CYNIC — Focus

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CYNIC - Focus cover
4.07 | 65 ratings | 12 reviews
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Album · 1993

Tracklist

1. Veil of Maya (5:23)
2. Celestial Voyage (3:40)
3. The Eagle Nature (3:30)
4. Sentiment (4:23)
5. I'm but a Wave to... (5:30)
6. Uroboric Forms (3:32)
7. Textures (4:42)
8. How Could I (5:29)

Total Time: 36:13

Line-up/Musicians

- Jason Gobel / guitar
- Sean Malone / fretless bass
- Paul Masvidal / guitar, lead vocals
- Sean Reinert / drums, percussion
- Tony Teegarden / throaty vocals

About this release

RoadRunner Records RR 9169-2

Thanks to UMUR, siLLy puPPy for the updates

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CYNIC FOCUS reviews

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UMUR
"Focus" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Florida based progressive metal act Cynic. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in September 1993. Cynic had been around since 1987 though, and had been an integral part of the early Florida death metal scene, releasing no less than four demo cassette tapes in the years 1988-1991. It took a while to find the right label and get signed, and the release of "Focus" was further delayed by the session work/touring that the members of the band did for/with other acts in the early 90s. Original bassist Tony Choy (who was replaced by Sean Malone for the recording of "Focus") recorded with both Pestilence and Atheist (and eventually joined and toured with the latter), guitarist Jason Gobel recorded the "Imperial Doom (1992)" album with Monstrosity, and drummer Sean Reinert and lead vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal recorded the "Human (1991)" album with Death and subsequently toured with Death in support of the album. Masvidal also recorded guitars for the "On the Seventh Day God Created... Master (1991)" album by Master. So they were definitely a busy bunch in those years.

So Cynic were known as a death metal act and therefore the sound on "Focus" came as a bit of a surprise to the contemporary death metal community. Stylistically the album features occasional death metal heaviness and aggressive snarling vocals (courtesy of session vocalist Tony Teegarden from Epitaph as Masvidal had serious issues with his voice and couldn´t record the extreme type vocals for the album), but there is a major jazz/fusion influence in both the choice of notes/chords, the guitar solos, and the on the drumming style. Add to that Masvidal´s robotic vocoder delivered "clean" vocals and spiritual/philosophical lyrics and a generally ambient ethereal atmosphere to the music, and "Focus" is anything but a regular early 90s US death metal release. The fact that they were often refered to as a death metal act, when a label like technical/progressive metal would probably have been more appropriate, and they ended up touring in support of Cannibal Corpse and receiving quite a hostile reaction from many audiences at the time, were probably contributing factors when they decided to call it quits already in 1994. They did reach an audience who praised the bold originality of the album, but "Focus" has become more retrospectively recognized than it ever was upon release. Not completely unlike the story of "Spheres (1993)" by Pestilence. The contemporary metal scene apparently weren´t ready for that revolution yet.

"Focus" is an exceptionally strong and original sounding release though. The alien sounding vocoder vocals are probably an aquired taste, but they create an almost futuristic sounding counterweight to the raw snarling vocals, and provide the album with a very distinct vocal sound. Guitar synthesizers are also used (so what sounds like keyboards on the album are actually guitars played through synth effects) and further enhances the feeling that you are listening to something completely alien. The two guitarists play different guitar lines, chords, leads/rhythms constantly, and are complimented by the fretless bass playing, and the ever changing time signatures and rhythms. It´s multi harmony and rhythmically very complex music.

"Focus" was recorded at Morrisound Recording in Tampa, Florida with producer Scott Burns, and while he successfully captures the essence of heaviness, the album does feature a slightly thin sounding production job. It´s mostly the distorted guitars which could have prospered from a more meaty tone, but on the other hand, it is a sound production, where the listener is able to hear all details. Overall the sound production suits the music well.

The material on the 8 track, 36:13 minutes long album are well written, quite catchy and melodic for music as complex as this generally is. It´s a varied and dynamic album too, where each track stand out as something special and outstanding. Tracks like "Veil of Maya", "I'm but a Wave to...", and "How Could I" are all tracks featuring both atmospheric acoustic moments and more aggressive heavy moments (the latter also features one of the most beautiful guitar solos (the closing solo) I´ve ever heard), while tracks like "Sentiment" and "Textures" stand out for other reasons. "Sentiment" is an atmospheric track with spiritual lyrics and "Textures" is an instrumental jazz/fusion track (with some metal elements).

