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Cynic - Focus CD (album) cover



Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

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5 stars Masterpiece. A mixture of fusion, death and progressive. If you can stand the throaty wocals you will love that album. You probably already know the names of Sean Rainert and Sean Malone, powerhouse rythm section in fusion/metal genere. Cynic is hard to discribe, but if you liked Malone's other projects(Gordian Knot, Aghora) then you will love Focus. Highly recomended for open eard!
Report this review (#30554)
Posted Sunday, May 30, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of the best albums from the 90's, and one of the most underrated. An experiment that tured out to be a masterpiece in the Death metal media; this record overpassed the boundaries of music and compositions, with a lot of character and hope. From tip to toe, the album shows the virtuosity of the players focusing in the structure of the song in question and in the whole album, the peak point is the instrumental TEXTURES, but all the record acts as a unity. a must buy for those who like metal, experimental and prog in it's rawest form.
Report this review (#30555)
Posted Monday, May 31, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars I know it's said alot and sometimes not really objective, but I think this is _THE_ best album ever. This is *the* great masterpiece of Fusion, Technical Death Metal, and Progressive Metal. Cynic members are extremely talented musicians and each one of them is well known in his expertise: Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel in great guitar work, the outstanding bass player Sean Malone (Who also involve and has more great projects such as Gordian Knot, Aghora, and more), and the terrific drummer Sean Reinert. The music is just brilliant, the mixing of fusion and technical death metal and progressive metal, with the synthesized vocals and growled vocals, it's just perfect. Also the album includes the great Fusion instrumental "Textures" that only makes the album beyond perfection. Well what else can I say. This is just a true masterpiece. By the way - you should give it a few serious listenings until you will understand what you hear. oh and better be open-minded, and not be locked on a specific thing. That's all. GO AND BUY IT!
Report this review (#30556)
Posted Sunday, June 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars GREAT!!! UNIQUE!!!

I think this is a very good and unique album... It's a mixture of jazz, thrash and progressive. At the beggining is a little bit hard to swallow but after the 3rd time you hear it... guao! is excellent.

I haven't heard another band that sound like this, they were quite good and the music is the result of a very creative people. I recommend it to everybody who like progressive metal.

Report this review (#30560)
Posted Monday, February 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Come chill out and relax to...death metal??!

Strange as it sounds, there's no question. CYNIC's Focus deserves every bit of the "hype" it's getting here on ProgArchives. Before adding my own rating the average is 4.88, and I'm about to send it up just a touch higher. Especially if you like OPETH or VOIVOD, this is an absolute must-have; your collection of prog-metal is incomplete without it. Even if you are not as much into prog-metal, I think it's worth a try if you're willing to be adventurous and get yourself used to the death vocals that appear through some of the songs. This album has only a few small weaknesses--the sound quality is not what a bigger band would have, and I wish some of the songs were longer. The death vocals aren't that bad, either, but can take a little bit of getting used to at first...but they are complemented very nicely by computerized vocals (yes, you read that right), and some other singing.

Lyrically...I think this album would prove attractive to many who are put off by the darker content of some metal. They center around Eastern spirituality, and even if this is not your faith, it makes for some pleasant reading and meditation as you listen to Focus. But the real focus on this album is the musicianship, which is outstanding. My favorite among the musicians is bassist SEAN MALONE, whose style reminds me quite a bit of JOHAN DE FARFALLA, formerly of OPETH. DE FARFALLA played on Orchid and Morningrise--and I actually found myself thinking of Morningrise quite frequently while listening to Focus in other aspects besides the bass work. If you liked Morningrise-era OPETH, then you are really missing out by not listening to this. Metalheads will also enjoy the incredible speed demonstration in "Uroboric Forms" by drummer SEAN REINERT.

The music itself reminds me of what VOIVOD only wishes it could be--at times dissonant but still managing to be melodic and flowing...sometimes brutally heavy, but always gorgeous. The opening track, "Veil of Maya" does a good job of setting the tone for the entire album and demonstrating this style--but don't make the mistake of thinking all of the songs follow the exact same formula. And even though they're short for the most part, you'll feel as if you've been listening much longer...and I mean that in the best way possible. "I'm But a Wave to..." is a fantastic demonstration of CYNIC's ability to walk the line between dissonance and melody without ever managing to cross too far as VOIVOD did on Nothingface, and for this it's one of my very favorite songs on the album. There's a very "spacey", atmospheric, almost psychedelic feel to many of the softer sections, such as the outro to "The Eagle Nature" and the beginning of "Sentiment", which seems a bit creepy at first until you realize that the words being spoken are really a very positive sort of sentiment. Another standout is "Textures", which actually manages to incorporate a fusion/jazz feel, complete with Rhodes keyboard synth!

If you are at all into prog-metal, you must find a way to track down a copy of this. OPETH fans especially...don't miss out; believe the hype!

Report this review (#35322)
Posted Sunday, June 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars A poor album that ought never to have been released in its current form.

Chief among the many sins committed by this group is the dreadful vocals. Though heavily processed, they still manage to sound thin. If the effect desired was to mask any lyrical merit, the album's producer has succeeded. The growls are risible, childlike in their execution and meaningless in the context of the music. A couple of songs begin promisingly (How Could I, for example), only for the mood to be shattered by the vocodered vocals. CYNIC, how could you?

The music itself is competently, sometimes outstandingly played, but spoiled by the production. The producer manages to make every instrument recessive. Compared to a well-engineered album like OPETH'S Blackwater Park, this is virtually unlistenable. One for the coaster collection. What a pity.

Report this review (#36442)
Posted Tuesday, June 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I am generally very reluctant to hand out 5 star ratings for an album unless it is a piece of music that has really moved me or changed my view on music. "Focus" by Cynic is one such album. I bought this on the day of its release in 1994 and it has remained a cd I return to again and again for musical inspiration and pure enjoyment. "Focus" is a brilliantly crafted combination of metal, jazz fusion and world music which is wrapped up nicely with a spiritual lyrical perspective.

From the outset we are treated to excellently performed music with great dynamics both vocally and musically - the aggressive distortion laden riffs give way to serene, reverb drenched clean passages. There is some fantastic solo work to be found on each track and although both guitar players (Paul Masvidal, Jason Gobel) have excellent technique they seem to be able to craft meaningful melodic movements within each lead break. Its hard to fault the performance of any of the musicians here, with the rhythm section (Sean Reinart - drums and Shawn Malone - Bass, Chapman Stick) also turning in stellar performances.

Highlights for me include the amazing "Celestial Voyage", the meandering "I'm but a wave to...", the jazz drenched instrumental "Textures" and the majestic "How could I?" which features one of the best outro sections to a song I can remember. If any of this review peaks yours interest I suggest you locate a copy of this album ASAP. Amazing work.

P.S. Some criticism can be levelled at the production (often the distorted guitars can get muddy) but for me, it is only a minor distraction.

Report this review (#36859)
Posted Saturday, June 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is a jewel!!! It's a great mix of extreme metal, electronic, fusion, Canterbury, classic music and even pop! Focus is all of those genres and no one at the same time, it's something absolutely original! Essential: a masterpiece of progressive music!
Report this review (#38552)
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars If you're a metal fan who wants to evolve, this is a must have!

I hesitated to assign a five star rating to this album. Very few albums can be masterpieces of progressive music, if it's even fair to label music. But this album is, without a doubt, a masterpiece for many elaborate-metal lovers.

Focus is the result of many years of its artists evolution, from a rather technical death-metal to a fusion of many musical influences, with great enphasis on metal and progressive rock. Brutality and beauty, calm and turbulence, meaningful lyrics, and virtuosismo... It is a rehearsal of a new genre, perhaps dead at birth.

Therefore, buy it, listen to it carefully and enjoy it!

P.S.: I recommend Atheist's "Unquestionable Presence", Aghora and Sean Malone's "Gordian Knot" project for those who have heard this album.

Report this review (#38557)
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is undeniably one of the most trippy releases ever released in the genre of prog/deathmetal. It has a huge cult following for many, many reasons. It gives off this mystical vibe that somehow comes across as genuine, thats all I can say really. The growls will offend many and the altered vocals are quite bizzare at times yet everything seems to fit. This is an obvious cliche but you will hear this album differently every time you listen to it. The production is also strange but effective, it seems muffled but adds to the atmosphere of this rather perplexing release. There is of course a late Death influence and some Atheist that was part of the Floridean zetgeist at the time but this is fundamentally a different journey that the cynics embarked upon. The Holdsworthian guitar tones are a sure indication of wider listening which gives the album its spacey feel. The progressive time sigs and excellent yet controlled bass playing is also exemplary. A pivotol factor for any genuine prog album.

After many listens i still do not know what to make of this rather enigmatic release.

The jazz/fusion thing is often overstated when analysing what is a metal genre but in this case Cynic do something that almost seems to transcend every category that can be put upon them.

Listen to this album at your peril. It is a confusing and strange beast.

Brilliant, perhaps, strange and hauntingly beautiful, absolutely.

