Cynic
ReFocus


3.5
great

Review

by Trey STAFF
June 10th, 2023 | 116 replies


Release Date: 06/09/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An expanded production reveals sounds that have been buried for nearly thirty years, but all is not perfect.

These days Focus is generally viewed as a groundbreaking album within the realm of progressive metal as well as Technical Death Metal. However, when it was released back in 1993, it suffered for its unique sound. While metal fans have never been the most open-minded, the eighties and nineties were probably the worst. There was a formula and a format for each metal subgenre and (ironically enough) nonconformity was highly discouraged. This did not bode well for Cynic’s distinct blend of death metal, jazz, new age, and progressive rock. It also didn’t help that their record label had no idea how to promote them, lumping them in with Death, Pestilence, Atheist, and even Believer. What set Focus apart from these other bands was Cynic’s implementation of the legendary / maligned "crying alien" vocoder vocals, a formula that was more progressive than death metal, as well as the band’s implementation of jazz and new age influences that were light years ahead of their contemporaries. Cynic’s record label looked at those influences and sent them on tour as openers for Chris Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse – no wonder they broke up shortly after.

As with a lot of nineties metal bands that were ahead of their time, the last two decades have been very kind to Cynic, and the significance of their debut album was ultimately acknowledged. However, while I believe Focus to be a genuine classic, I have always wished the individual performances were clearer. The 2004 Expanded Edition remastered the entire album (essentially just making everything louder), but it also featured three remixed songs. Those songs improved the overall clarity while maintaining the original songs’ unique soundscapes… but they stopped short of remixing the entire album. It was the potential shown on those remixes that initially made me excited about ReFocus – it could finish what the 2004 Expanded Edition did not. If they just followed the blueprint established in 2004 they could provide enhanced emphasis to the original performances while still maintaining the edge of the original – and with technology a decade more advanced. While ReFocus has made the performances more audible, a single questionable decision has prevented it from being the replacement it could have been.

Inexplicably, the choice was made to replace the original album’s sharp guitar tone with a hollow and warm sound that lacks any power. Fortunately, this mostly affects the sound of the distorted riffs, leaving the clean guitar and most of the leads and melodies untouched. It’s my assumption this was done to make the songs sound fuller, and provide more space for the exceptional rhythm section, but something went wrong in the execution. Despite this questionable choice, the longer you listen to ReFocus the less noticeable the guitar tone becomes. This is because the virtuosic rhythm section of Sean Reinhart and Sean Malone (RIP to both) is so prominent in the mix. The bass drums have more bottom end, the cymbals are clearer, the bass cuts through the (admittedly weak) guitars; and together the Seans weave throughout the entire release delivering the twitchy energy Focus is really known for. Additionally, the synths, clean and lead guitars, and vocals have all been dislodged from the original’s compressed sound giving them more space while bringing to light nuances most probably never noticed.

Cynic’s sound was so ahead of its time that they never even stood a chance. While Focus has since gained widespread recognition as the landmark release it always was, and its influence can be heard in the sound of countless bands that have followed, it somehow never received a full modernization before now. Unfortunately, while ReFocus had the potential to bring a modern sound to a ‘dated’ production, it ultimately missed the mark. Despite widespread auditory improvements across the board, the new riff sound is simply too flat. That doesn’t mean ReFocus isn’t worth listening to, though. The new expanded production reveals sounds that have been buried for nearly thirty years while allowing the rhythm section to shine. Ultimately, the sound of ReFocus is going to be very jarring for the first few moments, but eventually you should lose yourself in the songs and (mostly) forget what they did to the metal riffs.



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user ratings (36)
3
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
Willie
Moderator
June 10th 2023


20213 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

For context, the original is a solid '5'. The "Recommended by Reviewer" part is just a few other nineties metal bands that were ahead of their time.

