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Yes, I know. Giving something a 100 is a bit extreme, but this is one of the few recordings that really deserves it. If you're familiar with "Focus" this may surprise at first listen because it's pure death metal and it totally rips. While the music is very complex and seems to shift directions every few seconds the songs never meander or come off as "cut and paste" or "tech for tech's sake." Despite it's heaviness this is absolutely beautiful because I get the feeling that they were really trying to do something original and intelligent in their field, but something very musical as well. It can be a lot to take in at first, but the songs themselves are very memorable once you give them time to sink in. While eveyone in the band is very impressive and air-tight the real highlight here is Tony Choy. He did the best job he could trying to replace Roger in Atheist and did an adequate job thumbing along to Pestilence's relatively simple music, but here is where he really shines. His playing is so solid, expressive and over-the-top that much of the time he totally steals the show. This was obviously the band he was meant to play for and I've never heard him sound better than on this demo.
As for the songs themselves, I prefer these versions hands down ("Pleading" wasn't re-recorded, but the final section made it's way into part of "How Could I" if my ears are correct) because in my opinion "Focus" was so overdone that it just came off as pretentious and out of touch. This demo is nothing like it and it sounds so fresh and enthusiastic it's almost a shame that they ended up the way they did. If they had recorded and entire album of this stuff there's no doubt in my mind that it would have been the most amazing metal album ever recorded. Yeah, that's quite a statement, but I believe they really had something here: a perfect balance of intelligence and originality.
One thing that killed much of "Focus" for me was the overuse of those robot sounding vocals. They worked in a few tracks (like "Maya"), but in the rest they just feel out of place and like a substitute for something better that was unavailable at the time. When I read what they were saying I was reminded of how a friend described some Yes lyrics to me one time: "They just sound so.. Uh... Pussy." I don't think they could have been any more gay. All of the clean fusion breaks made many of the songs sound like they were running into each other as well.
To cut it down for you this is about as perfect as death metal can get. It's smart without sounding too smart for it's own good, it's exciting, fresh, inspired and the production/mix allows every instrument to be heard easily. There's really not much to compare this to. If I had to I would describe it as a mixture of Atheist's "Unquestionable Presence" and Death's "Human," not because that's where these guys played elsewhere, but because to me that's what it really sounds like. If you love death metal and feel like you've heard it all, track down mp3's of this one. You're not going to find it anywhere else and it's definately worth hearing because it is simply amazing...