Report this review (#44778)
Posted Monday, August 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is definitely an essential masterpiece of Prog Music...It contains these sickened melodies based on jazz/fusion mixed with the agression of death metal.When I say death metal, don't imagine this terrible vocal growling that sounds like your toilet and splatter lyrics...This is pure death metal growl like hearing someone screaming because he is pissed off...Also the lyrics are based on ancient greek philosophy.The first thing you will say when you start listening to this album is:"Oh God, I am never going to play like this!"There is so much inspiration and atmosphere which fills your head with these mixed feelings.Cynic had a long way in death metal underground before releasing this album.In 1992, a tornado destroyed the guitarist's Paul Masvidal house which made the recordings last a little bit long! If you want to get an idea of how talented are these musicians, check out Human from Death.Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert play in this one, check out what we are talking about..It's a pity that they didn't make another album, they would had written history by this time.Great album!!It's a must!!!!
Report this review (#51202)
Posted Monday, October 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars While "Focus" is generally an impressive album, I'm not quite sure whether it deserves all the hype, since it often goes in the direction of boring, over-indulgent and meaningless complexity that leads you nowhere. I'm not really a fan of the sound of the band and production of this record either - the guitars sound a bit too muddy and distorted, the bass often sounds like it belongs on a disco tune, and the processed/scream vocal contrast occasionally comes off as cheesy rather than interesting. All of this does not mean "Focus" is a bad album, but it represents in equal amounts where extreme prog metal (and prog metal in general) should and should NOT go. Opener ,"Veil of Maya", though seemingly a fan favourite, has never appealed much to me, as I can't really find any truly memorable or at least interesting moments here. Though it does represent the bands overall sound and style pretty well, it's not really a highlight. "Celestial Voyage" is far better , combining catchiness and complexity in a much more effective way. The "Eagle Nature" is a good example of what I'm talking about regarding sacrificing melody for complexity and meaningless technical doodling, though to it's credit, it does have a memorable chorus." Sentiment begins" with a promising guitar riff (well, preceded by a 40 second intro), but eventually succumbs to the same problem ." I'm but a Wave too..." , in my opinion,is the most uneventful track on the album. "Uroboric Forms" fares better, featuring some cool riffing, while the instrumental "Textures" delves deeper into the band's ambient, jazzy sound , providing much-needed refreshment. And finally, the closer, "How Could I" , begins with a simple, melodic bassline , which is then joined by the rest of the band before they plunge back into death-metal territory, this time with more inspired and interesting riffing, making it a highlight of the album.

My conclusion is that "Focus" would appeal more to metalheads aiming to expand their musical horizons rather than prog fans well-acquainted with complex, forward-thinking music. Perhaps, if this guys had stayed together for another album or two, the results would've been more satisfying...

Report this review (#51342)
Posted Wednesday, October 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Very outstanding and equable album, unfortunately so equable that you'll get fed up in the mood. so this album isn't in my opinion a record that has to be listened at once. I think that this album will be much richer an better to listen if you listen a two songs or sumthin like that a time. --- very much reminds of Death, so there's much new music to the whole world to listen, but still not 100% original, because i think that Death has done these things before. Still a good album. Recommend it to everyone who is curious in melting many musicstyles to one and other.
Report this review (#64711)
Posted Saturday, January 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars very few bands can actually make a technical wankfest sound good. gordian knot, at war with self, dream theater (certain albums), atheist, and king crimson can conquer this endeavor, just to name a few. but, to give this review a point, cynic should also be added to that list. if you can get past the electronic or death vocals (depending on your preference), you'll notice that each member of the band is very techincall proficient, and that if nothing else, compliment each other perfectly. you see, cynic is one of those groups that find the thin line of balance between "sounding good" and getting too self-indulgent with their instruments. pick any one track from this album, and you'll see what i mean. all the instruments weave in and out with each other, forming some ethreal reality of sound that you can easily get lost in. they manage to also add in intelligent, insighful lyrics, as well as the digital and death vocals that i previously mentioned. if atheist pioneered death-jazz, cynic perfected it. for that, i will give this album a 5/5 . . .
Report this review (#70725)
Posted Tuesday, February 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the things I look for in an album that I don't see many people mention is visuals. In the case of Cynic, I am left bewildered by the visual experience every time. The music brings me into an alien atmosphere. Imagine that you are floating in spiritual cyberspace. This is not music you listen to for the cool riffs or to marvel at guitar solos. It is about the way it makes you feel and the places it takes you.

The range of emotion here is dynamic, and that is one of the album's greatest strengths. One standout is the instrument Textures, The 2004 remaster of this album includes three atmospheric tracks featuring female vocals instead of the death metal growls, and they are just as brilliant. It also features some excellent remixes of three tracks, even better than the original masterpieces.

Along with bands like Meshuggah and Tool, Cynic takes prog metal to another place, leaving no trace of anything familiar. There is no point in this album when I think "typical metal riff" or "I saw that one coming". Its like exploring an alien planet. I'll take that kind of imaginitive musical exploration over a soulless technical wankfest any day.

Report this review (#74903)
Posted Friday, April 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This rather brutal progressive metal music has something very primitive: the extremely guttural lead vocals will make you think the singer is a Neanderthal; at the same time, there are omnipresent robotic voices that give a slight futuristic touch to the music. The rhythmic guitar and the overall sound are rather gross, so do not expect a crystal clear razor sound coming from the omnipresent riffs. The melody is pretty hard to decode in most of the tracks. The drums are fast and elaborated, and the presence of fretless bass is appreciable mostly during the more mellow bits. It seems the tracks are more interesting when the rhythmic guitar riffs stop, leaving the room to miscellaneous distortion-free guitar notes, which clearly remind progressive bands Gordian Knot and King Crimson. Even the brutal rhythmic electric guitar has similitudes with the ones on the Gordian Knot's tracks, except the music is faster here. There are some good modern keyboards, but they are very rare. The unmelodic & inelegant throaty lead vocals lower the global rating of this record. One must keep in mind that these guys as VERY talented, as reveals "Textures", a rather jazzy instrumental track a la King Crimson of the 80's: the fretless bassist has really the Jeff Berlin's style, and the guitarists have nothing to envy from Adrian Belew & Robert Fripp!

Rating: 3.5 stars

Report this review (#75820)
Posted Saturday, April 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
Marc Baum
5 stars - THE Death Metal album for all people, who don't like Death Metal!?

How logical sounds this? At least THE album, which broke the boundaries of that extreme genre and created something unique, which will remain as the pinnacle of what is in technical and creative aspects possible.

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 perfectly 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 different 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 Death's "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 the brilliant instrumental "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 is indeed the thinking man's album, filled with jazz influences and familiar death metal. Influences are clear, but they manage to create something completely original and unique. As an extra note, "How Could I?" is, in my opinion one of the very best songs written by a Prog/Death Metal band and is spectacular every time I listen to it. The outro solo is the perfect cap to this trip through "Focus".

This album is a classic and to be played at maximum volume. The robotic-vocals surely may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they are an important part of the fact why this album seems so unique and futuristic. Trust me, there's something to be found for any prog fan on this album!

album rating: 9.5/10 points = 93 % on MPV scale = 5/5 stars

point-system: 0 - 3 points = 1 star / 3.5 - 5.5 points = 2 stars / 6 - 7 points = 3 stars / 7.5 - 8.5 points = 4 stars / 9 - 10 points = 5 stars

Report this review (#76391)
Posted Wednesday, April 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album is kind of funny. On one hand, you have the great rhythm section of Malone and Reinert trying to make a nice respectable jazzy album, kind of like they'd do on Cortlandt, Gordian Knot and Emergent. They do a great job too. If you just took the recorded tracks the two of them made for this, you'd have something nice to listen to.

On the other hand, the other three band members only seem interested in making a completely mundane death metal album. Admittedly, I'm not a fan of death metal vocals, but I'm alright with them when they're done well (see Ĺkerfeldt, Mikael). This is not one of the cases where the vocals are done well. They are ugly across the board. The guitarists have occasional nice flourishes, but for the most part it's just noise.

Going back to the first paragraph, if you just took what Reinert and Malone did, it'd sound good. Maybe add a guitarist who knew what they were doing or just have Malone throw in some stick playing and you'd have a much better album. But as it stands, it's average at best: three stars.

Report this review (#77155)
Posted Thursday, May 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars 3 1/3 Stars

A very unusual, creative, and groundbreaking debut that unfortunately is the only album by Cynic. I am sure that the band would have gotten much better than this, such as Opeth after the interesting, yet flawed Orchid.

I discovered this band by the sample here. It was from the early 90s and this song featured fretless guitar playing remnicent of Jaco Pastorius, great rhythms with unusual time signatures, funny caveman-like grunts, electronic singing, and gorgeous female vocal harmonues. I was completely hooked! I had to get this album.

Sadly, the rest of the album doesn't come close to the absolute metal masterpiece of Veil of Maya. The next songs don't sound as natural when mixing the genres and the extreme vocals (caveman growls and electronic voices) turn me off a bit. Also, melodies seem to be nowhere. However, there is a lot to enjoy. Celestial Voyage has great guitar riffing. The Eagle Nature is mellower and less brutal. Sentiment has great drumming and an unique menacing female? vocalist. I'm But a Wave to alternates beautiful sections with brutal ones in the style of Opeth. Textures is just bizarre jazz- metal with great bass playing. How Could I is one of the best constructed songs in this album and a great closer. Sadly, I just find Uroboric Forms as a bunch of shredding under unusual rhythms and I do not like it.

