CYNIC – Focus ORIGINAL CD Roadrunner records RR 9169-2 1993 rare true 1. press / NOT A BOOTLEG/
bar code 0 16861-9169-23
matrix SONOPRESS H-2132 / RR91692 A1
Release date: June 13th, 1993
Label: Roadrunner Records
1. Veil of Maya 05:23
2. Celestial Voyage 03:40
3. The Eagle Nature 03:31
4. Sentiment 04:24
5. I’m But a Wave To… 05:31
6. Uroboric Forms 03:32
7. Textures 04:42 instrumental
8. How Could I 05:29
Progressive Metal, Technical Death Metal, Jazz Fusion
Descriptors: technical, philosophical, complex, introspective, progressive, spiritual, psychedelic, male vocals, futuristic, heavy
Cynic may be the most underrated technical death metal band since the genre’s inception. The balance showcased throughout the band’s 1993 debut, ‘Focus,’ has influenced countless bands, but no act has quite been able to replicate Cynic’s sophistication.
Throwing in jazz-fusion and progressive rock elements in with their Florida death metal roots, Cynic presented an album that is fundamentally perfect years later, ‘Focus’ hasn’t aged a day, and if you were to play the album for someone who had never heard Cynic, you could easily convince them that ‘Focus’ was released last week.
This definitely a progressive Death Metal masterpiece. The album is ahead of it’s time and has inspired some of the modern day progressive Metal/Death Metal bands such as obscura and Veil of Maya. It’s worth the buy if you’re a fan of this type of metal
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing!!!
This is a superb piece of music, and if you look hard enough you can find the live set which is performed almost to the note! Its very listenable, technical death metal (kind of) with synth vocals but don’t let that put you off. Listen to it now!
Cavalcade of Weird Albums, Pt. 2 – 99%
Focus is, without a doubt, the single most daring album to come out of the Florida death metal scene. Who but Cynic would have ever thought to create a complex yet atmospheric and meditative mix of jazz fusion, prog, and death metal, much less achieve such a sublime sound with their chosen oddball elements? Released only six years after Death’s full-length debut, Focus marked a massive leap forward in terms of what was possible within the death metal template and, while the album can’t be said to fall strictly, or even primarily, into an extreme metal context, Cynic’s magnum opus proves itself to be remarkably far ahead of its time.
Focus exists at a cosmic crossroads between Obituary, Return to Forever, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Their ability to seamlessly work the driving bounce of death metal riffs, thoughtful, subdued textures, and complicated yet purposeful polyrhythmic noodling into their dense sonic tapestry continues to amaze no matter how many times you’ve heard the material. These are combinations that shouldn’t work but never sound anything less than divinely inspired. Some parts of this album deliver a zen, mind-purifying atmosphere, like the spacy interlude in ‘Veil of Maya’ and some parts have the rollicking propulsion of traditional death metal, albeit with a hyperactive bass that flails with a sense of purpose all over the place. The band’s effectiveness in switching from softer to harder sections almost defies belief. Sometimes the shift is abrupt and sometimes the band transitions subtly from one to the other or even plays energetic progressions and zen passages at the same time, like in parts of ‘Celestial Voyage’ that combines serene vocals with a bouncing metal rhythm section. ‘I’m but a Wave to…’ is a notable piece, shuffling and grooving along like an alternate universe version of Pantera that gave this ‘progressive’ thing a try and nailed it. In contrast, ‘Sentiment’ is the most obvious examples of the album’s atmospheric strengths, a piece built almost entirely on textured string instruments and subtle percussion. Despite the vast differences in the levels of heaviness and subtlety between these two songs (and even individual sections of other songs), the album never seems to jump from one tone to another. Somehow, Cynic was able to craft an album that mimics a river with a flow that’s at times slow and peaceful and at other times fast and treacherous.
Such a sublime flow wouldn’t be possible without these performances, which are nothing short of amazing. The bass is always noticeable and often unpredictable, bouncing madly along under the surface. Bassist Sean Malone also lends the album quite a bit of expressive and melodically appealing textures when he takes his turn at the Chapman stick. Guitarists Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel are capable of playing crunchy riffs, intricate polyrhythms, and sparse ambient bits in equal measures. Their solos are particularly commendable, eschewing the shredding insanity endemic to death metal and focusing instead on calmer, jazzier, and more expressive excursions that carry a cosmic vibe. Drummer Sean Reinert, meanwhile, provides some subtle drumwork that isn’t without its share of jaw-dropping fills as well as some relaxing percussion reminiscent of the “ethnic” hand drum rhythms you might hear coming from the speakers behind a yoga instructor, particularly in ‘Sentiment’.