Upon conclusion "Focus" is a unique release. It was unique in 1993 and it´s unique today. Sure there had been other artists like Watchtower, Sieges Even, and Atheist, who before Cynic did, had incorporated jazz/fusion elements to their brand of metal, but Cynic still managed to create their own sound with a focus on atmosphere/spiritual ambience. It´s not only a unique release it´s also an outstanding one and a 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.
siLLy puPPy
This is an album that is guaranteed to piss off the purists. It's not death metal enough. It's not jazz enough. It's not progresesive enough. Waaa! Get over it. This album has taken me a long time to appreciate and not to come off as some BS elitist but geez. Such complex music doesn't hit you upon first listen or even the tenth. Yes. There exists music that takes multiple listens to fully take in to “get.” FOCUS, the debut album by CYNIC is one of those such albums. There are definitely hooks to be had on this album but they will surely rub you the wrong way as they unfold unless you are a fan of a multitude of genres of the musical spectrum.

Let's start with metal. They are indeed a metal band but only in amplification, death metal vocals and thrash metal performance of the chords. The chords themselves are firmly placed in the jazz-fusion branch of progressive rock. In fact dare I say that CYNIC is the Mahavishnu Orchestra of extreme metal? Perhaps so. Electronica. God forbid. What are these funky Floridians thinking for frack's sake? Yes, they use a strange electronic embellishment to enhance the vocals but there is also a sound of electronic music mingled in with the wholeness of this project. Sacrilegious? Perhaps. Satisfying because this band knows no arbitrary boundaries? Fer sure.

CYNIC were simply in their own world. They took their influences and put them together in a way they saw fit at the time. Would I have done things differently? Of course. But I am judging this album because this band simply did things their way in a time when that wasn't very popular to do so. This album has become much more popular over time as many a progressive rock album has since its release. What can I say? They melodies are a brilliant mix of melody, harmony, dissonance, brutality, tenderness, accessibility and avant-garde all jumbled together. Yes, it is easy to find faults with this album at first listen because it doesn't measure up to YOUR personal take on how this fusion should have arisen but did you do anything better? If taken on its own merits from the time it was released it is a musical masterpiece that not only takes many listens to fully comprehend but rewards greatly once those walls of “getting it” have fully been broken down.

Genres are simply nomenclature that someone else created to sort things into digestible arenas but when one realizes that music is a series of spectrums that demand careful assignment and occasionally tagged exceptionalism then it is easier to embrace albums such as FOCUS that don't easily fit into any. Upon first listen I liked this album. Upon quite a few I love it. This is not only a cornerstone in metal music but a brilliant piece of art that works on so many levels once a full comprehension of influences has fully been embraced. I hope you don't let your initial impressions impede you from letting this album grow on you. It is one of those rare pieces of music that can take your breath away after countless listens. Absolutely brilliant.
Sinkadotentree
I remember reading an article about this band and they talked about releasing this album in 1993 and how weird it was not having any like-minded bands to hang out with let alone play with. This was a unique recording, they were trailblazers and as such felt very alone. They disbanded a year later only to see in the many years that followed countless bands who were inspired by this record. This Florida based band offered up a very technical and complex album with growly and processed vocals. Reinert on drums and Malone on bass are a combo i'll never pass up. Kind of like fries and gravy for me. These guys are flat out amazing plus we get two guitarists to round out the sound. Without question this is a must for fans of technical music
Warthur
Cynic's debut album is certainly an impressive achievement which proves that they had great chops both as a death metal band and as a jazz fusion band, but at the same time I don't quite think it's the all-time classic it's sometimes made out to be. Though the technical death metal sections on the album and the jazz fusion sections are great, too often that's just what they are - sections, with the band not quite going far enough in integrating both approaches; a lot of the time instead of playing both styles simultaneously in a genuine mingling of the genres, they'll play a death metal bit, then a fusion bit, then another death metal bit, and so on. Still, they're good bits.
Conor Fynes
'Focus' - Cynic (7/10)