I expected better stuff, but it is still a terrific album. I can't think of many metal songs that come to the originality and quality that Veil of Maya achieved. That song is perfectly constructed and sounds coherent and natural (not to mention accessible despite the complexity of it). Everything is perfect in that track. Highlights: Veil of Maya , How Could I

Let Downs: Uroboric Forms

My Grade : C+

Report this review (#79689)
Posted Sunday, May 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Aah, Cynic, easilly one of the most influential bands that helped to shape progressive death metal as it is today. But this band was definitely not limited to just death metal, mixing elements of jazz and prog rock into their unique style, and that is what makes this band so wonderful and epic.

First of all the musicianship is outstanding. You can't really point out one member of the band who is any better than the other. Paul and Jasons dualing clean and distorted complex riffing gives the tunes ample melody, sean malone ( who is one of my fav. bass players) is all over the neck playing lines that sound like Geddy lee if he got punched in the face by jaco and then was thrown in a death metal band ( lol, i know weird description). And last but not least sean reinert s drumming is fluid and extremely jazz influenced, not just playing straight rhythms, and throwing plenty of tom and cymbal work.

Now for the songs:

Veil of Maya: Very electronic, with one of pauls best solos on the album, definitely a quick energetic album opener

Celestial Voyage: Some of the best riffing by the band, with very cool interludes, and a beautiful synth ending

The eagle nature: I would say this is the most complex song on the album, and probably the fastest ( excluding uroboric forms, maybe), the guitar and bass interaction is great and the whole band is on fire, definitely one of my favorite tracks.

Sentiment: First of all the verse riff to this is so epic, and the super cool bass intro doesnt dissappoint either.

Im but a wave to: A beautiful song, I would say this is one of the more prog and jazz influenced songs, with lots of melodies, and very odd time switches. Very melodic.

Uroboric forms: The definitive death metal moment for the band, this tune is bassically and infusion of death metals speed mixed with prog playing elements. This is a headbanger!

Textures: An instrumental art rock/ jazz rock piece in the beginning with a metal ending, This is seans time to shine with a great melodic fretless bass solo, very jacoish sounding solo

How could I: This sounds very metal with some seriously fast proggy parts, the first song i ever heard by the band and the song that drew me in.

This album and more importantly this band has influenced so much it almost changed my bass playing completely, This album holds a very special place in my heart and a motto i have always had is if any band im in can make an album as good as focus then i will be truly happy with what we had done musically. Without this band death metal musicians would have probably failed to experiment and i believe bands like alarum, canvas solaris, and alarum wouldnt exist. If you are interested in prog metal pick up one of the true underground gems of this genre, if not one of its best albums!

Report this review (#89496)
Posted Tuesday, September 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of the most in-depth and intriguing metal albums I have ever heard. As I played this, the first few minutes did nothing for me: I just viewed this album as another metal band with electronic influences.

Then it hit me, the psychotic wailings of the bass guitar, the digital run vocals playing off of the female vocals playing off of the growling, the time changes, EVERYTHING!

This album could be described as "Spirally epic" The music goes here and there, while constantly going full force. This is one album that one must here! So, if this is such a great album, why did I not give it a 5? Because, as all 5 star albums do for me, after hearing it I usually sit in awe for a little while just thinking to myself "wow". This album did not do it for me. While many, if not all, of the songs on here are some of the best I have ever heard, it does get a tad bit boring at times, thus making THINK about skipping a track.

Report this review (#98370)
Posted Saturday, November 11, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Jazz Metal

Arguably one of the most overlooked influential bands of the progressive metal movement is Cynic and their album Focus, which was unfortunately the only album this group would produce. The fretless bass gives an added texture to the often "spacey futuristic" sounding themes in a majority of the tracks, credit to the distorted vocals and tone of most of the softer jazz passages.

There is no track in particular to me that stands out. All follow along similar guidelines giving the songs a connection and wholeness to the majority of the album. Most of this has a very technical sound to it as well I have found (although never seemingly going overboard into solo wankery context) similar perhaps to the complex riffs of Watchtower, but with more of a death metal space/jazz vibe. Urobic Forms is perhaps the most "metal" of all the tracks, with many staples of the genre in its structure.

If I were to consider something for those who are in disfavor of metal, Textures comes to mind, with it's interesting and complex arrangement (although their are still some parts with a heavily distorted guitar). As a side note, this record is also fairly valuable, as it is difficult to find, though maybe not quite as *kvlt* as it's often considered. Not particularly moving or emotional music, but it is an extremely complex and interesting way of approaching the "death-metal" movement.

Report this review (#103012)
Posted Wednesday, December 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars In times when "Focus" was released this album has been misapprehensive and very invaluable. Classic Death Metal was a mainstream and band like Cynic was really only for the close groupe of audience, only for very openmided people who searched for something different with the big musical quality. I must say that "Focus" really offers this musical quality. Rythm section is simply perfect built on jazz basis and with high quality guitar works creates very unique connection not only in the progressive music but also in metal music generally. Very original, unique, different masterpiece!!!
Report this review (#103927)
Posted Thursday, December 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars From the late 80's early 90's burgeoning Floridian technical death metal scene comes this one album band... But this is no mere metal album. Focus was, and remains to this day, one of the most groundbreaking metal albums ever made. Not only were they the first to blend metal with jazz (complete with fretless bass and all), but to add a new age and fusion flavor to an already improbable mix and actually make it work ? Who else managed that ?

From the first seconds of the album, you know you are facing something unique. Metal punches on jazz chords with keyboards (or synth guitars), electronic AND acoustic drums, and a robotic voice... That voice annoyed many, but not me, I found it to be fitting and original. After a drum driven intro, the band dives head first in metal territory with 'Veil Of Maya'... but wait, do I hear a jazz break ? From death brutality to jazz subtlety, without distorted guitars, but beautifully interwoven clean guitar parts, fretless bass and jazz drum motifs, and back to metal again ?

That's what we are treated with here (treat is the right word) throughout the album. The musicianship on this album has yet to be surpassed by ANYONE in prog metal territory (Dream Who?). The riffs are monstrous, the interplay between the two guitars (either clean or distorted) unmatched and highly creative, the drums are mind-boggling and diverse, from electronic to acoustic drums, from full on double bass drums beats masterfully executed and tight as... well you think of something tight (!!!), to wonderfully light jazz patterns, the jazzy fretless bass parts (handled by bassist extraordinaire Sean Malone, who would later play with Gordian Knot and on O.S.I.'s excellent debut album) incorporated in death metal music was unheard of and TRULY original, and even if it's been done by others since then, it was never even close to what Malone pulled off on this album.

I don't know if it's because Cynic only released one album that they became a cult classic, but let there be no doubt in your mind about the quality of this album. Rarely have I taken such a trip listening to metal (apart from Opeth, of course), and rarely have I been so amazed with each and every song on one release.

A five star album, timeless, classic, 100% original and flawlessly executed. A shame they never released anything else, but in a sense I understand, how in the world could they have topped Focus ?

Report this review (#114418)
Posted Wednesday, March 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Here’s another review in a genre I don’t spend a lot of time with. My idea of good metal dates to the first few Iron Maiden albums, Black Sabbath, and maybe a little bit of Rainbow. This is definitely not in that. Early Opeth maybe, before that band discovered black roses and long, romantic walks in the catacombs.

I never did get the whole growling thing, although in the case of Cynic you can make out some of the words, and the guy actually appears to be making those sounds with his real voice, which is kind of cool.

This is another one of my kid’s albums, but one that I actually seem to listen to more than him. The reason is the very first track – “Veil of Maya”. That vocal phrase just gets burned into your skull the first time you play this, and pops up uncontrollably at the most awkward times, much like an old seventies acid flashback. At eighty miles an hour on the highway usually, so it’s a good thing I live in a sparsely populated state where the cattle and deer can dodge oncoming traffic quite well. If you don’t like the way I drive, stay out of the pasture I always say.

Other great things about this album? The drums for sure – a blistering rapid-fire beat that doesn’t seem to let up the whole thirty-plus minutes of the album. This guy must have steel rods in his shoulders. And a comparatively normal lead vocalist singing over the top of Screechy Guy is a nice touch, gives the songs a bit of a creepy, rainstorm at an old Bavarian castle feel to them.

Most of the songs sound pretty much alike though, but I think that’s sort of by design with these scream-metal bands. “Uroboric Forms” is a nod to prog I guess, since the band manages to do a little tempo changeup coming out of a drum n’ shred onslaught, and that quickly morphs into another onslaught just as quickly as the first one disappeared. The drummer has some serious ADD issues I think, ‘cause he’s about to ratchet his arms right off from the tempo up-tick at the end of this.

The other unique tune is “Textures”, which manages to run the gamut of jazz/fusion to metal to an ambient instrumental kind of thing and finally a string-plucking fadeout ending. Really, I can think of quite a few eighties electronica bands that could have sounded like this if they’d just added a speed-addled drummer and maybe one more guitar.

My biggest complaint is that this is awfully short for a debut album (which turned out to be a swansong album at the same time). “Veil of Maya” has a really solid rhythm going that should have been drawn out with some guitar progressions and maybe a drum solo (what the hell), and “I'm But a Wave to...” seemed to end too abruptly even though it’s the longest track on the album. Other than that this is a great blood-pumping album of throaty metal with just enough instrumental variety in some places to keep it interesting, as opposed to giving you a long-term headache like a lot of death metal does. This is for sure a four-star album, and recommended to everyone except maybe emo-types and symphonic fans who are worried about blowing their speakers.


