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When talking to some online friends over the past year, this band called Cynic kept being brought up. I was getting very confused as I had never listened to Cynic before. I was unaware the band even existed. So I decided why not check out the bands famous debut.
At first listen, I thought this album was very interesting. It was something I had never heard before. Cynic go way beyond death metal, and progressive death metal for that fact, by creating an album that is a combination of death metal, progressive rock, pychodelic, doom, jazz...how could a band be able to do this? However, despite the bands original sound, they stick so close to this sound that Focus starts off as an hooking album, it stays that way and gets more and more predictable and cliched as the album goes on. The vocals aren't the only issue I have with this album. Cynic are defined as progressive deathe metal, but this album is so progressive that it's to much. I love progressive death metal; later Death, Opeth, and Atheist are some of my favorite bands, but Cynic take the progressiveness way to far.
Focus opens with "Veil of Maya", in my opinion one of the better tracks on the album. This track has a lot of different parts to it. The vocals are incredible unique. Paul Masvidal switches between an echoed clean voice to a Chuck Schuldiner inspired death metal growl. While this technique is very cool at first, I began to notice a flaw after listening to Focus. The vocal patterns are virtually the same thing over and over again. Each song has the same exact vocal tradeoffs as well as vocal phrases. After the first few tracks, I can pretty much predit what is going to come next. The guitar playing a lot different from what I'm use to. Masvidal writes a lot of riffs for each song and uses a bunch of odd time signatures, however that kind of ruins it for me. It seems like he never returns to the same riff twice and constantly changes the rhythms and riffs. I don't know how, but that is something that really bothers me. It sounds like the band is playing a completely different song. The soloing is nothing special at all either. Not saying it's bad, but is nothing compared to guitar greats such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Romeo, or Marty Friedman. Bass guitar duties are given to virtuoso Tony Choy, who played on Atheists "Unquestionable Presence," a death metal classic. While I do like his work, he seems to do nothing but show off on Focus. Drummer Sean Reinert has always been a talented player. He's always been well known since he and Masvidal played on Deaths "Human" album. But here, he too is playing a bunch of odd time signatures and does nothing but show off. The whole band seems to show off. As technical as each member is, there is so much going on that it is very difficult to forcus on any particular musician.
"Veil of Maya" and "How Could I?" are standout compositions and show that the band has a lot of potential. After these two tracks, the album never amazes me. The other tracks are good, but are vocally predictable, musically confusing, and sometimes even boring and uninteresting. "Textures" for example is just a very filler instrumental with everybody showing off and many tracks like "The Eagle Nature" starting off strong but end up being boring. Yeah it is "progressive" metal, but I think it's worth saying that this album is TO progressive. Because of this, Focus and the rest of Cynic fall into my catagory of "all skill and no soul." As talented as they are, I don't see any creativity in terms of song structure and composition.
Some positives for album include how unique it is. It did hook me into listening to the album when I started listening to it. As stated before, each member is very talented and skill and techinque have always been an aspect within heavy metal. Besides all the negatives I have said about Focus, I do overall enjoy this album. "Veil of Maya" is a dark track with some good riffs and unique singing and "How Could I?" is a very good album closer. But my favorite aspect of the album is the constant use of clean guitars. Not many death metal bands will even think about switching off the overdrive. Cynic are a good example of how diverse death metal can be, along with Opeth.
Overall, I did like the album, but all the same I was somewhat disappointed. The high praise I heard about this album made me expect another "Human" or "Unquestionable Presence" but those standards were nowhere near met. I probably will never see why this album is greatly regarded. Anyone who loves death and/or progressive metal or looking for something different will really like this album. But for me, I will pick Death, Opeth, or Atheist over Cynic anyday.