Focus (Cynic album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||September 14, 1993|
|Genre||Progressive death 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. Instead of choosing the brutal and hard-hitting approach to metal like most of their contemporaries, Focus takes an experimental stance to music.
The album features a hoarse, guttural, growling vocal style, provided by keyboardist Tony Teegarden. Lead singer Paul Masvidal said he 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.
The guitar parts of Masvidal and Jason Gobel intertwine, which Masvidal compared to guitar duos such as Television's Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, or Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew from King Crimson.
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.
Sean Reinert's drum style meshes together elements from both heavy metal and jazz. He 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 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 Martyr, Aletheian, 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. Deathcore/metalcore band Veil of Maya and progressive metal band Textures were each named after a track from this album.
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."
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|
|12.||"Cosmos"||Masvidal, Gobel, Reinert, Aruna Abrams, Chris Kringel||4:21|
|13.||"The Circle's Gone"||Masvidal, Gobel, Reinert, Abrams, Kringel||5:20|
|14.||"Endless Endeavors"||Masvidal, Gobel, Reinert, Abrams, Kringel||9:56|
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 Masvidal". Metal Discovery. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- "Interview With Paul Masvidal". Blistering.com. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
- "Scale the Summit". Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Obscura Interview". About.com. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Textures/Exivious Interview". powerofmetal.dk. Archived from the original on 18 August 2013. 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.CS1 maint: others (link)