Report this review (#117944)
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars What do you expect from progressive metal album?

Power and Energy. This might be one of some factors that you consider important in progressive metal music because from this factor you can get full enjoyment of the music. This would help you start the day with great motivation and if you have work to day it energizes you. I put this as first possible factor because from my discussion with many prog met and metalheads, that is the first thing thoat mostly comoe out from their mouth as an answer of the above question. If this applies to you as well, this album by CYNIC fulfills your need. All tracks presented here by CYNIC are truly songs with solid power and energy. No wonder, this band, as you might read at the band's description at this site, was intended as brutal death metal (what is this?) music. So, no question about it - if you expect power and energy, you got it. You can hear guitar riffs and licks by Jason Gobel and Paul Masvidal. They play attractive and stunning guitar work throughout the span of the whole album. On rhythm section, you can get great combination of bass by Sean Malone and drums by Sean Reinert. "Celestial Voyage" is a good representation of track with power and energy as indicated by dynamic drumming, guitar riffing and tight basslines which accompany "throaty" (I like this description!) vocal by Tony Teegarden.

Melody and Harmony. You can get these as well. Overall, this album has excellent harmony combining main rhythm section (guitar, bass & drums) with vocal line and guitar solo. What makes this band different from many other prog met bands is the way bass guitar is played which reminds me to the jazz rock fusion player : Jaco Pastorius (os Wheather Report). Looking at the fretless bass he uses, it's clear that the way he plays is something like jazz rock fusion style. The melody of almost all songs are also nice even though not as nice as Kamelot, Nightwish or Royal Hunt. Combined together all components that make up this album are excellent example of how the combination creates good harmony and melody.

How this album is different?

There is more this album offers to us: it has a significant element of jazz rock fusion music. This can be heard from the textures of each song where the fretless bass provides fusion like music during some breaks and in fact in some major segments of the song. This is truly different if we compare with any typical prog met bands. If my memory works well, this reminds me to a band called AGHORA (released in 1999) which I reviewed the album sometime ago (long time ago) at this site. "Focus" by CYNIC came out first (1994) - so it could be CYNIC is the pioneer for this type of music.


This is an excellent album. If you don't like heavy riffs of metal music, you would not be able to identify the subtleties of music this band offers. The music is a bit rough with some eerie / throaty vocal line. If you cannot accept this kind of singing style, you may not be able to enjoy this album. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#120996)
Posted Monday, May 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Jazz Fusion Death Metal.

CYNIC is one of a handful of revolutionary bands that have ever managed to successfully merge jazz fusion and extreme metal and this is perhaps one of the purest amalgams of these genres with a psychedelic twist to boot. Focus is an album of differing extremes, the music is very well layered and structured with clean guitars interspersed with distorted metallic guitars, in perfect relevant contrast, vocodered robotic vocals and choruses to counter the death growls (the vocoder vocals are generally a point of contention and take a long time took me a long time to get used to) and technical double kick driven beats contrasted by groovy jazz beats.

The opening song 'Veil of Maya' is easily the best on the album invoking dark reverent atmospheres with it's opposing double kick driven verse and dreamy chorus, the use of complex jazz chords is the key to the complex emotive components of the song - these guys really know how to write a song. Instrumental song 'Textures' is another fantastic song with some dreamy jazz fusion noodling periodically broken up by heavily distorted and harmonised guitars and the mystical middle breakdown section is to die for with an amazing bass solo. The album ends on a strong point with the the triumphant 'How could I' with my favourite guitar solo on the album. Another superb song that is only featured on the 2004 reissue is the song 'Cosmos' (written under the PORTAL band name - a post CYNIC project by some of the members) with dreamy phased guitars washing around in a textured psychedelic blanket.

The instrumentation on this album is fantastic, all the musicians are of the highest calibre. The guitars are fairly technical and have many nuances and the solos are quite fast but at the same time extremely musical, The bass is very fat and there are a few great sections and the odd solo and the drums are the best of the lot, very technical and well considered (It is worth noting that lead guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert played on Death's highly technical and neck-breaking death metal release 'Human' just prior to recording Focus giving you an indication of their technical proficiency).

Focus is one of the most creative and interesting extreme metal records ever recorded and is essential to anyone serious about progressive metal, fans of ATHEIST and PESTILENCE would definitely enjoy.

Report this review (#142480)
Posted Sunday, October 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars One of the most sure five star albums in Prog Archives is Cynic´s sole album "Focus". The album is so wonderfully progressive, heavy and melodic at the same time, that i deserves even more praise than it has already got.

The musicianship is astonishing, we´re dealing with the most gifted musicians in death metal ever. Paul Masvidal, Sean Reifert, Sean Malone and Jason Gobel are all incredibly gifted musicians. They each bring a lot to the music.

I was very much into death metal at the time "Focus" was released, and we had been hearing rumours about this band for quite some time. Tony Choy from Atheist had been playing with them, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reifert had been hired to record and tour with Death, Jason Gobel played on Monstrosity´s "Imperial Doom". As I recall Paul is also featured on Master´s "On the eight day God created Master" ( If there ever was a lame album title this is the one). All this hightened our expectation to Cynic, an boy did it pay of.

Songs like Veil of Maya, Textures and How Could I just blew me away. I had never heard anything like this before. Today my references are more broad than they were back then, so of course I can hear more influences in their music, but Cynic is still one of a kind. The only band they sound a bit like is Atheist, but that´s not too bad now is it ?

This album comes highly recommeded, everyone who likes tech death metal with jazz influences should give this one a try, prog head might find this a bit too heavy, but I hope you´ll try it out anyway.

Very essential.

Report this review (#146991)
Posted Friday, October 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Cynic - Focus, this album for many is a masterpiece, to me only a good but non essential. I might say that the album is progressive, heavy and melodic at the same time, that is no doubt, but is repeting in many places same all riffs, same voice, i can't say that the voice is from The Eagle Nature or another one for ex. Is true that the musicians are gifted, and skilfull and they are among the best in genre, that's way they were invited as a guest or permanent musicians in many bands and projects, but that not save the album to be almost boring in places. A 3 star album for me, not bad , but less enjoyble then many other albums from metal scene.

Report this review (#148824)
Posted Sunday, November 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This, if something, is a cult record!

After making few ordinary 80's thrash-metal demos, Cynic started recording their sadly only album in the legendary Morrisound studios, previously used by such bands as Death and Napalm Death. I must say that i haven't yet heard anything even close to Cynic. Their music is truly unique mixture of hyper-complex jazz fusion and furious death metal, but even when the band plays their heaviest riffs and vocalist Paul Masvidal shrieks furiously, Cynic maintains kind of profound and hmmm... filosofic sound. Unlike most of classic extreme progmetal-records, Focus can also be enjoyed by fans of traditional prog, because the album contains pretty much music that can't actually be even described as metal. The track textures has hardly any overdrive-guitars.

In my opinion, album's highlights are the mysterious opening track Veil of Maya, the haunting, almost nightmarish arpeggio-texture on single track I'm But A Wave To... and the stunning ending How Could I? which i consider to be one of the best progmetal songs ever.

Only bad qualities on Focus, that i can think of, is the strange vocoder-vocal sound, which appears on every track exept the instrumental Textures and it appears to be Cynic's trademark-sound. For some reason, i don't like it too much, but apparently many people do. Anyway, a great record, which i recommend to all fans of complex prog.

Report this review (#157882)
Posted Sunday, January 6, 2008 | Review Permalink
The T
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars CYNIC had surely the potential to be an amazing band. They released only one album which has been heralded as a masterpiece for a long time. I think the album is good, it's important in the history of metal, but it's not as great as many people think.

For sure, the musicians are terrific, and we get constant displays of prowess throughout the album. Of special importantce in my view is the rhythmic section: Reinert and Malone really push the boundaries of extreme music with techniques that weren't so popular in metal music at the time when Focus was released. We can hear lots of amazing playing out of these two guys who are the backbone and the most interesting part of this album.

The guitar playing is skillful, in a way innovative, but the sound of the whole album (even in its remaster) it's not clear enough to let me appreciate the 6-string work. I hear a lot of riffs (that remind me of DEATH; this was their biggest fountain of inspiration I guess) played at increible speeds but not much in the way of melodies. Well, this is extreme metal after all, melody is not the main point of this genre (but there are plenty of extreme albums out there that don't forget to include good tunes). There are some interesting textures, but again, it's all a little bit noisy.

I have two big problems with this album (and mostly with all extreme/tech metal): the vocals and the songs. Some extreme/tech bands have great vocalists but weak songs, some have better songs and awful vocalists. This one has a little bit of the bad side of both.

The vocals are plain annoying. There's two kinds: some growling (high-pitched, which I usually tolerate less than deep growling a la OPETH) and some electronically-produced voice which sounds kind of cool at the beginning, but wears out quickly as it's the blandest voice ever heard. It has no tone, no key, no nothing. It's like a true computer voice, with no soul. I'm not saying that's not an interesting idea, to devoid the music of any soul; but when the rest of the music is also so tune-less, the whole experience gets difficult to swallow.

Another problem I have is the song structure. Other than Veil of Maya (which really stands out miles above the rest of the package) I can't seem to recall any other one, try as I might. They're chaotic, and the noise doesn't help to tell any structure apart. Veil of Maya it's a masterpiece of extreme metal, but we can't survive this whole recording with just one song.