Despite all the madness, this album bears a remarkable clarity. The songwriting is incredibly intricate and tight but it stays just loose enough for the listener to actually notice and appreciate the album’s complexities. All these elements are brought together in what is likely the best mix of Scott Burns’ career, one that gives all the instruments the prominence they need and deserve. Cynic walked one tightrope after another as they made this album and the most crucial one was the challenge of crafting a dense, complex album that was just spacy enough to be inviting rather than intimidating, one that highlighted all the instruments and gave people a chance to perceive all the musical interactions the band demonstrates.
You may have noticed this review has called very little attention to the album’s vocal performances. Well, that’s because the bizarre and controversial nature of the oft-maligned “robot vocals” warrants its own paragraph. While these odd pitch-shifted voices are certainly difficult to get used to, give them time. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that they’re a crucial part of this band’s vision. At first, they may sound to you like some autotune bullshit but, with a few listens, you should understand what Cynic is going for. Those vocals and the alien aura they possess are a crucial part of the band’s vision, a voice simultaneously mechanical and celestial. A one-man choir of robotic angels bearing a message of salvation from some kind of utopian future. These vocals appears in every song except the instrumental ‘Textures’, providing a mystical yet futuristic flavoring that settles comfortably into some calming sections and soars triumphantly over knottier moments as is heard in the mesmerizing choruses of ‘The Eagle Nature’.
Having arisen from a scene with more than its share of samey albums, Focus is a startling reminder of what’s possible with the right amount of inspiration, intelligence and chutzpah. Cynic looked so far beyond what their contemporaries were doing and, armed with a startlingly sharp vision, created a sublime experience that’s tranquil, chaotic, aggressive, and hopeful, sometimes all at once. And yet, despite the album’s complexity and the numerous shades of emotion being expressed, the members of Cynic never seem to be attempting to do more than they’re capable of. Similarly, there’s no point in the album where things butt awkwardly into each other. Focus is by turns intricate, sparse, dazzling, and sublime but somehow the whole thing manages to be as smooth as pudding. When it comes to albums that roll unusual genres together into a cohesive whole, Focus is almost impossible to top.
Absolutely Legendary – 100%
Cynic is a metal band unlike any other, and “Focus” is one of those majestic and groundbreaking albums that occurred as a perfect storm of technical death metal, progressive metal and even bits of jazz-fusion all into one. With inspirations drawing from everywhere from Chick Corea, Frank Zappa to the traditional thrash and death metal bands, “Focus” stands as perhaps one of the greatest albums to combine metal and jazz together on this unique occasion. It is quite ironic to think that Cynic started out with a complete straightforward thrash and death metal sound on their first demo recording before completely changing their identity and sound as a metal band on their first full length album. Now onto the brilliant lineup that took metal and jazz to both it’s extreme limits; Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert and Sean Malone who are probably some of the most skilled and talented musicians in the metal realm, should be recognized more outside the metal world for their exquisite and diverse musicianship in my opinion.
The opening track “Veil of Maya” is such a beautiful track that blends a flurry of organized chaos at one instant before shifting suddenly to a lush and spacey jazz sequence where the guitar work seems ever changing and soothing, along the bass that has a transcendental effect and plays such an important role with the excellent drumming which follows the guitar and bass extremely well and is quite a remarkable display of blending two different styles of drumming at once. An aspect of “Focus” that I found to be very unique was that the robotic and harsh death metal vocals used together by Cynic were greatly executed and never before performed by any metal band. A track that perfectly shows the combination of robotic and death metal vocals was “Celestial Voyage” which contains probably the greatest guitar solos in metal showing how melody and technical complexity can create something so delicate yet insanely beautiful and imaginatively inspiring.