The first half of the 1990's was a very important time for extreme metal. While the Norwegian black metallers were out getting infamous for church burnings and murder, the Florida death metal scene was really taking shape. With such now-legendary acts as Death and Athiest getting their foot in the door by throwing in a bit of jazz into their extreme thrash sound, Cynic would take its own form on the heels of these giants and create a classic in their own right. A guitarist with experience in Death as a backing guitarist for Chuck Schuldiner, Paul Masvidal was already an established musician in metal at the time his flagship project's debut album took form. Now considered an essential piece of work for progressive death metal, 'Focus' certainly shows a great band in action, but like so many essentials of the genre, it is something I find more appreciation in its historical context than the music itself.

Being a relative newcomer to the music of this band, I was first introduced to Cynic through 'Traced In Air', the band's second album that was released a long 14 years after a hiatus. With that in mind, I cannot help but to compare this record with that one. While 'Traced In Air' has since become one of my favourite metal records of all time, this one feels far less intentioned than its successor. Regardless, the music here is as technical and complex as it would ever be for Cynic; blistering riffs, the drumwork of an atomic clock, and plenty of weird psychedelia to give the jazzier elements of this album an even darker feeling than the metal elements.Possibly Cynic's most distinct aspect are the vocals, in which frontman Paul Masvidal sings through a vocorder to give his voice a futuristic, 'robot' sound. Alongside him is Tony Teegarden, who apprises the growls on 'Focus'. While I was always in big favour of the clean vocals on 'Traced', 'Focus' shows Masvidal taking the robot sound perhaps a little too far, and the technicality rarely works well to incorporate the vocal melodies; which are rarely too well integrated. Instead, 'Focus' focuses (pun by all means intended) on the more death metal and weird aspects of Masvidal's genius.

As far as the metal goes here, 'Focus' is in top form. Unrelenting technicality of riffs, strong growls and fair dynamic go hand in hand. Unfortunately, what is quite clearly brilliant musicianship and technical composition gets marred somewhat by the relatively weak production. The jazzier guitar elements fare a bit better, especially on such a track as 'Textures', which showcases Paul scaling through frenetics as if he is being chased by a demon. As for the psychedelia incorporated here, it's quite a mixed bag; some sounds (such as the opening synth on 'How Could I') are incredibly tacky and weak-sounding, while the soundscapes generally work to give a spiritual side to Cynic's debut that isn't seen on other Floridan death metal albums.

A very good album by all accounts, and certainly influential. It is the production here though that really takes its toll on the music, and while immensely indicative of the band's talent, it feels often more like a brilliant, yet grossly flawed work over any label of perfection.
Xaxaar
Cynic's Focus

Focus was an absolute turning point in the death metal genre. This album was released in 1993 and nothing sounded like it (the closest you could probably get was either Human by Death or Unquestionable Presence by Atheist). The hilights are definitely near the beginning and end of the album, but the variety you get with this album is ridiculous. There are beautiful instrumentals, fast paced proggy songs, and just songs which are just plain masterfully crafted. Anyone who appreciates technical and beautiful aspects in their death metal should not pass this album up. A wonderful masterpiece of art that is way ahead of its time and still holds water to this day as brilliant. If all the songs were as good as How Could I, Veil of Maya, and Textures, this album could have taken itself to the next level. All though like I said, the variety the rest of the songs give warrant a 4 star rating.
Triceratopsoil
While I understand why some people love this album so much, it just doesn't quite do it for me. The music is absolutely fantastic, a wonderful jazzy fusion of progressive rock and death metal, but the vocals - high pitched and electronic - are a huge turn-off for me. Still, if that is something you like, you will doubtlessly find this album to be excellent. The growls are still good, and I wish that all of the vocals were growled.

Focus is an album that is definitely at least worth trying, for anybody, even if you end up not liking it.
Time Signature
Textures...

Genre: progressive jazz vocoder death metal

"Focus" was really different from anything else released within the extreme metal scene of the early 90s, and, like Death and Atheist, Cynic managed to come up with something unique and ahead of its time. In fact, "Focus" was som much ahead of its time that a lot of people just didn't get it, which is one of the factors leading to the band splitting up shortly after the release of the album.