An influential album, an essential album in any extreme/tech metal fan's collection, but not masterpiece of music. I give it 3 stars as there's not enough music for me.

A second album by this group would've been a masterpiece, somehow I'm sure of that... Sadly, we'll never know.

Report this review (#158961)
Posted Friday, January 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Cynic - 'Focus' 4.8 stars

A landmark release which contemporary jazz metal acts build on.

This album, in my opinion, is one of the most influential albums in history. This really put technical metal with jazz leanings on the map. To complete the demo group that roamed about for a few years, bass virtuoso Sean Malone replaces lesser bass virtuoso Tony Choy and Tony Teegarden takes over on vocals and adds keyboards to the band. The only member that isn't essential to the line-up would have to be Tony Teegarden. Paul Masvidal still does vocals, but makes a bold change. His backing vocals, are sung and not growled like his fellow band mate Teegarden, but they are computerized. This style caused a lot of controversy, but I think it is quite good. They remind me of a voice box, but a bit more subtle and digitalized. It was a unique thing; I think that warrants them even more credit.

The jazz and metal elements are weighted pretty evenly, with just a little extra on the metal side. There is no trash in the metal though; it is nice and technical with some shifting time signatures, obscure chords and scales. The guitars are combined perfectly in dealing with leads, rhythm and counterpoint. The solo's are just out of this world, some of the most technical on record but they just sound so restrained. Even when watching videos of the band live they make it look like it is nothing big. Sean Malone gives a huge bass performance, a style which seems like he playing rhythm, but it just sounds like a solo or lead take. Sean Reinert is once again giving his phenomenal drum work another shot.

Chaotic and subtle, this release is near perfect. Sometimes the riffs can get a tad boring, but all the solos are entertaining. I would recommend this to nearly anyone, who cares if it has death metal vocals.

Report this review (#172698)
Posted Saturday, May 31, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars I feel like the band sent me a message with this album: Cynic, focus! So for this review I will be completely serious and will not digress with strange puns or anecdotes.

I've never been one to own, enjoy or recommend albums based on their importance in the development of music. I understand why Jimi Hendrix is arguably the most important guitarist of all time, but his compositional or playing skills have been far out done since his depature from the world, so I see no need to listen to him. I see music as a constantly evolving mass, where artists continue to discover new territory and/or build on the foundations laid out by those who have come before. Sure, some bands from the past reached a level of brilliance that gave their work lasting power even to this day, but to say that no one has been able to do better (or at least achieve similar heights in their own way) is absurd.

Cynic is one of those bands who created a brand new sound but was never able to perfect it. Focus, the group's only release, is a strange blend of death metal, jazz and computerized vocals. The group sports a clear technical prowess, backed by the Sean's Malone and Reinert, who play in ways that no one could have fathomed in metal. Surely it must have been difficult to make such an album as this and even harder to make a masterpiece out of it. When the first track plays, one might be pleasantly surprised at how well it all comes together. "Veil of Maya" is a fantastic song, and worthy of repeated listens up to this day. It's unfortunate, though, that the rest of the album doesn't live up to the groups potential as the first song did. The songs tend to sound empty, probably having a lot to do with the vocals. Death vocals for the sake of having them usually don't work very well. And obviously an electronic voice isn't going to sound natural, and it won't be able to convey emotion very well. Today's technology would have turned the idea out pretty well, but unfortunately it doesn't work out here. The songs in general also lack memorable qualities. I couldn't remember a single track other than the opener on the first listen, but sadly the rest of the material didn't leave me with much of a desire to go back for another spin. Still to this day I have trouble getting through it. It is just too empty in too many places. And the production was just awful!

Due to the unique nature of the album, and the fact that this is the band's only output, people tend to herald this as a masterpiece. Such is not the case. While being important in the history or progressive metal, and displaying a sound that hasn't been attempted exactly by anyone else, it is not as good as it gets. Their next album may very well have been a true masterpiece. If only, if only...

The members of the group have gone on to play in other projects, though. My favorite is, by at least a mile, Gordian Knot. That group features the Sean's and is more melodic and memorable. Nothing at all like Cynic, but much more worth my time.

Report this review (#172810)
Posted Sunday, June 1, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars A fusion between Fusion and Death Metal.

This album, released in 1994, is another milestone of the technical metal genre. Everything of this album says to you that it's a gem. The great cover, the lyrics and fortunately the music. The musicians are quite known in this genre. Sean Reinert and Paul Masvidal played on Death's Human album and Shawn Malone is famous for his Gordian Knot project.

Let's come to the music. A very interesting aspect of the music are the two singstyles. On the one hand you have a raspy, guttural singer and on the other hand there is an electric, distored singer. You really have to get attuned to both styles. The music also changes suddenly. One moment there is a really heavy riff and at once the band plays some fusion jazz in a relaxed way. The lyrics are hermetic closed and I can't really get a meaning of it but they deliver nice pictures of their philosophy.

All in all, this album is worth to be buyed.

Report this review (#175566)
Posted Saturday, June 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars A very good album that definitely changed the way extreme progressive metal was conceived in the 90's

Cynic's debut, entitled Focus, is to this day an important album for metal in general. Their unique usage of synthesizers (both vocal and normal synthesizers), keyboards and fusion twist in their music is obviously what brought attention to them, since it is quite rare to use such things in metal even today. However, besides the pioneering composing and usage of instruments in metal, there is a big problem that i just can't accept in an album as important as this one, and that problem is the vocals: although the synthesized vocals are very nice (making me remember King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man) the guttural vocals are somehow plain and shallow, something that definitely brings their music, in general, down, since the guttural vocals attract more attention then the synthesized vocals.

About the songs, musicianship and other features, there are some things i would like to state:

The instrumental work is, overall, very good. Both guitars make a very good and wide job: they sometimes have two rhythm guitars, sometimes the two play more melodically (i mean, both develop melodic lines or melodic themes instead of riff-to-riff themes) and sometimes one plays the rhythm guitar and the other is the soloist guitar. The bass work is also very competent, as it makes a very good base sound for the band, being the base or initial melody of the harmonic structure, supporting the guitars and the drums. The drums too make a very nice job: instead of simply signing the tempo, it is an instrument of its own, completing very well the whole band. The drum work reminds me a lot the drum work of Atheist: technical, complex, brutal and independent.

Grade and Final Thoughts

Although this album is one of the most important albums of the extreme progressive metal scene, i can't pick one song that truly stands out and the vocal problem just brings the album grade down, besides the exceptional instrumental work. So, because of that, the grade is 4 stars.

Report this review (#184106)
Posted Monday, September 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Quite possibly the most unique prog metal album ever created.

Truly groundbreaking, Cynic manages to fuse the best elements of death metal, progressive rock, and jazz fusion into an exceedingly unique and avant-garde style of their own creation. The musicianship of these guys is phenomenal; Sean Malone has truly inspired me to reach new heights with my bass playing, not to mention an equally talented guitar section composed of Jason Gobel and Paul Masvidal.

The thing I truly enjoy about this album is the heavy & technical metal riffs, as well as jazz-metal drum lines combined with spacey, prog-like breakdowns within the compositions, making them truly unique. A mix of synthesized vocals and guttural vocals also adds to the unusual and incredible sound that Cynic defines as its own. It is no doubt that Cynic has propelled the extreme metal genre to a new frontier in terms of musicianship and creativity. I myself am not a die-hard death metal fan, and I find groups such as Cannibal Corpse unlistenable. But when this is combined with incredible progressive elements, I find a little gem of an album such as Focus incredibly appealing. Even if you are not a fan of guttural vocals, there is room for you on the album as well. Hardcore prog heads such as myself will die for compositions such as Veil of Maya and Sentiment, but the rest of the album is just as amazing. A must have for any prog rock or prog metal fanatic.

Report this review (#190709)
Posted Friday, November 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is an absolute classic album in the realm of Death Metal and I would say essential to any Progressive Death Metal collection. More adventurous fans of Jazz/Rock Fusion may find the album interesting as well if they can see through the surface cloud of noise and aren't bothered by the extremity of the vocals.

The fretless bass of Sean Malone is one of the greatest aspects of Cynic... it is always bubbling and violently churning beneath the caustic surface of acidic guitars like a river of flowing lava. During the quieter bits the bass really stands out and takes the spotlight.

The guitars remind me of the band 'Death' mixed with the spirit of 'King Crimson' and 'Mahavishnu Orchestra'... and that would be a good way to describe their music in general I think. Complex rhythmic palm-muted riffing drive most of the songs forward, but there are many nice guitar leads and quieter atmospheric moments as well which utilize complex jazz chords and clean arpreggios. A calm hypnotic mood is induced by the guitars, even when the songs are at their most frenetic and cacophonic. The songwriting is top-notch and seems very Jazz influenced.

'Veil of Maya' is a stand-out track full of excellent bass lines and pummeling, tom-heavy, almost-tribal rhythms played by Sean Reinert who's drumming style is a hybrid of Jazz Fusion and Death Metal. The Industrial-like vocoded vocals are excellent here and add a very unique futuristic atmosphere to this entire album and create an interesting juxtaposition to the screamed Death-like vocals.

'Celestial Voyage' is probably my favorite track on the disc. It features complex rhythms and the best guitar riffs on the entire album... interesting how subtle and soothing they come across even with with full Metal distortion. The clean guitars create a sad melancholy feeling that sticks with you even after the music stops. The music of Cynic can deeply touch the soul.

