by Bartender USER (42 Reviews)
January 14th, 2005 | 4388 replies

Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Approach with an open mind

Cynic were:
Paul Masvidal - guitar, electronically altered vocals (I think)
Jason Gobel - guitar
Sean Malone - bass
Sean Reinert - drums (some electronic)
Keyboards were done by Reinert, and occasionally Teegarden when Reinert was too busy with the drums.

^That is the central line-up. Tony Teegarden did the death vocals on the album. Sonia Otey I think did the female vocals.

Cynic were a death metal band from Florida who emerged in the wave of death metal there in the late 80s. They only ever released this one album and a number of demos, though the members are still active in many different (usually brilliant) projects today. Their earlier demos were more straight-up thrashy death metal, but by the time they released Focus, they had taken great influence from fellow Floridian band Atheist's death-jazz style, and developed it further. The result was what is often considered a masterpiece of technical music, and an underground legend. I'm frankly terrified at the prospect going track-by-track for Focus, so instead I'm doing an overall review, and something of a review of each part of the band.

The vocals are probably the most contentious point. If you have a positive opinion of them (which is usually the result of an open mind), you'll see them as having covered a lot of ground. They're definitely varied. The two main types of vocals are harsh (but not so harsh as many death metal bands) death metal growling, which sound somewhat similar to Atheist's vocalist (or a slightly more dangerous-sounding Dave Mustaine, if you haven't heard Atheist), and Paul Masvidal's electronically altered, "robot-voice" vocals. It's this second style of vocals which many people dislike, as it is somewhat melodic, but many think it's stupid or annoying, though I never had a problem with it. There are also female singing vocals, most noticeably on Veil of Maya, which add another element to the album. I have no idea who does the almost spoken word parts in Sentiments, though I suspect it could be either the female vocalist, or Masvidal sans electronic alteration. The lyrics are typically of a spiritual or philosophical nature, far-removed from much death metal. They borrow from various theories of spirituality and philosophy, as well as mythologies of cultures such as the Mayans or Aztecs.

The guitars are amazing. I know for a fact I'm going to use similar description for each instrument, but it's true. Gobel and Masvidal play incredibly notey riffs that weave through each other constantly. Neither seems to specifically take lead throughout the album, and they both have solos. The solos are excellent, most notably (for me) the one which is played over the outro (of great drumming, bass and double-picked guitar) of the last song, How Could I.

The bass is done by the near legendary (in an underground way) Sean Malone. He plays fretless, which is unusual for any sort of death metal (most notable exception being another great metal bassist, Steve Digiorgio), but works very well in Cynic, perhaps because of the frequent shifting from death/thrash metal to mellow, gentle, Latin-tinged fusion. Hearing his basslines alternately sliding and whipping around in the background of songs such as these, and his solo in Textures, really makes me believe in him as one of the best bassists around. As an aside, it's not just bass - he lectures music theory, composes music for his Gordian Knot project, and is just generally a genius sort of figure in musical theory.

The drumming comes from Sean Reinert, which is a pretty much jaw-dropping rhythm section when combined with Malone. Reinert appears to be able to do it all - impressive (and interesting) fills, frantic double bass, as well as being able to adapt to the mellower fusion sections with little problem. How Could I includes a really awesome performance on drums, even by the standards of the rest of the album.

Veil of Maya has many a female and electronically altered vocal, and starts with a wash of keyboards. It's neither very far one way or the other in terms of death metal and jazzy fusion, and is a very good opener. Celestial Voyage continues much in the same vein as Veil of Maya, and is another excellent track. The Eagle Nature is one of the deathier/thrashier ones, perhaps because it is a re-recorded demo track, but revamped almost beyond recognition, and even this track, and Uroboric Forms, closer to the traditional 80's US death metal, are very impressive technically. Sentiment is where the band really show that this isn't just an ultra-technical death metal album, as it has a very progressive death/jazz-fusion feel to it, and the vocals are either somewhat hypnotic, or sounding stupid, depending on your viewpoint. I go for the former. I'm But a Wave To.. starts with the sounds of waves, and continues to play with the expectations of the listener, taking the band further from the deathy opening of the album, before Uroboric Forms takes them right back. Textures may be the best song on the album; it's almost completely non-death, and each band members gets his chance to show off. How Could I is probably my personal favourite track on the album - it has both one of the best drum performances and the best outros I've ever heard.