Every track on “Focus” sounds so different from one another and they all flow together beautifully. Whether it is the captivating instrumental “Textures” or the haunting and spiritual track “Sentiment”, it is one of the few albums that I consider every track to be stellar. Each musician also has their own highlights on each track, for Sean Reinert it would be speedy and quite complex drum patterns on “How Could I?”, for Sean Malone it would be spacey and jazzy bassline on “Uroboric Forms’ and for Paul Masvidal it would be his transcendental guitar solos on both tracks “Celestial Voyage” and “I’m But a Wave To…” As a music fan would enjoys a wide range of music and particularly diverse metal bands, I am quite grateful that an amazing album like Focus was released during this particular time.
There is something about Cynic that makes them so downright exceptional and legendary, whether it is the fact that they influenced future metal bands such “Veil of Maya” or “Textures” who adopted their band names after the songs on “Focus,” or is it because Cynic was one of the very few metal bands to go experiment and explore into the unfamiliar territory of jazz and metal alike. Although I mentioned few of the many reasons why Cynic is important to the metal world, everything that makes up the art of Cynic is so brilliantly done, whether it’s the artwork, the musicianship, the track titles or even the robotic vocals, and it would be very difficult to imagine what metal would be like without albums like “Focus” who push the limits of the genre. Cynic are definitely musical heroes and some of the most respected and influential musicians to many in the metal community. As a concluding statement, “Focus” helped show how diverse, experimental and musically talented metal can be as a genre.
One of a kind – 95%
Though you could quite easily accuse this album of being a little bit of a mess stylistically, I think the daring nature of Focus is what makes it work best. One thing’s for sure: despite the hyper technical death/thrash direction they were heading towards and their amazing 1990 and 1991 demos, Cynic’s debut album is not death metal in the slightest. Sure, the technicality associated with death metal is there, and there are some harsh vocals, but really this is an altogether different kind of thing. An impressive blend of fusion and progressive music tied together with technical metal and psychedelia. Bands such as Atheist, Death and Pestilence had been experimenting in the same way around this time, but Focus is arguably the most “far out” of these excursions. I get the feeling these guys were really jazz musicians beginning to break out, as opposed to metal musicians dabbling in fusion influences.
The musicianship on display here is absolutely stellar, mindblowing yet tasteful. No wank to be found. By this point half of Cynic had been featured on Death’s ground-breaking Human album two years prior, and listening to the 90/91 demos their chops were already clearly in place. Guitarists Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel weave intricate melodies (including some absolutely brilliant soloing, some of my favourite ever) around the diverse percussion of Sean Reinert who gives a notably subtle performance with some excellent fills, though he does turn on the double bass pedals when the intensity demands it. There are a variety of different guitar sounds at use, including some great clean tones and some guitar synth textures. Bass extraordinaire Sean Malone contributes some astonishing fretless playing, and even uses a Chapman Stick on one song (perhaps the first time this was done on a metal album). He totally has his own voice amongst the rest of the music, and makes it heard. The vocals are the one thing that is likely to put off some listeners, the vocoder effect does seem to take a little getting used to for some, personally I have always liked it. There are bits of whispering and clean vocals used sparingly at other moments, and though the death vocals by Tony Teegarden are quite firmly in the Schuldiner style, they do fit the album very nicely and give it a bit more of a sharp edge. The lyrics are mysterious yet relatable, concerned with personal and cosmic themes. I really like them. There’s an instrumental piece too, where Malone gets a nice jazzy bass solo.
The production of Scott Burns is solid, and despite placing a definite early 90s time stamp on the album, allows everything to be heard nicely and I can’t really fault it. However, there’s a re-release of Focus that is well worth picking up for the remixes that improve quite considerably on the original, I found myself hearing things I didn’t know were there. I do hope that the whole thing eventually sees a remix, as word of it has been going around for some time and that’s something I’d really like to hear. After the release of this album Cynic disbanded and didn’t get back together until 2008 with Traced In Air which, while a worthy album in its own right, doesn’t quite measure up to this as far as I’m concerned. Though it may not click for everyone at first, and may never click for some, Focus remains a unique gem in extreme music.
An Amazing Display of Technicality – 94%
As I was getting more and more into different genres of metal, there was one band’s name that kept popping up quite often when indulging myself in the history of various bands. Eventually as some time passed, I managed to get to listen to their latest album: Traced in Air. Immediately I was swept away by how different this sounded. The main thing that really hit me were Paul’s vocoder vocals, which left me puzzled after listening to a few songs, even to the point of me stopping to listen to the album altogether. However, the release somehow managed to grow on me, and I began to get over Paul’s vocals and realise that they were actually part of the “atmosphere” of the music.
