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Cynic - Focus CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.19 | 503 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Progressive Jazz Death Metal Masterpiece

I entered the amazing world of Cynic's music with their recent TRACED IN AIR, which I consider one of the best pieces of metal ever written. I finally got around to buying their debut, FOCUS, to complete my experience of the band. For the rest of the metal community, FOCUS was one of the monumental pieces of work that sat in isolation in history as a singular burning star of brilliance. It is not surprising the high ratings it receives for those who heard it in its own time frame.

For those unfamiliar with the band, Cynic is the oldest collaboration between two incredibly musically talented high school friends, guitarist / vocalist Paul Masdival and drummer Sean Reinert. Their friendship extended to study of an enormous breadth of musical styles and philosophical ideas, much of which found its way to their musical expression. Cynic incorporates beautiful jazz chording with highly technical death metal and multiple vocal textures. On FOCUS, the primary voice is a death-style growl clearly influenced by Chuck Shuldiner. (Masdival and Reinert played on the legendary Death album, HUMAN, while still trying to promote Cynic.) Alongside the growl is a robotic-vocoder processed voice and occasionally an ethereal female voice. In addition, Masdival uses occasional guitar synths to provide yet another texture. Like Death, the music is more composed, intricate, and complex than simply speedy, though the players have chops to spare. Unlike Death, Cynic are among the most harmonically rich bands in any genre. In other words, this is an extreme metal with deep prog sensibility.

Relatively shortly before the recording of FOCUS, bassist Sean Malone was recruited to the mix. Bassist in death and thrash were legendarily kept in the background, but Malone not only holds his own in this insanely complex music but actually shines and adds another level to the mix. His work makes the jazz even more tonally pleasing and adds legitimacy to the attempt to meld apparently contrasting styles. Similarly, Reinert's drumming is simultaneously meticulous and musically loose, and extremely difficult line to straddle.

Where TRACED IN AIR features the robotic vocals in front to create a beautiful soundscape that essentially exists nowhere else, FOCUS is still death metal with added color. FOCUS is about musicianship, playing, and in that it dazzles. The songwriting is still a bit immature, especially in comparison to TIA. But we also get that proverbial youthful enthusiasm. The production is legendarily rough, and a later remaster both improves and takes away in large enough degrees to be a continuing source of discussion among fans.

I was planning to give this album a 4. But I can't. Though I don't like death metal vocals, though the production is rough, though TIA adds melodic sophistication in a more complete and mature musical statement, FOCUS still deserves to be ranked among the best of the best. Cynic are in a class untouched, in my opinion. I've listened to a lot of jazz- metal searching for something to grab my heart, mind, and soul. So far, only Cynic has been able to do it, and they've done it twice.

Negoba | 5/5 |


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