree, I think it has," admits Paul. "But we never really seriously concerned ourselves with that."

"It was our own criticism, also, our own judgement about the music, as far as everything went," adds Tony. "It's like, I'm saying, 'This needs to be better,' and 'This needs to be more attractive,' just fixing up things - I guess, just maturing in writing."

"Yeah, we got better at structuring the songs," continues the guitarist. "But I think that, if we were really concerning ourselves on the public-eye level and all that shit, we would just go all out and produce ear-candy cheese for the sake of ear-candy cheese, to have a product that would make money, and that isn't very hard, I don't think."

One of the criticisms that you've already heard and that you will continue to hear is that your music is written strictly to be as complex and intricate as possible, without much attention being paid to the feel of the song. "The thing with that is, there's definitely not a conscious effort at all to try and write in that style or anything," states Paul. "This is just how we write, just like if we were writing what somebody considers a simpler, cooler groove riff - maybe we did write riffs like that at a particular time, but at this time, what we write is just what we write and it comes out as naturally as does anybody else's riffs that they feel are cool. There is no conscious effort to make it any more technical or involved than it actually is, it is just completely natural."

But do you find that, in general, it's the more intricate, complex material that you find particularly appealing, as a listener? "You know what it is? It's more entertaining to our ears," reckons Paul. "We are more entertained by something that's more involved musically. Though, there are plenty of bands that we listen to that are very simple and that have two changes in their songs, that are just totally get into also, but yeah, there's that whole technical side that, it's just so intense and so amazing to our ears. It's, like, entertainment. It's like watching a killer flick or something."

I know that you've previously stated the fact that you're very much against the idea of repeating ideas within the context of an individual song, as far as repeating riffs and stuff like that... "That's just saying that, basically we're sick of the standard format that's been done time and time again, and we're just tired of it," states the guitarist firmly.

So how are you supposed to achieve that element of accessibility, to where people will be able to remember your riffs and melodies having heard your songs only once? "You realize that it isn't ear-candy and that it's not designed for that," states Paul. "There's a lot more to it in that it has a more long-term, lasting effect than just the initial, 'Cool, I got the chorus,' you know? We'd like to think.. 'OK, man, let me rewind it and hear this again.' Entertainment for the ears is just like, drive-in-your-car-and-whistle type of thing."

"There's video games that are, like, let's say, Donkey Kong," adds Tony. "And there's people that wanna get into the intricate shit, like... whatever, Dungeons And Dragons. There's far more complex for people that are willing to dig, really dig into this stuff. Unfortunatelly, there's less of them, there's more of the Donkey Kong people."

Finally, when can we expect to see the debut CYNIC record in the stores? "Hopefully, when we finish the DEATH European tour at the end of March, we're gonna set aside at least two months probably to get our shit together," reveals Paul. "We're estimating the end of summer '92 will be the release date. That's if everything goes as planned, which is a hard thing to say."


to talks

EmptyWords-Published on October 29 2001