Review Summary: Cynic create a flawless work of art
In 1993 four amazing musicians released one of the defining moments in music history with Focus. Fusing death metal with jazz, speed with passion, aggression with beauty, and the present with the future, Cynic created a highly original work of art that has to be heard to be believed. They weren't the first to mix metal with jazz but they perfected it with their debut album. There are so many new things this band tried but it all worked and came together like it always belonged that way. From programmed drums mixed with Reinert's impressive playing, to jazz-tinged interludes, to death growls mixed with robotic singing, to the occasional female vocals, Focus is all over the place but it doesn't sound inconsistent. The entire album flows easily through every song, never ceasing to amaze from start to finish.
Paul Masvidal − guitar, guitar synthesizer, vocals
Sean Reinert − drums, percussion, keyboards
Jason Gobel − guitar, guitar synthesizer
Sean Malone − bass, Chapman stick
Tony Teegarden − death grunts, keyboards
Guitars: Masvidal and Gobel perfectly intertwine their riffs and melodies around each other creating a deep, detailed sound. They both go in different directions but, when put together, they mesh into one coherent force. Solo duties are shared between the two, usually one each per song, and they're quite capable at doing so. Masvidal and Gobel form an amazing guitar duo, perfectly complimenting each other's strengths. They're use of synthesizers only adds to the all around Cynic sound.
Bass: This is arguably the best bass performance on any metal album ever. Sean Malone plays his fretless bass with precision and perfection. It's always audible and is one of the driving forces of Focus. It adds a smooth feeling rather than the pounding attack of most metal bassists. He also contributes a stunning and masterful bass solo in Textures. His bass playing really is something to behold. On top of that, he also plays a chapman stick in a few tracks, introducing yet another unique aspect of the band. It's almost impossible to describe the amazing work that Malone lays down here...
Drums: Reinert is one of the best drummers out there, in any style of music. He's quite possibly the best member of Cynic as far as mixing the heavy metal playing style with that of traditional jazz. There are no blast beats and he rarely uses the double bass drum, though there are key moments that he injects them to add emphasis to the heavier parts of the album. He skillfully uses accents and fills to keep everything interesting and his cymbal work is astonishing. Malone also encorporated programmed drums on some tracks, that further enhance the futuristic sound and approach they were hoping for.
Vocals: Cynic used not only the typical death growls of Tony Teegarden but Paul Masvidal sang through a vocoder-type effect. These two contrasting styles are split almost perfectly down the middle. Just as the music goes from soft jazzy parts to hard-hitting metal, the two vocal styles transition perfectly from one to another. The growls are not as deep and guttural as most death metal growls but are just as aggressive and add the right atmosphere throughout the album. The synthesized vocals are a clear highlight (in an album full of hightlights), making the music sound decades before it's time (and it was). The full futuristic sound is realized through Masvidal's unique vocals. In addition there are a few instances of some well-timed female vocals that don't feel out of place.
Lyrics: The lyrics range from mystical and spiritual in nature to bettering oneself and various philosophical ideologies. Every song is inspirational in it's own right, something that is rare throughout all metal genres. Cynic were giving the world new ideas and directions with every facet of their music and the lyrics are no exception.
Production: In order for all these amazing musical qualities to perfectly come together there must be a superb production job and that's exactly what we get here. Scott Burns outdid himself with Focus. Every little direction each instrument ventures off into can be perfectly heard and focused on individually. This kind of crystal clear production allows multiple listens just to take in the diverse sounds and arrangements. The guys in Cynic couldn't have asked for a better production job.
Overall Focus is an album for the ages. An album that should forever be remembered for everything it accomplished. Modern bands still haven't caught up to this level of songwriting. This is an absolutely flawless work of art, a masterpiece in every sense of the word.