Anyhow, after listening to Traced in Air, I wanted to listen to the album that was so talked about amongst the metal community, their debut album Focus. Because I was used to the elements displayed in Traced in AIr, I was able to properly indulge myself into this music, and what can I say, this album is one of the best that I have heard in my life.
The vocals in this album are simply excellent, because it comprises of a trade off between the soothing vocoder vocals and some light death growls. The good thing about the growls (which some people seem to not like) is the fact that they are not overly guttural and loud, which prevents it from completely obliterating the illusion of adventure that is felt while listening to this album. The vocoder vocals are simply amazing and really calm me down everytime I give this album a listen, which is a slight change from most forms of metal.
The guitarwork on this album is of real high quality, with the majority of the two lead guitar parts being completely separate from each other. Instead of the usual boring arrangement of a lead guitar and a very dull rhythm guitar backing it, the two guitarists really explore their own individuality within their guitar parts, with them both usually playing completely different leads to each other.
The bass playing on this album really stands out from other bands. The band have, on this album, purposely put the bass higher into the musical mix, which again adds to this sense of atmosphere created by all the other parts. The playing is extremely well done by Sean Malone, showcasing his ability to play such complex lines of music, and in some sections even outdoing the guitars with his playing.
And now the drums. What can I say, Sean Reinert is just “god like” behind the drum kit. His fill-style of drum playing really lays down a great blueprint for the rest of the music, as it fits in perfectly and really drives the musical atmosphere forward, as well as avoiding to overdo the playing and destroying the music. The fact that this guy pulls off his drumming abilities live with ease is also mind-blowing.
In conclusion, this album to me is really as good as it has been hyped up to be. Although it may take some time to get over the “robotic” vocals, after a couple of listens you will begin to find it a lot easier to listen and eventually be able to indulge yourself in the wonderful diversity of sound that is explored throughout this album.
A Masterpiece of Progressive Death Metal – 97%
Like Atheist, Cynic completely redefined death metal with a huge dose of progressiveness. Yet even though both bands went for the same general idea, they both turned out completely different in terms of their actual musical output. With Focus, Cynic took the same general path as Atheist, while also reaffirming the point that eschewing genre norms can lead to a unique and creative masterpiece.
Focus is simply one of the best progressive death metal albums ever, yet oddly enough, there really isn’t too much straightforward death metal on here. Every track is filled with calm, soothing, almost jazzy interludes, but even with that, the riffs are also not very heavy. The general lack of heaviness on the riffs, however, is absolutely necessary. Riffs like Brutality’s simply wouldn’t fit with the constantly transitioning dynamic structure of Focus. These riffs are not heavy, but rather they add a bit to the generally abstract and celestial atmosphere created by the bass and the vocoder by seamlessly intertwining with them, yet by also being just heavy enough to maintain their identity in the song (a good example of this is around the 2:39 mark in ‘Sentiment’). The solos are also of top quality. While not as significant to the album as those of Unquestionable Presence, they are very technical and add great finishing touches to the songs (of course, with the most notable being the ending solo of ‘How Could I’).
Anyone listening to this album can easily tell you that the bass is almost as central, if not more central, to the music as the guitars. Simply put, this is one of the best bass performances on record. The bass rarely stays behind the guitars, instead weaving intricate melodies all over the album while also staying nice an high in the mix. This bass sound also significantly adds to the atmosphere I mentioned before, giving Focus an almost extraterrestrial-like vibe. In addition, this is a landmark death metal album in that it was one of the very few (including Atheist’s discography) to emphasize the bass as much as it does. This helped revolutionize the role of bass in death metal, making it much more active and creating another dimension to music that many bands were simply ignoring.
The drums are perfect. Really, that is all that needs to be said. Sean Reinert created some amazing rhythms on this album, both in the heavier sections and in the softer sections. Like Unquestionable Presence, the drums often implement multiple rhythms in very short spans of time while also maintaining great cohesiveness. To be blunt, there are very few parts here that you could hear in any other death metal band. Instead, this are all highly creative sections that give the music a high level of complexity.
