Home > Music > Cynic – Focus (1993)

Cynic – Focus (1993)

I’m in a nostalgic mood as of writing this. “Focus” by Cynic is almost certainly what sealed my fate as a metalhead. It lured me in early in 2009 with a substantial jazz/progressive rock infusion, and then sharpened my ability to listen to amplified guitars and ‘harsh’ vocals; elements I’ve realized this album doesn’t have all that much of in retrospect. Compared to a lot of normal music, though, ‘some’ is most certainly more than ‘none’, but Cynic is known more for their technical achievements than their contributions to death metal’s megatrends in brutality.

By now, most people are familiar with the arc of this band’s career – they started out as just another hopeful death metal band from Florida in the 1980s, then built up their musicianship and outside influences until they released this. Then, in 2008, they came back as basically a pure fusion band, which may or may not be to your liking. Mind you, before this came out in 1993, a surprisingly large amount of metal bands had experimented with jazz influences – Watchtower and Pestilence come to mind. This is still a rather unique sounding album due to the way it blends its influences.

The infamous vocoded vocals definitely drew me in; there aren’t very many bands in the genre that use them. Either way, they (along with some added female vocals) soften this album significantly. Considering this, along with a near paucity of blast beats, most of this album’s aggression is provided by the guitars, which by themselves end up playing plenty of jazz fusion inspired riffs. The drumming is similar to that on Atheist’s album Unquestionable Presence, in that it’s heavily varied and rarely shows off straight beats. One should note that Atheist’s drummer played much faster on that album than Sean Reinert did on this one. Either way, I would still consider this primarily a guitar and bass fest – they play a lot of intricate material that was basically candy to my slightly younger ears. For instance, the lead-in track “Veil of Maya” has guitar leads for most of its duration playing counterpoint to the bass, even outside the solo section in the middle. As previously alluded to, the actual speed of the music is often slower than that of many death metal bands; it even rarely measures up to what two of this band’s members (Paul Masvidal and Reinert) managed on Death’s 1991 album, Human. Still, the instrumentation remains much more ‘active’ in terms of ornamentation and harmonic changes, hence the ‘technical’ label.

So Focus definitely influenced my musical tastes in the years after I first experienced it. But despite everything, I would say it did not particularly influence the direction extreme metal took, at least in its early years. Mostly, that was a matter of distribution; not as many people ended up listening to this as Atheist, Suffocation, Cryptopsy, etc for the first few years of its existence. Cynic also had a good deal of personal problems in the early 1990s that delayed the actual recording of this album, but luckily, the internet came along at the right time, and gave this album a degree of enduring fame. It definitely stands up as a work in its own right, and a benchmark for contemporary ‘technical’ metal.

Highlights: “Veil of Maya”, “I’m But A Wave To…”, “Textures”

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