Okay, having spent many a word lauding the album, I'll now briefly discuss negative points. Firstly, the vocals. I have no problem with them (I even really like them, as they're often very different to what's usually associated with metal), but many people do, which is a shame. Give the "robot" vocals in particular time to grow; I had to. Secondly, the complexity. All four musicians here are pretty much virtuoso standard (especially the Seans), and they're very keen to show it. In my opinion, they avoid the trap of making technically stellar, but boring, music, but there are some who think it's just technicality for technicality's sake. For example, there is pretty much never a 4/4 rhythm; in fact, there seems to be a determination to play in anything but. Lastly, the production. It's in no way underproduced (it couldn't be, if each instrument was to show through), but overall I think the production is a little too quiet. The band make up for this as best they can by harmonising densely (which can just add fuel to the "technicality for technicality's sake" argument).

Like I said above, approach with an open mind, and this could turn out to be one of the greatest albums you'll ever heard. I easily give it 5/5, as it's the one album that I've actually been tempted to call the best album I've ever heard; usually I'm more indecisive. It's criminal that Roadrunner do not let this album out to print more often.

Recommended songs (if you wanna start at the death/thrash side): The Eagle Nature, Uroboric Forms.
Recommended songs (if you wanna start as far from metal as you can): Sentiments, Textures.
Recommended songs in general: all of them, but especially How Could I and Textures.


[url]www.cynicalsphere.com[/url] - one of the best band sites I've ever seen, and I don't even think it's an official one. It has everything.

A note: I know that technically, if anyone wants to review an album that's already been reviewed, they're allowed to post it in the original review thread, but I also know that no one ever seems to; there seems to be some unwritten rule that once a review is done, you don't do another one. However, I think Focus is a special album, and pretty much anyone who's heard it is going to have vastly different ideas on it, whether they liked it or not. So, I'd like to encourage anyone who's heard the album to review it here in this thread, in-depth if you want, or not if you can't be bothered. Just interested in different perspectives.

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user ratings (2707)
other reviews of this album
Andy H. B. (5)
Cynic's Focus is like Chex Mix. Every earful is different. Simply one of the best progressive metal ...

MTObsidian (4.5)
"Focus" is a unique, enjoyable experience that can't really be found anywhere else....

Necrotica (5)
An absolute classic....

Technical101 (5)
Cynic create a flawless work of art...

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 25th 2004


Awesome review, you know I've only heard how could I?, but I'll try to find some other songs as well.

June 25th 2004


This sounds really, really interesting, but I can't find any of these songs in stores or on the P2P programs. Wah!

Per Ardua Ad Astra
June 25th 2004


Nice review. Cynic does what they do incrediblely well. I've heard "Veil of Maya" and it's quite good.

June 26th 2004


[QUOTE=YDload]This sounds really, really interesting, but I can't find any of these songs in stores or on the P2P programs. Wah![/QUOTE]

mp3s should be reasonably easy to find on Soulseek (www.slsknet.org), but it is difficult to find copies of the album, as it's fairly rare, I think.

June 27th 2004


Nice one, I still havent listened to half of the songs on Focus properly yet :/ no reason why either... unless laziness is a good reason.

Once I have a good listen I'll do a follow up review here.

June 27th 2004


i love this album i heard about them in these forums and looked everywhere for it and then one day the cd just popped up, an excelent album 5/5...
Have u heard the original eagle nature of one of their demo's is it just me or is it completely different to the album version?

June 27th 2004


The basic song is still the same (same starting riff, for example, same lyrical theme), but yes, it's totally revamped. A different bassist for a start - Sean Malone was brought in at the last minute when the band's bassist (Tony Choy) left to play full time for Atheist (another excellent band to check out if you like Cynic). And the demo version has none of Masvidal's altered vocals.