Of course, the one point of debate amongst the metal community tends to be the vocals. The harsh vocals admittedly aren’t really good, but the do the job enough. The clean vocals, however, really add yet another dimension to this album and to death metal as a whole. To this album, it adds to the atmosphere I’ve touched on before. The inhuman, robotic nature of them fits amazingly well, and the vocoder really shines when the vocals are over a soft section in a song. But to death metal as a whole, it showed that clean vocals can be used. I’m actually really surprised that nobody has attempted to create a death metal album with entirely clean vocals in this vein, but there are many cases now where some death metal albums implement clean vocals in a few sections.
Some of the standout tracks are ‘Veil Of Maya’, ‘Sentiment’, ‘Uroboric Forms’, ‘Textures’, and ‘How Could I’. Note that I listed more than half of the album. That speaks for itself as to how great Focus is.
One of the best metal has to offer – 100%
In 1993 four amazing musicians released one of the defining moments in music history with Focus. Fusing death metal with jazz, speed with passion, aggression with beauty, and the present with the future, Cynic created a highly original work of art that has to be heard to be believed. They weren’t the first to mix metal with jazz but they perfected it with their debut album. There are so many new things this band tried but it all worked and came together like it always belonged that way. From programmed drums mixed with Reinert’s impressive playing, to jazz-tinged interludes, to death growls mixed with robotic singing, to the occasional female vocals, Focus is all over the place but it doesn’t sound inconsistent. The entire album flows easily through every song, never ceasing to amaze from start to finish.
Paul Masvidal − guitar, guitar synthesizer, vocals
Sean Reinert − drums, percussion, keyboards
Jason Gobel − guitar, guitar synthesizer
Sean Malone − bass, Chapman stick
Tony Teegarden − death grunts, keyboards
Guitars: Masvidal and Gobel perfectly intertwine their riffs and melodies around each other creating a deep, detailed sound. They both go in different directions but, when put together, they mesh into one coherent force. Solo duties are shared between the two, usually one each per song, and they’re quite capable at doing so. Masvidal and Gobel form an amazing guitar duo, perfectly complimenting each other’s strengths. They’re use of synthesizers only adds to the all around Cynic sound.
Bass: This is arguably the best bass performance on any metal album ever. Sean Malone plays his fretless bass with precision and perfection. It’s always audible and is one of the driving forces of Focus. It adds a smooth feeling rather than the pounding attack of most metal bassists. He also contributes a stunning and masterful bass solo in Textures. His bass playing really is something to behold. On top of that, he also plays a chapman stick in a few tracks, introducing yet another unique aspect of the band. It’s almost impossible to describe the amazing work that Malone lays down here…
Drums: Reinert is one of the best drummers out there, in any style of music. He’s quite possibly the best member of Cynic as far as mixing the heavy metal playing style with that of traditional jazz. There are no blast beats and he rarely uses the double bass drum, though there are key moments that he injects them to add emphasis to the heavier parts of the album. He skillfully uses accents and fills to keep everything interesting and his cymbal work is astonishing. Malone also encorporated programmed drums on some tracks, that further enhance the futuristic sound and approach they were hoping for.
Vocals: Cynic used not only the typical death growls of Tony Teegarden but Paul Masvidal sang through a vocoder-type effect. These two contrasting styles are split almost perfectly down the middle. Just as the music goes from soft jazzy parts to hard-hitting metal, the two vocal styles transition perfectly from one to another. The growls are not as deep and guttural as most death metal growls but are just as aggressive and add the right atmosphere throughout the album. The synthesized vocals are a clear highlight (in an album full of hightlights), making the music sound decades before it’s time (and it was). The full futuristic sound is realized through Masvidal’s unique vocals. In addition there are a few instances of some well-timed female vocals that don’t feel out of place.
Lyrics: The lyrics range from mystical and spiritual in nature to bettering oneself and various philosophical ideologies. Every song is inspirational in it’s own right, something that is rare throughout all metal genres. Cynic were giving the world new ideas and directions with every facet of their music and the lyrics are no exception.
Production: In order for all these amazing musical qualities to perfectly come together there must be a superb production job and that’s exactly what we get here. Scott Burns outdid himself with Focus. Every little direction each instrument ventures off into can be perfectly heard and focused on individually. This kind of crystal clear production allows multiple listens just to take in the diverse sounds and arrangements. The guys in Cynic couldn’t have asked for a better production job.
