“I think of myself as a paradox,” Sean Reinert says. “What I listen to and what I do versus what people know me for is almost the opposite. People have told me the Death record [Human] changed their life. That’s the best compliment you can get.”
Where Death’s aforementioned 1991 release, Human, showcased Reinert’s precision delivery of blazing double kick patterns, ear-twisting metric illusions, pummeling thrash rhythms and rolls, the drummer’s work in Cynic (which also features guitarist Paul Masvidal) is more diversified, and no less dynamic. With three albums to their credit, including the latest, Carbon-Based Anatomy, Cynic performs progressive music incorporating ambient soundscapes, challenging time signatures, and complex arrangements, all of it recorded au naturel – no click track allowed.
“It’s a backlash against Beat Detective, and quantizing, the perfectness of music these days.” Reinert says. “We wanted to bring back a live performance element, and pretend that we’re recording to multitrack tape, and that we couldn’t punch in. We went in raw, just me and Paul. It’s always a change from record to record. Cynic is predicated on that. We always go into the studio trying to do something different, not repeat ourselves.”
“Never push repeat” could be Reinert’s credo. Death’s Human, which is often cited as one of the most influential (and best-selling) extreme metal albums ever, is pure maniacal spew, from the ankle-destroying double kicks in “Lack Of Comprehension” and the Latin cymbal accents of “Suicide Machine” to the brain-crunching cross rhythms of “Secret Face.” But while Reinert’s contributions to Human have influenced metal heads worldwide, his tastes have always been decidedly broader, which has pushed his drumming beyond the ordinary.
“When I was 15 and Megadeth and Metallica were big, I was going to Dave Weckl clinics,” Reinert recalls. “In 1987 I had one foot in fusion and studying music, and the other in the thrash and hardcore scenes. Those influences have always been there from the beginning. It’s a weird category that [Cynic] has fallen into. We’ve always been selfish in our music as far as what we do and what we bring to Cynic.”
Carbon-Based Anatomy recalls Yes and King Crimson as much as any metal music, but Reinert’s drumming is as fastidious, brawny, and flat-out beautiful as ever. The full set linear patterns of “Box Up My Bones” and “Carbon-Based Anatomy” provide all the forward surge of a tidal wave, while the odd metered “Elves Beam Out” is all about angles.
“’Elves Beam Out’ is an 11/8 pattern in the verse: 1-2-3/1-2/1-2-3/1-2-3,” Reinert explains. “Paul learned it by internalizing 11 as a phrase of 5 and 6. And the chorus is an extended version of 11; it became 11/4, counting 6 and 5. It’s a play on an absolutely random rhythm that I came up with that morning. Sometimes the tunes are dictated by what Paul writes on guitar, but for us it’s about having a song first. It can be bare bones, then we add decoration, then consider the meter. Do we turn this into 7 or 5 or keep it in 6? It changes from song to song.”
Reinert admits to “finding slow tempos and pocket playing almost more challenging than playing five-note sixteenth-note groupings or four over three,” which might be why his double kick work (left foot leading) still pegs the exhilaration meter. His incorporation of off-beat hi-hat rhythms within double kick patterns is his latest innovation.
“I stomp the two pedals together,” he explains. “If I am playing a sixteenth-note kick pattern and stomping on both the hi-hat and bass drum pedal at once, I’m playing eighth-notes on the hi-hat. I’ve seen Dennis Chambers do it as well. If I’m playing sixteenth-notes on the double kick pedal, then I’m playing eighth-notes on the hi-hat. If I am playing triplets on the kick then I’m playing eighth-note triplet pulses on the hi-hat.
“It’s just keeping your pedals close together,” Reinert advises, “and using the wingspan of your shoe to cover both pedals. For the downbeat you are leaning in more to the hi-hat pedal to make the accent. And there will be a dynamic difference between the pedals. For me, the upbeat is more accented than the downbeat.”
But like many musicians who have extended their reach as their art has matured, Reinert believes less can be more. Nothing cynical about that.
“The more I get in tune with my instrument the more I realize it is absolutely about what you don’t play versus what you play,” Reinert says. “The things that catch my ear about my own playing is overplaying. Playing the right fill and doing something crazy is great, but it’s only great if it’s at the right moment and serves the music.”