Anthracks
June 10th 2023


8031 Comments


production was the worst aspect of ascension codes. the singles for this didn't sound quite right either. a shame - but totally fine because there's always the original

Willie
Moderator
June 10th 2023


20213 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I don't think Cynic have ever got the productions right. They've all been just a little flat. I think they got close on Traced in Air Remixed, Carbon Based Anatomy, and the "Humanoid" single but even those needed a little more push.

Anthracks
June 10th 2023


8031 Comments


i really love the production on the original traced in air release

Willie
Moderator
June 10th 2023


20213 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Re-listening right now and it's better than I remember (I always listen to the Remixed album these days). It's one of their better ones for sure, and their last real 'metal' sounding album.



My issue is everything still feels so pushed together. For music like Cynic (or any real performance-based band) I prefer a wider sound where it's easier to hear everything.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2023


10733 Comments


Great review as always.

I've heard some songs from this remaster and I'm not a fan of it, because the volatile, lofi even, nature of the original has been completely compromised.

Unfortunately, this compromise is not confined in Focus, in my subjective opinion, it's about metal sound production during the last 10 years that appears to be in a race to upend whatever good has happened in the said tenet from the '90s up to the early '10s.



Willie
Moderator
June 10th 2023


20213 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I wasn't a fan of the individual pre-release songs either, but listening to the whole thing over and over again, the 'shock' of the guitar sound kind of diminishes.

Are you referring to the abundance of remasters and re-recordings that are removing the nineties vibe?

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2023


10733 Comments


^^It's not only the remasters and the re-recordings, it's about some new albums as well.

The difference in listening '90s-'00s metal and post, say, 2014 metal becomes starker over time, to my ears at least.

botb
June 10th 2023


17883 Comments


I was thinking I was going to be able to notice more a difference than I did in the mix of the singles and it kinda killed the hype for me

Spec
June 10th 2023


39478 Comments


The singles sounded great so I’m excited to hear the whole thing.

Pikazilla
June 10th 2023


29797 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

band is mid af

TheAntichrist
June 10th 2023


4053 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

they blew their load with their first two ablums, but goddamn are they gud or wut



i'll check this for d!ck sake

normaloctagon
Contributing Reviewer
June 10th 2023


3967 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

good write up don't agree with all of it but good analysis here!



rly quick tiny edit for you: it's spelled bona fide, not bonified : )

Pikazilla
June 10th 2023


29797 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"they blew their load with their first two ablums"



more like band's been firing blanks since inception

Hyperion1001
Emeritus
June 10th 2023


26025 Comments


human is the best thing they ever did imo

Willie
Moderator
June 10th 2023


20213 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

-- The difference in listening '90s-'00s metal and post, say, 2014 metal becomes starker over time, to my ears at least.--

I prefer the more modern metal productions over the nineties stuff, and definitely the 80s stuff.

--I was thinking I was going to be able to notice more a difference than I did in the mix of the singles and it kinda killed the hype for me--

Really? I was thinking the new mix was blatantly clear.

@normaloctagon: Thanks! I'd like to blame Word for not giving it the red line ;)

For the people that don't like Cynic... They're definitely an acquired taste. They don't do anything similar to other bands in their genre and the vocals have always been a point of contention. Also, Human is the second best Death album, too. Right behind Individual Thought Patterns.

pizzamachine
June 10th 2023


27238 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

A point of contention for imposter m3tallers agreed

Willie
Moderator
June 10th 2023


20213 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

It's not a point of contention for me. The 'crying alien' vocals were one of the cool unique facets that originally got me hooked on Focus.

pizzamachine
June 10th 2023


27238 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah same, very cool.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
June 10th 2023


10733 Comments


-- I prefer the more modern metal productions over the nineties stuff, and definitely the 80s stuff.

Agreed about '90s modern metal productions that are not a wall of sound concealing the lack of riffs.

Totally agree about most '80s stuff, but the well produced albums from that time still smoke everything that elapsed.



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