Overall Focus is an album for the ages. An album that should forever be remembered for everything it accomplished. Modern bands still haven’t caught up to this level of songwriting. This is an absolutely flawless work of art, a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
Completely original. – 96%
People claim that this is a Death Metal album, but I just don’t see that. Cynic apparently started out as a Thrash Metal band, but by the time they released this, their storied 1993 debut album, they had morphed into an entirely new beast. I can’t really call this anything other than Prog, because it really does progress, and in an entirely new direction from the then-infantile Dream Theater and their blend of Heavy Metal with Rush/Fates Warning-esque Prog Rock. Nothing else has ever sounded like this.
Cynic play a very technical, spacey style of music, with an open, hollow sort of production job that lets you hear every little note and every eccentric instrumental bit. The best way to describe it is that they take a vaguely Pink Floyd-ish Psychedelic Rock base and build upon it with Thrash Metal riffs and vocals that alternate between a harsh, blackened rasp and, more peculiarly, a robotic sort of warble that will definitely turn some more casual listeners off – but it fits the music, and for that I like it fine. There is a delicate sense of melody here that contrasts greatly with the reckless progressivism at hand, and it’s really something you have to hear to believe. Comparisons can be made to the inimitable Atheist, especially in the technical rhythm guitars and the drumming, but that’s just a surface comparison. Cynic are more Prog Rock than Atheist’s Jazz leanings, and their riffs are a good deal heavier and more metal than anything Atheist did after their debut album. With songs like “Veil of Maya,” the propulsive, almost Power Metal-ish “Celestial Voyage,” the fascinating voyage of “Sentiment,” with its tribal drum intro segueing into a utopia of progressive, soulful meanderings, and the dreary, psychedelically flavored instrumental “Textures,” Cynic will take you on an ethereal, mystical journey that you will never forget.
There are really no bad songs here. Cynic are technical, yes, but they never fall into the void that most modern bands do, that of no songwriting, just instrumental proficiency. They build upon already fascinating songs with layers of outer space brilliance and progressive refinement to create an absolutely stellar slice of Metal that will keep you coming back for more for years to come. Essential.
Technical and Enjoyable! – 95%
At first no one can really enjoy this album because there is basically no other band to my knowledge, that uses these kind of vocals. It’s like getting used to a whole new genre. Again. When you first started, death metal, for example: Was it hard to get used to the vocals? If this description does not fit you, then you will see once you start this album. Nothing prepares you for what you are about to face, so many sure your ears are open and ready to absorb all the new ideas soon to be heading to your ears. Just for comfort, most people who play an instrument bathe themselves in this album for long periods of time, because of how well it is crafted.
Lets start with the technically. Cynic defined technical metal with this album *and atheist). If you see some of their tablature on the main site (At www.cynicalsphere.com) you see that they do use time changes a lot. Some parts exist in basic 4/4 timing, others in 21/16 (Uroboric Forms). Playing in anything/8 time signatures can be hard, especially at high speeds, but playing something over /16 at the tempo for Uroboric Forms just messes with the mind.
The abundance of well crafted solos is also quite a relief, as this tends to be lacking in technical metal bands. Most tech-death bands will actually try and make their solo really ‘amazing’ and impossible to perform, but this cuts into the overall effect. In Focus, this is not the case. Whether its an arpeggio from Veil of Maya, to the amazing Jazz-Metal fusion solo at the end of How Could I, the guitar work proves to be consistently hard to play and amazing to the ear. The drumming by Sean Reinert and his jazz-feel that he brings to the table makes Cynic a band that stands out. He layers 12/8 all over the place, and manages to use 4/4 timing for his double bass pattern (If you know jazz and be-bop this isn’t hard at all). In some places it is just impossible to copy. Lastly on our bass, Sean Malone, doing all his dirty work without much notice. Its actually audible this time, which is nice. He doesn’t slack of either… and manages to actually mix up the bass notes instead of going 1-1-1-1-2-2-2-2 like most bassists today.
There is three parts to this album:
1. Metal intro
2. Abstract middle
3. Versatile end
Let me go into extreme detail:
1. Metal intro: You can see through Veil of Maya, Celestial Voyage, and Eagle Nature, that they contain heavy riffs, odd time signatures, and soothing parts to each of them. Veil of Maya has its African Bossa Nova/Samba Briza break, Celestial Voyage has its otherworldy chorus-ending, and Eagle Nature has its famous ending. These are your three main songs, with their own metal touch and double bass. They all tend to follow the same pattern though.