Listening to "Focus" with its ever driving complex metal riffage and very clear influences from jazz fusion (and there's enough jazz fusion there for the term jazz metal to be a fitting one, I think) and the mix of Paul Masvidal's robotized high pitched vocals and death growls is probably a challenging experience to both metalheads and jazz fans alike. Fortunately for me, I was able to appreciate "Focus" upon first listen.

I totally love the robotized vocals, which, I might add, are very popular in mainstream pop and R 'n' B music now (another indicator of Cynic being ahead of their time), and the dynamics between this type of vocals and death growls just works wonderfully. The guitar riffs are merciless and extremely complex and incorporate many unusual (at least to the listener who is not into jazz) jazz chords, while Sean Reinert's drumming is dynamic and add a whole other percussive element to the album. Also, the bass lines, rather than being clones the guitar riffs, often consist of independent ostinatos, and, luckily, the bass is audible enough for the listener to be able to hear and appreciate this. Another force of the album is the way many of the compositions oscillate between overdriven and crystal clear clean guitar sections, creating an interesting dynamic tension.

Especially mentionable songs are "Veil of Maya", "The Eagle Nature", "Uroboric Forms" (my favorite) and the jazz fusion-based "Textures" (my other favorite).

I'd recommend this album to any fan of Atheist and Pestilence's "Spheres" as well as any open-minded adventurous fan of metal, progressive rock and jazz fusion.

(review originally posted on progarchives.com)
The Angry Scotsman
Death Metal. To those who are not fans, (and probably some that are) we think of unrelenting, grinding guitars, cookie monster-esque growling, blasts beats and blazing solos. To those less informed musical minds death metal is an ungodly mess of music, and it certainly could not compatible with much else.

As I was getting into the world of progressive music I thought the same. However, Death Metal can indeed be taken into unique directions. This album is one of the most unique works of metal created. A true blend of Jazz influence and Death Metal. Unlike most prog/tech metal bands which have abrupt section changes this album is fairly smooth flowing, even in its transitions between death metal and jazz. The drumming of Sean Reinert is brilliant and very jazz influenced. The guitar work of Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel is creative, intricate and just amazing. Adding to the jazzy feel is Sean Malone on fretless bass, (one of the few times you'll hear a fretless bass in Metal!) and it has that distinct warm, "thumpy" feel, unique to a fretless bass. We then have Tony Teegarden handling keyboards and death growls. This is contrasted with Masvidal and his "robotic" vocals, via vocoder.

The music on this album is truly great. Despite its heavy jazz influence it is indeed rooted in death metal, and you can hear it in the riffing, double bass drumming, and of course death growls. However, for a metal head it may take some getting used to, (it did for me at first) since these are not the heavy, crushing riffs we're used to. Also, speaking of getting used, Masvidal's robotic vocals are the only real knock on this album. It took A LOT of getting used to for me, as it is not only different but flat out strange. Eventually I did, and it really is a great contrast to the death growls and gives the album a unique feel.

There is no weak song on this album. Every one is a winner. I do not want to give away any details so I will just say that Veil of Maya, How Could I, and the surprising Textures, are the standout tracks. The songs are not too long, so they do not boring and really don't have any down parts. The musicianship is superb and while every instrument is great, and works together well, as a drummer I am struck most by Sean Reinert's drumming. Truly spectacular stuff.

This is an amazing album. Musically, this album is perfect. No other way to put it. The robotic vocals are a bit annoying, but if you can put them aside it's not that major an issue. Masterpiece.

Five Stars
J-Man
How Could I?

Cynic's Focus is often considered to be one of the best prog/technical death metal albums from 1993 - which is surely no small achievement when one considers the competition. Individual Thought Patterns by Death, Elements by Atheist, and Spheres by Pestilence are just a few classics from that year. So why is Focus among these classic albums? For one, this is a groundbreaking album in extreme metal; surely among the most important in progressive death metal. Second, the music has all the ingredients for a masterpiece. Technical riffs, a complex rhythm section, and heavy yet beautiful melodies should create the perfect extreme prog metal album, and in a way it does. But the music itself is rarely interesting for me. There are a few bits here and there that I absolutely adore, but most of the music here just doesn't grab me. It's as if this album has all the right ingredients to make the perfect cake, but the chef left it in the oven for far too long. Yes, he did the most important part correctly, but the end result is still less than what it should be.

