Focus (Cynic album)
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|Studio album by Cynic|
|Released||September 14, 1993|
|Genre||Technical death metal, progressive metal, jazz fusion|
|Producer||Scott Burns, Cynic|
Overview and musical approach
After years of being hailed as promising in Florida's death metal scene, Cynic recorded Focus. The result was an album combining their love of death metal with other influences, notably jazz-fusion. Instead of choosing the brutal and hard-hitting approach to metal like most of their contemporaries, Focus takes an experimental stance to music.
Although being often dubbed progressive metal, the musical approach on Focus has arguably even more in common with jazz than it has with the progressive metal or progressive rock movements, leading some to coin the term "jazz metal" to describe the music. Elements of both can be found: progressive rock/metal is reflected in some song structures and occasional odd-time meters, while jazz influences are evident in some harmonic and rhythmic phenomena. The songs alternate between harsh death metal parts and more serene, smoother passages. In general, the parts flow smoothly into each other instead of making abrupt, sudden transitions. In addition to being rather complex rhythmically, the songs also feature an advanced approach to harmony. The vocal melodies are mostly simple and linear, leaving a lot of melodic space for the guitars and even bass instead.
The most distinct feature on the album is the use of two types of main vocals, almost equally prominent. In a traditional death metal vein, the album features a hoarse, guttural, growling voice - death grunts - courtesy of keyboardist Tony Teegarden. Lead singer Paul Masvidal was in danger of losing his voice at the time and thus did not perform the growling vocals himself. The other main type of vocal output is Masvidal singing through a vocoder-type effect, resulting in a synthesized voice with a robotic quality.
Guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert had joined Chuck Schuldiner's Death to record the seminal Human. Certain similarities can be heard between the two albums, although Focus only rarely reaches the level of aggression found on Human.
The guitar parts of Masvidal and Jason Gobel intertwine, bringing to mind such guitar duos as Television's Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, or Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew from King Crimson. Only rarely do both guitars play the same part simultaneously; most of the time both guitars have their distinct own parts that tie together to form a fabric of harmonies and melodies, in addition to numerous guitar solos. Masvidal's flowing, Allan Holdsworth-esque solos stand out with their free phrasing.
Masvidal and Gobel use very similar gear throughout the record. Both play a Steinberger brand electric guitar equipped with a Roland MIDI pickup and guitar synthesizer, and both used ADA amplification. Most of the synthesized sounds on the album are generated with these guitar synthesizers, not keyboards. The Steinberger guitars also feature a tremolo system which bends each string an equal amount, allowing the bending of full chord shapes in tune. A demonstration of this is heard in the very first guitar chord of "I'm But A Wave To...".
Sean Malone plays a Kubicki fretless bass nearly throughout the album. The fretless bass has a soft attack and a round, warm sound rather atypical to heavy metal, which usually prefers the punchier attack of fretted bass. On some parts on Focus Malone plays a 12-string Chapman stick instead. Malone's bass lines do not generally follow either guitar part. His lines are often quite busy and create a throbbing rhythmical pulse that syncopates with Reinert's drumwork. He also delivers a rare bass solo on the instrumental track "Textures".
Sean Reinert's drum style meshes together elements from both heavy metal and jazz. He skillfully uses accents, fills and varied dynamics to keep the songs rhythmically vivid. He occasionally plays a 16th-note double bass drum beat to emphasize certain parts of songs, but does not play blast beat on the album. In addition to an acoustic drum kit, he also uses electronic drums on some songs. The introduction to "Sentiment" demonstrates Reinert playing a polymetric beat consisting of several different meters on top of each other.
The vocals of Paul Masvidal and Tony Teegarden alternate between Masvidal's robotic vocoder and Teegarden's guttural death growl, both of which are given equal emphasis on the album. In addition, a female vocalist (Sonia Otey, who also performed with French death metal band Loudblast around the same time) performed on several of the album's tracks.
The lyrics, written by Masvidal, are poetic, philosophically and spiritually laden texts that take on subjects such as perceiving the world as whole, distinguishing reality and illusion, concentration and meditation. Many of the songs incorporate themes, titles or excerpts from other works: "Veil of Maya" takes its title from a George William Russell poem of the same name, while "Sentiment" quotes a prayer from Whispers From Eternity by Paramahansa Yogananda. Many influences from oriental mysticism and religions as well as some New Age themes are present. The whole lyrical perspective is positive, humane and humble, all rather atypical qualities within the realm of death metal.