2. Abstract middle: Most people who will end up not liking Cynic abort the album here. Sentiment and I’m But A Wave To… really are based on technically and soloing of each member. Sadly this part is the least memorable and is the reason this album did not get 98-99%. It’s still great, but feels out of place sometime. The vocals and the idea behind the vocals are insanely philosophical though.
3. Versatile end: Your reward for getting this far: Uroboric Forms. HOLY. SHIT. The fastest track Cynic has ever done and the time signature (See top of review) is insane. Next is Textures. Best instrumental ever. Ok its basically equal to Cosmic Sea by Death. This is the true shining of talent. Its actually not hard to play, but coming up with the idea for this song is insane. I can play it on drums, and took 2 weeks, but wow this song is ridiculous. I still cant get the drums on the bass solo part. Lastly is How Could I, the final epic song that we all have been waiting for. With its keyboard intro, and then jazzy metal fusion drumming, we see a final display that will leave you sad to have finished this CD. Jason Gobel’s final guitar solo is one of the most non-popular amazing solo I’ve ever heard. It’s the best one out there, but no one remembers it. Just enjoy it as you finish your first round of Focus.
In conclusion, you must own this album if you own Atheist/any tech metal band. This is a must have. Sean Reinert’s work on this has spawned 15+ years of jazz-metal fusion drummers, including myself. This is not even counting what the other members of the band have created. This album is so mysterious, it’s hard to recommend to people, but if you want a new experience… get it!
One of Metal’s Greats – 98%
Cynic have achieved legendary status since their disbandment in the early 90’s, and with good reason. As far as originality and musicianship were concerned, these guys were up there with other legendary Florida DM acts.
As previously stated, the musicianship here is phenomenal, Masvidal and Gobel complement each other perfectly while infusing jazzy riffs with death metal ferocity. Another cool element of the music lies in the fact that most of the time the two guitarists play completely different parts. The bass playing is also phenomenal, with Sean malone at his best on the instrument. Sean Reinheart is also a world class drummer who switches it up as often as possible.
This music is one of the most unique releases in metal history. Having a similar jazzy nature as Atheist, but with more emphasis on fusion, these guys delivered an earthy, melodic and yet groovy and colorful record which satisfies my musical palet in many ways. The riffing is fantastic, the electronic vocals take some time to get used to but their placement and use is in the end perfect. Cynic truly were on to something different and they hit the nailon the head. Whenever the band slows down, it does not detract from the listening experience, rather you soak in the different chords and vocal arrangements.
Standout tracks include the opner “Veil of Maya”, “The Eagle Nature” with its intense riffing and extreme time juxtapositions, “uroboric Forms” once again kicks ass, being one of the heavier offerings on here. The instrumental “Textures” is totally dreamy and space-jazz-proggy(I guess), the closer “How could I?” is also very cool.
The songwriting is very cool and very different, definitely one of the greatest metal offerings of all time.
The peak of originality in the Death Metal scene – 100%
Cynic, a legendary band that fused their love for Death Metal with a recent influence of Jazz/Fusion and progressive rock. The result is here, Focus is an album that was beyond it’s own time, the instruments are all played perfectlly and, thanks to a crystal clear production they can be all heard clearly.
Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel give a 2 guitar lead assault to your ears, most of the moments each one is doing a diffrent riff, and the occasional use of guitar synths are in the right place, extending the texture of the riffs or of the song itself. Paul and Jason work with other bands (most notably Death and Monstrosity, respectivelly), helped to give them experience in the Death metal field while hearing Chick Corea and Allan Holdsworth pavimented their way to the freedom and dynamics of Jazz/Fusion. Paul’s robot voice just sets the mood through deep meaning and philosophical lyrics, giving the songs a more cosmic feel.
Sean Reinert plays here in a very jazzy style, in a few moments you can hear him repeating the brutality of his performance in Human (most notably in Uroboric Forms), but most of the time his playing is filled with jazz technics and complex rhytms, which makes him one of the best drummers in the world.
Sean Malone is a bass god and shows here all his talent and creativity, sometimes using the unusual Chapman Stick, just hear his bass solo in “Textures” to see what i’m talking about, and since his bass is high in the mix there will be no problems to experience his contribution here.
This album is a classic that should be experienced in max volume, it represents the golden era of Death Metal.