The album has an excellent flow and never gets dull thanks to the myriad riffs and themes explored in each song, as well as the contrast between the harsh and mellow sections. I have no problem declaring this album a masterpiece of progressive music. Brilliant! 5 stars!

Report this review (#201982)
Posted Saturday, February 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Pessimist
5 stars A terrific album to say the least. On top of being great though, it is also a very important album as it was one of the first to blend jazz with death metal (alongside Atheist's trilogy of albums), and ultimately was a huge part of the progressive metal movement in general. The atmosphere is all round very dark, but because of the jazzier, airier sections it is a lighter album than most death metal inputs. I find the instrumentation on Focus also very similar to that of Human, which was obviously a massive influence on Focus if you listen closely. It could also be that both the albums have Paul Masdival and Sean Reinert featured, but you can also hear that Masdival has picked up a few compositional tricks from the great Schuldiner, most evidently in the gut-punching Uroboric Forms.

But despite being heavily influenced by Human, Focus definitely stands alone in the metal timeline. Human broke down barriers between genres, and Focus carried on where it's predecessor left off, and in some ways broke down even more. In my opinion, Focus also did a lot for the metal world in a sense that it opened up death metal to a wider range of audiences. From my experiences, this cult classic is appreciated by classical fans, jazz fans and metal fans alike, whereas normally a classicalhead or a jazzhead wouldn't even consider listening to an album of this genre. As mentioned in an above interview, this is a death metal album for people who don't like death metal.

As for the songs, they are all strong with no real weak points. I do have my favourites, but I can happily listen to the album in its entirety and get a strong buzz from it. Each one has something different and unique to offer the listener, whether it be in the realms of jazz or metal. I will go through each of my very favourite tracks.

Veil Of Maya -

The opener is one of the best of all 90s metal, and that is saying something as metal bands tend to open their albums with a very powerful song. Veil Of Maya is different though, because it is one of the heaviest songs and one of the weirdest songs Cynic have ever recorded. My favourite section has to be the female vocal sections, as they are just plain weird but beautiful at the same time. The guitar solo here, as with all of them off this disk, provides the jazz influence most obviously. Great track though, recommended for any prog lover, and I'm also to believe that the mp3 is sampled here on PA, so there is absolutely no excuse not to have a listen.

Celestial Voyage -

Simply stunning, this track currently has... 91 plays on my itunes, and i am stiull finding something new within every time. Everything is just stunning all the way through, and Masdival's robotic vocals sound perfect on here, just perfect. It is also highly technical in places, like the guitar solo in 15/8 for example. Nothing more I can say about this track, other than like the one before, strong jazz influences are popping their heads through all over the shot and that it's pretty damn heavy. Don't be put off though, this is a phenomenal piece of art.

Uroboric Forms -

The heaviest on the album, this one is also very strange to unprepared ears. Fantastic nonetheless. The drumming on this is also top notch, but who would expect any less from one of the underated drumming greats of all time, Sean Reinert? A very tight composition with catchy melody here and there, brilliant syncopation and killer riffs. As mentioned above, this bares a few similarities with any song off the album Human by Death.

How Could I -

I don't really like to do this with a masterpiece album, but if I were to pick a favourite, this would undoubtedly be it. Everything is here: loud sections, quiet sections, great lyrics, melody, brutality, outstanding performances from all musicians, technicallity, syncopation... even keyboards. If there ever was an archetypal Cynic song, then this would be it. Utterly superb.

Overall, I think this album deserves a lot of patience, and takes a lot of time to appreciate fully (it took me the best part of 6 months). But once you do hit the stage of liking it, you will probably love it. There is so much to offer here (more than most of the albums on this site for that matter), from drum solos to irregular time patterns to jazz guitarwork and death growls, all in the space of half an hour. For this reason and the many reasons mentioned within the songs, this album is a masterpiece. There is only one album from the 90s that competes with this one, and that is Death's Symbolic, which is possibly the greatest metal album of all time in my opinion. 5 stars, without an inch of a doubt.

Report this review (#208723)
Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Maya subjects you...

And Cynic subjects us all to their progressive death metal masterpiece, Focus. This album has so many interesting facets, so many very powerful (in several ways) songs, and the use of three vocal styles on the album is magnificent. The musicians are technical maestros, and each instrument has its own intellectually and musically stunning path where they all weave through each other so fluidly.

Veil of Maya begins and is one of the strongest tracks. The bass rips as strongly as the extreme lead riffing. The dual vocals go together so well, and the soft atmospheric breaks with the third vocal style are peaceful in a sea of cacophonous melodic madness. This song sets the stage for one of metal's most unique and progressive albums.

The Eagle Nature is thick and furious, roaring through hell and back just in time to stop short at the end of the song for a soft atmospheric space romp. This album is so varied for a death metal album, that it is somewhat scary. Each song is a complex and fiery eruption of harsh metal, interspersed with multiple religious lyrics, which are absolutely stunning, offer a very meditative stance. Truly, the lyrics here are brilliant, and add mysticism to the mix which makes this album even more of a heroic enigma. How they graft everything together so effortlessly and efficiently is astounding. Even with the album's short running time, you get more overall complexity and progression here than on almost any album I can think of twice this one's length.

The musical ideas never seem to be overspent, and everything seems explored fully. I listen to this one on a regular basis, and the surprise, captivation, and wonder never really wear off. Each listen uncovers something new buried within the high quality music. I'm But A Wave To... is hypnotic and begins in a quiet wave of entrancing melody and eerie mood, before it explodes. There is just so much diversity within the songs. There is no easily visible verse or chorus structure anywhere. Uruboric Forms is cataclysmic. The blazing rhythm rush ravages the aural scope beside the dual vocals. Again, not content to remain in one style for a song, they rip the rug from under your feet with a smooth and calm interlude to the madness. This band seems intent on offering mass duality. The do it exuberantly.

Textures has one of the most beautiful openings. It is so soothing and soft jazz feeling. Everyone plays so superbly. This evocative segment took my breathe away with its oceanic prettiness and tribal passion. The instrumental keeps hinting at power with thick riffs tossed in form time to time, and there is a bass solo! Absolutely captivating. The final song is a microcosm of the album as a whole. Soft passages entwined with heavy powerful death sections, soloing that is ethereal, dual vocals that entrance, and a knotty progressive structure that never fails to intrigue.

Some might fault for the use of vocal fry, but it is done exceptionally well. Both vocals are well done, and are interesting if you give them a chance. This work is cohesive and fluid, despite the knotty nature of it all. The solos, when they occur, are dissonant/harmonious pyramids of esoteric genius.

This is not to be missed, an absolute essential release for extreme progressive music. Five Stars

Report this review (#212411)
Posted Saturday, April 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This is a tough one for me to rate. If it was an all instrumental album i'd offer up 5 stars and it would sit with my favourite Metal cds, but it's not an instrumental record. As others have noted the growly vocals aren't really a positive and there's also processed vocals mixed in. It's so impressive otherwise though with Malone on bass and chapman stick and Reinert on the kit. I'm a big fan of both. And it's very cool having Gobel and Masvidal both playing lead guitar and synth guitar. And also there's that Jazz influence that is part of the equation. This is a very influencial record to say the least.

There are two tracks that are not affected by the growls, one is "Sentiment" which is so impressive with the bass, synth guitar and laid back passages.The vocals are pretty much spoken words here or are processed. Check out the guitar after 2 1/2 minutes. Great track ! The other is an instrumental called "Textures" where they contrast the heavy and lighter passages very well. I like the intricate guitar 1 1/2 minutes in and the chapman stick a minute later. Regardless of the growls this is a mind bending album folks.

A strong 4 stars from yours truly.

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Posted Saturday, June 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
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.

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Posted Tuesday, November 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Finally, a breath of fresh air from the metal scene of the '90s! The album kicks off on a right note with Veil Of Maya which shows everything that Cynic has to offer in a true tour de force fashion. Fortunately this greatness doesn't really stop until the final note of How Could I? is played.

Cynic offers us a very mature sounding debut album that shows that the band has been at it for much more than what the release date might indicate. There are a few minor compositions, like Celestial Voyage and The Eagle Nature, that might at first seem excellent but after they're settled in they loose some of their former glance. Still there are enough magnificent moments that compensate for these lesser moments making the album a must have for all the fans of the genre. My personal favorite composition is Sentiment which has a nice groove to it and therefore pushes the music is even further outside the standard limits of the genre.

Cynic's debut basically delivers everything I enjoy about the Tech Metal so if you're interested in exploring this very versatile genre then I recommend that you start with Focus since it will be a real make it or break experience. The only possible flaws are the dated effects that were used to enhance the vocals, but I consider them quite charming, a sort of the T-Pain effect of the '90s!

***** star songs: Veil Of Maya (5:23) Sentiment (4:23) How Could I (5:29)

**** star songs: Celestial Voyage (3:40) I'm But A Wave To... (5:30) Uroboric Forms (3:32) Textures (4:42)

*** star songs: The Eagle Nature (3:30)

Total rating: 4,20

Report this review (#255822)
Posted Sunday, December 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars While not a masterpiece, this album is among the best metal-jazz fusion (or jazz-influenced metal) records that I've heard. My biggest complaints are that Uroboric Forms is too loud near the end, and it's hard to hear the non-vocal melody on The Eagle Nature. The guitar solo at the end of How Could I is excellent, although I find the immediate lead up to it to be kind of weak. The melodies, however, are often catchy and there's a great level of energy throughout.