Atheist had previously fused death metal with jazz. Cynic itself has had a notable influence on some later groups. Echoes of Cynic's approach can be heard in the music of many later death metal groups such as Veil of Maya (who named the band after the opening track), Martyr, Aletheian, Textures, Decrepit Birth, Behold... the Arctopus, as well as some progressive metal groups such as Spiral Architect, Sceptic, Between the Buried and Me and Continuo Renacer.
In 2004 Roadrunner Records released a remastered version of Focus, which contained the original eight tracks and six bonus tracks. Three of these were remixed versions of Focus songs, while the three other songs are taken from the members' post-Cynic project Portal's eponymous demo. Portal featured almost the same lineup as Cynic. Sean Malone was replaced by Chris Kringel and a fifth member, Aruna Abrams, joined on vocals and keyboards. All Cynic songs were written by Cynic; all Portal songs were written by Portal. The remixed tracks feature the same lineup as the original release.
|Metal Storm||(9.7/10) link|
|Rock Hard (de)||(9/10)|
Although Cynic were associated with the Florida death metal scene, Focus represented a significant departure musically from Death's Human and the early Cynic demo-tapes. It was therefore a hard album to market. Cynic found themselves touring to promote the album with brutal death metal band Cannibal Corpse and predictably received a mixed reception from their fans. When asked in an interview about the success of the 2007 reunion tour, Masvidal said:
"...it was just really disorienting to hear a sea of 10,000 people singing ‘Veil of Maya’. You know, it was just wait, the last time we did this song I think a bottle hit my head and we were in Texas somewhere with Cannibal Corpse..." 
This negative reaction from within the metal scene was part of the reason Cynic broke up in 1994:
"...We were just really sensitive, creative people that wanted to make music and we were devoured by the industry and we didn’t get a lot of support and people didn’t understand Focus at the time."
By the time Cynic re-formed in 2006, Focus was considered a cult classic among fans of progressive metal and the album has been cited as an influence to many bands including Scale the Summit, Obscura and Textures just to name a few.
In 2005 the album was placed number 496 in Rock Hard magazine's book of The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. Loudwire writer, Graham Hartmann, named Focus the ninth best debut metal album.
|1.||"Veil of Maya"||5:23|
|3.||"The Eagle Nature"||3:30|
|5.||"I'm But a Wave to..."||5:30|
|8.||"How Could I"||5:29|
|2004 re-mastered bonus tracks|
|9.||"Veil of Maya (2004 Remix)"||5:22|
|10.||"I'm But a Wave to... (2004 Remix)"||5:21|
|11.||"How Could I (2004 Remix)"||6:20|
|13.||"The Circle's Gone"||5:20|
Focus album personnel adapted from the CD liner notes of the 2004 remaster.
- "Interview with Paul Masvidal - Mirgilus Siculorum". www.emptywords.org. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
- technicaldeathmetal.com http://technicaldeathmetal.com/archives/346. Retrieved 2 September 2016. Missing or empty
- Wagner, Jeff. "Mean Deviation: Cynic's Focus Celebrates 20 Years in Prog Metal Paradise". Bazillion Points. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
- Rensen, Michael. "Rock Hard". Retrieved 21 May 2013.
- "Interview With Paul Masvical". Metal Discovery. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- "Interview With Paul Masvidal". Blistering.com. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
- "Scale the Summit". Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Obscura Interview". About.com. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Textures/Exivious Interview". powerofmetal.dk. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- [...], Rock Hard (Hrsg.). [Red.: Michael Rensen. Mitarb.: Götz Kühnemund] (2005). Best of Rock & Metal die 500 stärksten Scheiben aller Zeiten. Königswinter: Heel. p. 9. ISBN 3-89880-517-4.
- Hartmann, Graham. "No. 9: Cynic, 'Focus' – Best Debut Metal Albums". Loudwire. Townsquare Media. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
- Focus (Expanded Edition) (booklet). Cynic. Roadrunner Records. 2004.