Cynic and Atheist at the Sanctuary in Hamtramck, MI

Celebrating 30 years of mind-blowing progressive metal, Cynic and Atheist join forces for a metal music reckoning at the Sanctuary in Hamtramck.

Tonight in Hamtramck, metal fans gather for a sold-out show featuring legends of technical death metal, Atheist and Cynic. The intimate confines of the Sanctuary make this a must-see show for die-hard fans who revel in the performance of music that is technically demanding while being fun as hell to experience. We can thank Pull The Plug Patches for making this dream co-heading tour with Cynic and Atheist a reality. 

When you think of the genre of progressive metal music, hopefully the names Atheist and Cynic come to mind. These bands transformed death metal into a higher form with their spectacular compositions. In particular, Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence (1991) and Cynic’s Focus (1993) are two of the most influential technical death metal albums ever made. On top of jaw-dropping metal music, these bands added thought-provoking lyrical content. During a time when death metal primarily focused on horror, Atheist and Cynic cast a thoughtful and positive light upon the nature of our world and lives we live.

Just as the Sanctuary is beginning to fill up, Syphoned draws everyone’s attention to the stage with their powerful and riveting performance. This young band from Detroit is spectacular. Featuring hellhammer drums, fleet bass, raging vocals, and devilish fretboard sorcery, Syphoned discharges a short and highly impressive set of technical metal music. In a fitting tribute given the vocal stylings of the band, Syphoned rounded out a set of excellent originals with a stellar cover of Death’s “Trapped in a Corner” from the Individual Thought Patterns album. Keep an eye out for Syphoned as this is a band to watch. 

Bringing a blast wave of crushing technical death metal is Recorruptor from Lansing. A veteran Michigan metal band, Recorruptor have spent most of the year working on new material which they unveil for the crowd. Their music is a slashing-feeding frenzy of hypersonic riffs played with the force of a nuclear blast. The vehement vocals rage in fury with the guitars. In a tidal wave of pummeling drums and bass, Recorruptor unleashes hell on earth. Fans familiar with the band’s The Funeral Corridor album lose their minds as the band plays “Moribund” and “Tormented Egress” to close out their devastating set.

The stage lights dim as “In The Flesh?” by Pink Floyd signals the crowd to direct their attention to the stage. The opening cinematic prelude to “No Truth” from Atheist’s Piece of Time (1990) quickly becomes an avalanche of riffs. The metal onslaught of Atheist has begun.

The serenity of founding member and vocalist Kelly Shaefer’s face belies the viciousness of his vocal delivery which commands your attention. Guitarists Jerry Witunsky and Alex Haddad trade blistering riffs and histrionic solos on “Mineral” from the Elements album (1993) as well as “Your Life’s Retribution” from the epic Unquestionable Presence. Prowling the stage with a menacing stare and swirling hair is Yoav Ruiz-Feingold on bass. He does an outstanding job of delivering the mind-boggling bass lines crafted by the late great Roger Patterson with both finesse and force. Conducting the band as they race at breakneck speeds through a myriad of riffs and time signatures is drummer Dylan Marks. While lost in the unfortunately dark and fog-shrouded drum riser, his presence is felt with each snapping snare, rolling toms, and vibrant kick drum.

Atheist’s set moves among a selection of songs from their first three albums which are now over 30 years in age. Despite the number of years, the music is as fresh, inventive, and sublime as when it was first conceived. The sheer power of this musical performance from Atheist is stunning. You can almost see the energy flowing through every sweating fan packed near the stage and swirling in the mosh pit.

As the members of Cynic and their crew put the final touches on their setup, Paul Masvidal (founding guitarist/vocalist) brings a small metal tray and a bundle of sage to the stage. He lights the sage and waves the smoke around the stage before bringing it to a banner next to the drum riser. The banner shows a composite picture of late band members Sean Malone (bass) and Sean Reinert (drums). In reverence, Paul waves the smoke in tribute to them as fans cheer and applaud.

Every show on this tour is a celebration of Cynic’s 1993 masterpiece Focus which featured pivotal and highly influential performances by Sean Malone and Sean Reinert. Starting with the opening track “Veil of Maya,” Cynic takes us on a voyage of rediscovery. Joining Paul Masvidal on this adventure are Max Phelps (guitar/vocals), Brandon Giffin (bass), and Matt Lynch (drums).

Each song on Focus is lovingly rendered with vivid clarity, overflowing with emotion. Max’s death vocals add a counterpoint to the mechanized harmony in Paul’s. All the players on stage are absolutely mesmerizing performers who effortlessly bring to life songs such as “The Eagle Nature” and “Uroboric Forms.” Matt’s expressive drumming and Brandon’s poignant bass are highlights during the performance of “Textures.” The electrifying guitar work of Paul and Max shines on “Sentiment” and the final track in the first set “How Could I.”

After completing the performance of Focus, the members of Cynic exit the stage. As the crowd applauds and calls for the band to return, Paul returns. He takes off his shoes and socks. Igniting the sage bundle, Paul bathes in the restorative smoke. He then brings the sage to the crowd to share its healing nature. 

The stage darkens with only a few spotlights to hint at the presence of Cynic as they return. Their focus now is on newer material from Traced Into Air (2008), Kindly Bent to Free Us (2014), and their most recent Ascension Codes (2021). Songs like “Adam’s Murmur” and “In a Multiverse Where Atoms Sing” show that Cynic continues to explore the dimensions of rich evocative music that utilizes the aesthetics of metal music to transcend the genre. When the house lights come up after the final song, we stand transfixed in the glory of what we have experienced and thank these musicians for their art.

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About Chuck Marshall 45 Articles
Chuck loves music. If it is powerful and played with conviction, that is even better. In a past life, Chuck enjoyed thrashing on the stage in a Michigan metal band (Battalion). Now he prefers to use his imagery and words to capture the essence of a concert or an album. See and feel the music with Chuck; you’ll be glad you did.