I actually like this record more than Traced in Air. In spite of its weaknesses, I would rate this album slightly below 4 stars because I don't think it's quite essential, but it's definitely better than just good.

Report this review (#259136)
Posted Sunday, January 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Textures...

"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.

Report this review (#273578)
Posted Monday, March 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars 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 exposed 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. Death's later work pushed death metal into a technical direction, Opeth took it in a progressive direction, while Atheist merged it with jazz. Jazz & Death Metal? Yes, and it's great. However, the band Cynic took the Jazzy Death Metal idea and ran into a completely unknown realm. 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.

Not for all prog fans, but I think this album is more accessible then most prog-metal. If you can tolerate guitar and of course death grows, (or at least look past them and listen to just the music) then you will like this album. It is not perfect however, as I mentioned I do not really like the robotic vocals all the time, and sometimes it is difficult. For me personally, they made this album very difficult for a while and with such a major point I was thinking four stars. However, I did warm up to them, and maybe some will take to it quickly. Not to mention this amazing music. A must for any prog-metal fan and those regular proggers who are more tolerable.

Five Stars

Report this review (#284530)
Posted Wednesday, June 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars this is an exelent example of a metal band that incorporates many different styles of music. like jazz and metal and others this album is really good the only problem i had with it where the growls. in my opinion the are really whiney and lame but never the less i could get past it. a growls to me should sound kinda evil ad intimidating there growls sound kinda weak i cant really be taking i cant growl myself. but all in all it was a great album. i love how paul mastavol used a vocoder to give the vocal an astrial feel. i say get it cause its a good mix between jazz and metal
Report this review (#288005)
Posted Wednesday, June 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars |B| A staple in the history of the jazz-fusion death metal scene.

An excellent addition to any prog 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 album every fan of progressive metal ought to hear, and is essential to the fan of the jazz-fusion/death metal era from the nineties.

Report this review (#292061)
Posted Monday, July 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars 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.


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.

Report this review (#295079)
Posted Wednesday, August 18, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars NOTE: this is really more around 4.5 than 4.

I had first heard of the band Cynic from friends. When I started to venture deep into the genre of death metal a long long time ago...erm, two years ago (back when I hated most of death metal, now I love it like it's my child) I looked into the band Atheist. I instantly got into them, as I loved their excellent combination of jazz and metal. After praising this band constantly, some of my friends recommended the band Cynic. After some research, the band became very interesting to me. Sean Malone is a professional jazz bassist and Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert were part of Death (another band I love). This struck to me as interesting, so I decided to dive into their first album, mainly because it was recommended to me and because sites like this one and rated Focus higher than Traced In Air (and now I see why).

Focus is one of those albums that takes a couple of listens to really like it. I loved the robotic sounding vocals and I didn't mind the death metal vocals either, but it didn't seem to click at first. After a couple of more listens, I was hooked. I now find myself playing this album in my car and when I'm at my computer constantly. It's hard to believe that this was made in 1993, considering that this album (especially the very melodic instrumental Textures) is way ahead of it's time. It's unconventional death metal, with good use of keyboards (especially on the last track How Could I), and wonderful guitar solos courtesy of Paul Masvidal. With it's constant jazz fusion overtones, use of keyboards, and robotic vocals, this is a death metal album that defies convention. Cynic journeyed into unknown death metal territory when this came out, leading the way for future bands like Between The Buried And Me, Periphery and Animals As Leaders to venture down the same experimental path that they went down some 17 years ago.

I only have a couple minor complaints for this album. The pathetically short length is always something that annoyed me with this album (although I imagine that the album wouldn't be considered the classic that it is today if it had an extra 20 minutes of material that could have been potentially weaker than what's on this album), and sometimes the new age, metaphysical lyrics are a turnoff (but to avoid this album simply because of the lyrics would be asinine). Still, I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves prog or techincal music. This is an album that should appeal to everyone.

Report this review (#295832)
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I just purchased both Traced in Air and Focus. While I am enjoying Traced, I can't help but notice how much more engaging and interesting Focus is. Every song, every nuance, every treatiment, every instrument comes as such a surprise?delightful surprises! There is absolute genius in creativity and innovation with regard to sound structures and use of sound technologies. This is quite possibly the finest metal album I've ever heard?one that is immediately accessible?and enjoyable--to even me, a non-metal head. I own the CD version that has the 2004 remixes of "Veil of Maya," (10/10) "I'm but a Wave to?" (9/10) and "How Could I" (8/10) as well as three songs that were not on the original 1994 issue, "Cosmos," (8/10) "The Circle's Gone" (9/10) and "Endless Endeavors" (10/10) and, I have to say, I like all of the additional material equally if not better than the original stuff. There's more clarity and definition to all instruments in the remixes?everything is seemingly 'brought forward' in the mix instead of left back in a cloudy atmosphere. The three additional songs show a less technical metal side to Cynic?even a kind of MAGENTA/MARTHA & THE MUFFINS-like sound in both "The Circle's Gone" and "Endless Endeavors."

The musicianship is so high, the band plays so tight, the compositions and individual performances are so creative?even innovative--I'm simply astounded. The weakest part for me are the vocals?even though I like the call and response technique--growl & 'vocoder'?but not used over and over like this. On songs like "Textures" (10/10?1994's version of KC's "Discipline/Indiscipline"), "Sentiment" (10/10), and "I'm But a Wave to ?" (9/10) the vocals are often almost incidental and allow the listener to better appreciate the work of the instrumentalists and the overall composition. And I actually quite like the occasional and very effective presence of a female vocalist, (Who is this?she is uncredited. It can't be Paul Masvidal, can it?) and I like the Earth doom/human spirituality/quantum physics message of the lyrics. The sudden and unexpected 'tender' sections are delightfully fun?and quite interesting from a compositional perspective. Unquestionably, the lead and 'rhythm' guitar playing, drumming, and bass (esp. the PASTORIUS-like fretless) is absolutely brilliant throughout.

Report this review (#402949)
Posted Friday, February 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars '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.

Report this review (#418331)
Posted Saturday, March 19, 2011 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Cynic were a part of the original death metal boom in Florida in the early 1990s. This was the groups only album until 2008 when they finally released a follow up. I had heard of Cynic in the '90s but not until recently did I actually hear their music. I just assumed they had more than one album. They were one of the first death/extreme bands to incorporate jazz fusion into their music. What stands out is the vocoderized vocals used on the album. They make otherwise ordinary vocals sound melodic. Alternating with them is a vocal style that sounds somewhere between hardcore punk yelling and death metal growling. Sometimes you hear what sounds like female vocals as well.

The first song "Veil Of Maya" you can listen to here on PA. Some nice jazzy guitar at times. The 'chorus' part is kind of catchy. "Celestial Voyage" has some cool sounding vocals. Great guitar playing and drumming. "The Eagle Nature" features some nice 'clean' guitar and some echoed talking. Some kind of digital synthesizer is used towards the end, very symphonic even for a few seconds. "Sentiment" fades in with some tribal percussion before great basswork takes us to the heart of the song. Female vocals going back and forth in the stereo spectrum as the drumming gets more interesting. The last minute is notable for having the band slowly faded out while a repeating sound on synth can be heard.

"Uroboric Forms" has some very melodic and catchy vocoder vocals. What sounds like female vocals in the middle. The music changes throughout. It actually goes into straight death metal at the end. "Textures" starts off very Math Rock sounding...very good math rock too. Gets jazzier around 1 1/2 minutes. There is a twangy melodic guitar line here which gets repeated that I just love. Includes a solo on either fretless bass or Chapman Stick. Gets more math rock-y near the end. An instrumental highlight. "How Could I" begins with a sequence on digital synth. Eventually drums take the band into more jazzy death metal with melodic and memorable vocoder vocals. Some of the 'clean' guitar here almost sounds classical. Great bass playing during the harmonized guitar solo. What sounds like an organ at the end.

The playing is terrific and the sound is decent. The songs are not very long. My only major complaint is that I don't like the 'throaty' vocals too much, but they are not as bad as some vocals in metal. The bass parts and the vocoderized vocals really stand out and put this group in a whole other league of extreme metal bands. Haven't heard the follow up yet but plan to. I will give this 4 stars.

Report this review (#428973)
Posted Friday, April 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars 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.
Report this review (#613484)
Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Sometimes you just burn out on material and we have toured Focus quite a bit. It does have a history and it obviously had an impact as an album, but at some point you do have to move on. With another album under our belts we'll have enough material to really give people a whole body of new material to focus on instead of the past. But I enjoy Focus and to me it does seem like a record that represented something for us that was really honest. And I think it was a solid album, so it's cool that it got some recognition." - Paul Masvidal for

This album was the fate of a band after a giant disaster. Cynic plans to record their debut, Focus, were annihilated by the Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The hurricane destroyed the band's rehearsal place and Jason Gobel's home. Restarting from zero, Cynic was able to write new material, and the results were altogether within Focus, finally released September 14, 1993. The project features Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, both members of the band Death at their technical death metal album, Human. Cynic has a technical death metal sounding too, and Focus, one of the pioneers of technical death albums, will show you that this genre was more influenced by jazz fusion than any kind of brutal metal stuff. This album has both growls and robotic vocals using a vocoder. The exotic and space atmospherics are present in lyrics as much as in music. By the way, awesome use of the Chapman Stick.

