Longtime Cynic bassist Sean Malone dies aged 50

Cynic's Sean Malone has died
(Image credit: YouTube/Pudding Broadcast)

Cynic’s Sean Malone, a pioneer of fretless bass and Chapman Stick in the metal world, has died aged 50. His passing was confirmed by Cynic guitarist and vocalist Paul Masvidal on his Facebook page. No cause of death has been revealed.

"I learned today that Sean Malone has died,” Masvidal wrote on Facebook “I am numb and grief stricken. He had a brilliant mind, a gracious heart and was one of the greatest musicians I've ever encountered.

"I know that this is a shocking loss for so many fans whose lives he touched with his artistry, as it is for me Please keep him in your thoughts and listen to his playing to celebrate his life."

Cynic was formed by Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert in Miami in the late ‘80s. Malone joined the band in time to perform on their 1993 debut, Focus, which has come to be widely regarded as a cornerstone of American prog metal.

Regarding his early years as a bassist, Malone once said, “I started playing when I was 16, simply infatuated with Rush and Yes, but more with Rush. All of my friends, in our air-bands, were playing air-guitar and air-drums, so I naturally became the air-bassist. But I think I was captivated by how Geddy managed to do all those things at once – bass, keys, singing – and for whatever reason it resonated with me. I loved the look of his Rickenbacker bass, too, same with Squire's.”

He continued, “Some friends in high school actually started playing in a band and I came over one day to watch. It was only drums and guitar, but they had a bass there, and they said, ‘Here, you play this ... put your fingers on these dots when I tell you to.’ And from what I remember, it wasn't that I was thinking, I don't know how to play a musical instrument, but it was more like, he's only using the first three frets or so ... I can manage that. And then three frets became four, then five, and it seemed like a big puzzle to me. I was hooked.”

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Cynic broke up soon after the Focus tour, and Malone found work as a session bassist, which he had also done earlier in his career. He performed on dozens of records and also authored four books: Music Theory for Bassists; Dictionary of Bass Grooves; Rock Bass and A Portrait of Jaco: The Solos Collection.

Malone also published papers on theory and music cognition, presented at music conferences and taught as an assistant professor of music theory at the University of Central Missouri and Carnegie Mellon University.

In 1996 Malone released a solo album, Cortlandt, and went on to form the progressive rock supergroup Gordian Knot, which also featured Steve Hackett, Bill Bruford, Dream Theater's John Myung, Watchtower's Ron Jarzombek and Fates Warning's Jim Matheos.

In 2006, Masvidal announced he was reuniting Cynic, and Malone came back onboard in time for 2008’s Traced in Air, credited with playing bass and Chapman Stick. He continued with the band through two more EPS – 2010’s Re-Traced and 2011’s Carbon-Based Anatomy – and a third full-length, 2014’s Kindly Bent to Free Us.

During this second run, Cynic were rightly hailed as one of metal’s more experimental and innovative acts.

Following Malone’s death, Mike Portnoy wrote on Twitter:

“Totally shocked and sad to hear of Sean Malone’s passing...he was a tremendous bass and stick player that I had the pleasure of working with many times through the years. He was my Geddy in Cygnus & The Sea Monsters.”

Malone is the second Cynic member to pass away in 2020; in January, drummer Sean Reinert died at the age of 48 after being found unresponsive at his home. 

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.