The greatest album of all time – 100%
I have listened to alot of music in my day, be it classical, to blues, to jazz to straight up rock. I hold many albums from all sorts of genres in high regard (Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire is one of the greats in the jazz world), but never have I heard an album so complete and groundbreaking in my life. This may seem as overpraising, but I sincerily believe that this album is the best I have ever heard.
Every track has its purpose on the album, and each one fills its duty to a “T”. Whether it be the spacy “Celestial Voyage”, the mellow “Textures” or the simply beautiful “How Could I?”, no stone is left unturned here, giving us the full spectrum of music and emotion condenced into less than an hour of music.
Technically, this album lies at the pinnicle of metal. Unsurpassed by anything I have heard, every instrument is at work here, creating a full bodied sound wich at all times is “working”. Guitar riff weave in and out of eachother. Both guitarists play distinctly differant parts, yet they seem to be playing the same thing at once. Never have dynamics between two players been so perfect. As for the soloing, both Masdival and Gobel have distinctly differant approaches, making the trip through the album interesting and diverse at all times.
The drumming is spectacularly performed by former Death member, Sean Reinert. His work in Death is the best of any Death drummer’s, but his playing on “Human” pales in compairison to what he does on “Focus”. Rich sounds come from his kit as we hear constant tom fills, cymbal work and inventive bass drumming. Odd time signatures are everywhere, never letting the listener “settle” into his playing.
The vocals range from standard death/thrash fare to oddly “robotic” sounding clean vocals. At first, I was not a fan of these synthesised vocals, but you come to realize that they are essential in the album’s feel and overall sound.
This is indeed the thinking man’s album, filled with jazz influences and familiar death metal (courtesy of Masvidal’s helping of writing “Human”). Influences are clear, but they manage to create something completely original and unique. As an extra note, “How Could I?” is, in my opinion” the greatest song ever written and is spectacular every time I listen to it. The outro solo is the perfect cap to this trip through “Focus”
Perfect in every way… – 100%
Cynic… along with Atheist these guys were the outcast of the Florida death metal scene in the early 90’s. For what reason? By being more talented than the other bands. For having a jazzy influence… by being different. These guys didn’t deserve to be booed of stages. These guys didn’t deserve a short career with 4 demos’ and 1 full release.
Anyway this album is perfect. Paul Masvidal was afraid of losing his voice so he quit growling. His vocals were now clean but they used synthesizers and in the end the voice sounds sort of like Ozzy’s voice in Planet Caravan but with a rather robotic feel to it. It can’t be explained in words. The vocals are rather odd but perfect. Also Tony Teegarden is added for the growling death metal vocals so you have a mixture of robotic clean vocals and growling death metal vocals. It works well.
The guitar work is simply amazing. It’s so fast, so original, so crazy! There are so many riffs. Its amazing these guys could play so well. Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel are by far one of the best duo guitarists. The guitar riffs aren’t parallel to each other either. While Paul is playing something, Jason plays something completely different. It’s so weird and different from anything else you may have heard but it works perfectly. Sean Malone’s bass lines are simply amazing. Sean Reinert’s drum playing is also great. Everything about this album is great other than the short length.
All the songs are completely different from each other. Textures stands out from the rest. It’s an instrumental song with jazzy clean guitars. And then near the end distorted guitars come in. Pure brilliance.
To sum everything up this album is PERFECT! If you can manage to find a copy of this album GET IT no matter what the cost is. You won’t be disappointed…
Best Prog./Death album EVER. – 100%
This album is something special. It takes elements of complex, jam-session jazz and fuses it with technical death metal (think Death’s “Human” or “Individual Thought Patterns”) PERFECTLY. From the pure jazz/death classic, “Veil Of Maya” to the more straight forward, but still technical “Uroboric Forms” to the jazz instrumental “Textures”, this album has you in it’s grasp from the very begining and doesn’t stop bombarding you with complex drum beats, death growls, spacy robot voices, atmospheric keyboard licks, mighty guitar riffs or awe-inspiring bass lines until the very end. Some people may be turned off by the off the wall jam session feel, but i find it a good thing. There is so much going on at once, that you’d want to listen to it over and over again so you can get every little detail. Sure, the robotic sounding vocals and the female vocals that come in from time to time may be a bit hard to get used to at it ENHANCES the musical experience and it fits well with the free, atmospheric sound. Every song here is a winner, there is no such thing as a weak track in this album, it’s all just about perfect.