Veil of Maya is the opening track, bringing a monumental songwriting, mixing the sci-fi feeling with death metal, jazzy technical drums and fretless bass. Jason Gobel and Paul Masvidal guitar works completes each other. The song has some smoothy jazz breaks, and the guitar solos are highlights not only here, but the whole album. Celestial Voyage is some kind of heavy space rock. The song is absurdly detailed, every instrument was used to the maximum. The effects and robotic vocalizations together with harsh screams at The Eagle Nature fits perfect at some melodic passages. I like the slow parts of the song, mainly the ending. The drums are so outstanding that if you listen to this album once, you need to listen an additional time only paying attention on the drums. Sentiment, the fourth track, has strange vocals. This song is very different from the previous ones, very progressive too, but the main track isn't heavy. It has an exotic and misterious feeling. It's very interesting the progressive way of Cynic's music. Tempo changes and variations between clean and distorted are everywhere. Even the most extreme passages are harmonious, and it's possible notice some contrasting beautiful effects while the technical explosion is happening. The next track is called I'm But A Wave To..., and it's very melodic, including catchy growls, incredible progressions and expert musician skills. It starts with some water sounbank and a mood for a thriller, following agressive technical death metal soundscape. This song constantly changes the direction in a very expert way during some guitar solos and riffs (2:28" - 3:15"), too much complex. Uroboric Forms is very complex too, but the double bass syndrome was a weak point here, in my opinion. Textures is a technical fusion moment, clean guitars drowned in chorus and beautiful melodies, brilliant riffs under outstanding drums and bass. Dat asskicking guitar feeling and mood changes. The bass solo is a highlight of the track, I really like it. The song has a short string solo ending, just like the very beggining of the track. The grand finale, How Could I, is the great surprise. After a 5/5 album, you finally reaches the final track, and this one is actually better than anything! An explosive technical riffage after an electronic based intro. Growls and robotic vocals again. The bass line, the drums, the guitars, the whole stuff, provides an epic ending to this precious album.

If you still haven't tried Cynic because of the "boring" robotic vocals or agressive growls, it's time to get into Exivious, a Cynic instrumental spin-off.

Report this review (#1005705)
Posted Friday, July 26, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Refocusing on a vision. I don't think it's proper to examine Cynic's later albums and EPs without re- examining the group's unique 1993 death metal and jazz fusion debut album Focus. The album may have been genre bending at the time but I think it's safe to say that it was not popular among the death/tech metal crowd or even to the band's record label when it was released (if the prevailing stories are true), which was one of the key reasons for the band's break up one year later. It's eastern mysticism toned lyrics took death metal to quieter places. The combinations of growling lyrics and vocoder enhanced robotic vocals worked well to tell the stories amidst the riffing guitars as brilliant guitar leads were traded song by song by Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel with Sean Malone revealing himself as a master of innovative fretless bass work as well as Chapman stick while drumming wunderkind Sean Reinert handles the incessant tech style drumming while infusing his own style into his drum work. For someone that's not a big fan of growling vocals, at least these are the type I can tolerate as they are for conveying lyrics and are not just growls for the sake of growling, which I find in many extreme forms of prog metal music. The standout tracks are still Veil Of Maya (probably the album's best),The Eagle Of Nature, I'm But A Wave To.., Urorboric Forms and How Could I. The 2004 remastered album features 3 remixed songs that give greater sound clarity along with 3 songs from the 1994 Portal demos project. I wish that the Portal material was forgone in place of more remixed Focus songs as the Portal material, while interesting, is very different from that of the Focus album, sounding like experimental keyboard based prog rock and are definitely out of place as bonus tracks. Focus is no better or worse than it was when I first listened to it in 1993. It seems to have gotten a bit overrated over time, as most genre defining albums do, but one thing that will never be surpassed is the high level of musicianship that I first encountered with this album. A level of musicianship that few in modern prog metal posses. Focus remains a unique vision that's been unaffected by the passage of time. I believe that single observation is what truly motivated me to write this review in the first place.
Report this review (#1198739)
Posted Thursday, June 26, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is nothing short of a prog metal masterpiece. The album is perfect and contains elements of prog and jazz infused with a death metal vibe. The musicianship here is astonishing, and dazzling, and the lyrics are delivered as they alternate between clean and growl vocals. You will not find a 20 minute song or a long album from Cynic, and it is just so disappointing when it is over. Any active prog listening should want more. I love all three of their studio albums, and listen to them straight through in my playlist. This album should not be overlooked by any music lover since there is something for everyone. I bought the Original recording remastered version with Extra tracks, and those tracks are worth it. This is a must buy along with their other two.
Report this review (#1214473)
Posted Thursday, July 17, 2014 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars 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.

Report this review (#1276793)
Posted Monday, September 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Let's talk about Death Metal. Normally the guitars are overdriven beyond belief, and the guitars itself have pointy headstocks. Not here. The guitar shifts from clean passages to distorted ones, and the guitars have NO headstocks at all! The lyrics in death metal are usually about necrophilia, murder, and rape, and sound like they're being sung by Cookie Monster with a sore throat. Sure, there's death growls here, but there's also vocoder-processed robot vocals. You won't hear THAT on a Cannibal Corpse record! And the lyrics are meditative, and New Age-y. And in a genre where fans denounce fans of other genres as "gay" or "homos", there are two openly gay members! The standout track is "Veil of Maya", with its synth textures and Allan Holdsworth-inspired solos. Also, "Uroboric Forms" is a heavier song with influences of Death
Report this review (#1378143)
Posted Thursday, March 5, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
3 stars Focus is a highly complex, challenging, and cryptic metal album from early in the prog-metal period. It is frequently described as "death metal meets jazz" by other reviewers, but I think this is an over simplification because it probably won't sell a fan of either of those two genres of music alone on the group's sound. Focus isn't heavy, oppressive, or loud enough to be conventional death metal, and it isn't so open-ended or mellow enough to be avant garde jazz. So what the heck is Focus?

Well, it's definitely more metal than anything else. There is a prevalence of chugging, guitar shredding, and growling vocals to lock it firmly into that genre; however, it's very tame compared to "real" metal bands like Slayer or Metallica or (insert "real" metal band here). Focus is noisy and moderately aggressive, but it's not going to destroy you with metal awesomeness. Maybe that's where the jazz comes in? The band strives, and succeeds, to make their flavor of metal highly instrumental and complex. There are countless time/key/dynamic changes within songs, and each of the players is on top of their game. The drumming is one feature that I think distinguishes Focus from other metal bands, Reinert's playing is clear and often the "jazziest" of the bunch; very different sounding for a metal group. As a whole, the quite moments on Focus are more interesting than the real metal ones, which is part of the reason why I enjoyed the more mature Traced in Air than Focus.

Let's talk briefly about the vocals. Yes there are death metal growls; there are also electronically altered singing. Both of which are weak and don't contribute much of anything to the overall effect. It is very difficult to distinguish any of the lyrics, and both singers are surprisingly monotone. This makes the vocals just sort of "there," contributing to the noise of the album in the way that a crying baby contributes to the annoyances of a busy restaurant. It's there, you can ignore it if you're strong enough, or you can focus on it and get frustrated and let it ruin your meal.

You may have heard that Opeth is another of these "death metal for people that hate death metal" bands. Again, this is an over simplification, but I think it's much more true than with Cynics work here. Focus is death metal for math-rock enthusiasts that value technical proficiency and experimentation. Even though short, I found myself happy that it ended when it did.

There are a lot of sounds crammed into this 35 minute album, and if you're interested in instrumental hard rock/metal, then you've found a great album with some amazing playing. That's with the notable caveat that you can tolerate a very noisy and structure less album that lacks emotional touchstones or identifiable lyrics. As a fan of Prog Archives, that's probably OK with you, but be warned: Focus will probably not jump out at the average listener or beg for repeat listening. It's an album that happens whether you want it to or not, and doesn't make much appeal to invite the listener to the party.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 1 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 2

Report this review (#1460816)
Posted Tuesday, September 8, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars It plays just like Crimson, except it isn't Crimson: 7/10

Mixing a small dose of electronic music on a death metal sonority makes a futuristic extreme metal of some sort that, apparently, packs quite a punch. FOCUS is a good album and in many ways different from the ordinary "progressive" (most of the times it's just technical) death metal. The active guitar and bass presence is something to behold, and the ecstasy of each track is electrifying. However, the album also bears its cons. First, the main vocals are terrible. The growling isn't of an annoying type, it's just poorly executed. Granted, the robotic chants that sometimes accompanies it are really cool, but that's how far it goes - the duo of horrible and decent. Its second and utmost flaw is the lack of eclectism. All tracks sound way too similar to each other. If anything, FOCUS sounds like a 36-minutes-long with eight acts, because no matter the style - acoustic, ambient, aggressive - the tracks all seem to share a common core of melodies, chord progressions, and all those other fancy music theory stuff. While it doesn't denigrate FOCUS' enjoyability, it certainly makes me doubt of CYNIC's musicianship capability. They add something new to the table but fail to develop their idea. And for that matter, the further I can go is to acknowledge it is a good, but not essential album.

Report this review (#1779481)
Posted Tuesday, September 5, 2017 | Review Permalink

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