Despite the fact that I find Focus to be slightly overrated, it still is one mighty fine, and unique, album. The music here is not something you find too often in other acts. The best label I can give Focus is technical progressive jazz death/thrash. You could say that Cynic is similar to Atheist, and in many ways they are, but Cynic has a much different sound than Atheist even though they can both fit the same genre label. There are some weird "roboto" vocals on Focus, the production is spacey, and the music is generally softer than Atheist. Still, if you like Atheist, Cynic should be right up your alley. However, be warned - I love Atheist, but Cynic has never appealed to me as much.

Focus is an 8-track, 36:13 album. Of the 8 tracks, there are only a few truly great songs. They would be the opening Veil of Maya, the haunting I'm But A Wave To... and the instrumental Textures. Most of the other songs are good, but not very memorable or just compositionally flawed. In almost every song, however, there are a few moments of genius. If Cynic were generally better songwriters, this album could've been much better.

The musicianship on Focus is, obviously, fantastic. If you know anything about these musicians, you'd know that they're all fantastic. Their playing is tight and precise, and work together as a unit perfectly. My only complaint with Cynic in terms of musicianship is the vocals, which I find to be sub-par. Tony Teegarden's throaty growls are very annoying IMO, and I really wish Cynic would have someone else take over the harsh vocals. I can't say I'm a fan of the roboto vocals either. If Cynic would've found an adequate growler, and a solid clean vocalist (rather than the roboto stuff), I would probably be much more impressed.

The production is a bit of a problem. Although the spacey atmosphere is definitely appropriate, it could have been executed much better. The sound is very rough, and actually destroys most of my listening experience. The drums sound especially weak on Focus.

Conclusion:

Focus is an unquestionably classic album by Cynic. If you're interested in extreme progressive metal, I have no hesitation in calling Focus essential. The technical riffs, unique style, and relevance in the Florida technical death metal scene make this album worth a purchase, but the music itself tends to disappoint me. Thus, the highest rating I can give is 3 stars. Despite my lack of interest, this is an album every progressive death metal fan should hear at some point.

Members reviews

Isa
A staple in the history of the jazz-fusion death metal scene.

An excellent addition to any metal collection indeed! The album Focus is the debut of the well-known band from the jazz-fusion/death metal scene called Cynic. It was forged in the early-mid nineties, when this sort of metal was most popular in the metal scene, hence the uprising of bands like Atheist, Pestilence, and Death. There is a great variation of sound on the work: metal with styles of speed, death growls, and technicality, and progressive jazz-fusion with clean chorused-guitar, asymmetric meter, clean vocals with effects, and complex composition.

The musicianship here is staggering. There is a studio split of two guitars, and the bass is fret-less (!) and you have alternating usage of the death vocals and clean vocals, which is very charming. Many of the electric guitar riffs have the double picked riffs (where the rhythm is sixteenth notes while the melodic riff is eighths), very characteristic even in the band, including in their follow up album Traced in Air. The composition is often head spinning, usually either sounding like a fast version of Death or a sort of prog-rock sounding Chick Corea, and everything in between. This is an album that definitely takes multiple listens to understand very well, to say the least. This music would be incredibly fun to play for the few who would be skilled enough to play it decently.

To compare to the recently released follow up Traced in Air, this album is definitely on the heavier side (the band became much more tame on their follow up), more technical and less melodic. However, the riffs and composition overall is superior and more interesting in the opinion of this reviewer. While Tranced in Air probably has a few tracks that certainly are up to par, the overall album is less consistent in quality. The only even slightly mediocre tracks on Focus are "Eagle Nature"and "I'm But a Wave To..." and the rest are superb, my favorite being Textures, a very fun and complicated heavy jazz-fusion piece.

This is an essential album for any fan of of progressive metal, and highly recommended for heavy metal fans in general.

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