Per Ardua Ad Astra
June 27th 2004


[QUOTE=Bartender]mp3s should be reasonably easy to find on Soulseek (www.slsknet.org), but it is difficult to find copies of the album, as it's fairly rare, I think.[/QUOTE]

Hm, in UK it must be harder to find then in America. Here you can get it on any online CD store (amazon, etc.)
I wish i could say the same for some of Atheist's albums, i think that's where you got mixed up.

June 28th 2004


Yeah, I know. Cynic is still rare compared to a lot of other bands though, especially outside of America. I've actually found Atheist albums to be more common on eBay than Cynic.

I'm thinking of ordering a copy of Focus from amazon.com in late July and having it delivered to our house in Florida, just before going out there for holiday. At the moment I only have it in mp3 form and on cassette.

June 28th 2004


Ahh!! Can you order it from Amazon???

It really is a pity they couldn't release more stuff. I've only heard a few songs, they are awesome. Great review as well.

http://www.metalprovider.com/cynic/ - Cynic demo site. All songs in mp3 format - has live bootlegs as well.

Per Ardua Ad Astra
June 28th 2004


[QUOTE=Bartender]Yeah, I know. Cynic is still rare compared to a lot of other bands though, especially outside of America. I've actually found Atheist albums to be more common on eBay than Cynic.[/QUOTE]

True, but with EBay you don't know what you are getting (especially with Atheist) You could be getting a CD-R unless they show you a pic of their copy of the CD.

June 28th 2004


Yeah, I'm only counting ones with "proper" pictures, rather than a picture of the cover from an online store. There were two Piece of Time and one Elements for sale a month or so ago on ebay.co.uk, but I was broke at the time.

Forgot another good site - www.seanmalone.net

It has some cool audio and video, including a live video of Veil of Maya.

Distorted Vision
June 28th 2004


Great review of one of my favourite death metal albums. This record was recommended to me by Coypu and it was the best he ever gave me. Everything is top notch here, especially Sean Malone's bass work, he's one of my favourite bassists.

Any fan of technical metal should check this out, this was actually the album that got me into technical death in fact. Fantastic record, just a shame they never got to record another.

June 29th 2004


Forgot something; coypu's Bass FA of Sean Malone. I don't know how many, if any, of the clips will still be up though.

June 29th 2004


One of the best reviews I've read on here. I hate the track by treack format.

Great great great CD if you like this music.

4.5/5 in general, 5/5 for Metal.

June 29th 2004


Great Review i will have to check some songs out :thumb:

Per Ardua Ad Astra
June 29th 2004


I just ordered my copy of "Focus"
I've been wanting to order it for awhile, but this is what made me order it.

June 29th 2004


[QUOTE=Per Ardua Ad Astra]I just ordered my copy of "Focus"
I've been wanting to order it for awhile, but this is what made me order it.[/QUOTE]

Awesome, I've done some good in the world.

One of the best reviews I've read on here. I hate the track by treack format.

Thanks. I normally use track by track because my attempts without it turn out to be terrible, and track by track provides a structure I can use.

June 30th 2004


This is an excellent album, and was my window into the world of death metal. I would suggest it to fans of progressive rock or jazz who have always been opposed to metal, but are willing to open their minds a bit. If you let it, this album will likely turn you into a fan. When I first listened to this album, being a prog and jazz fan, I clung to "Textures." Since I've fully absorbed it (I've had it for a little under 2 years), my favorite tunes have become "I'm But a Wave To...," "Veil of Maya," and "How Could I." "Textures" has revealed itself to be a band trying an exercise in a style they're not really fit for. Sure, their brand of metal has plenty of jazz fusion elements, but tackling a song like that is not for them. As far as numbers go, I must give this a 5/5, because the band took the idea of technical death metal from Atheist and Death and trumped them both, creating the prime example of the genre.

June 30th 2004


Awesome review bartender. I love this album.

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