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Cynic's Focus is a record I have wrestled with for a long time. I find it alternately brilliant and maddening. There are touches of genius dashed against the rocks of mindless self-indulgence. I once described this record as a death metal version of "Rockit" era Herbie Hancock fronting Yes. You can't help but cringe at the embarrassing new-age lyrics and pseudo-philosophical noodlings, and yet... there is power here: strong rhythms, grating vocals, creepy robotics, hints and allusions to a dark sci-fi filtering of post-Human era Death (from whom this record indirectly sprung). There are times I put this record on and think it's one of the greatest things ever recorded. But mostly I shake my head and wonder how the band ever thought they could stitch such disparate sounds together. Often heralded as the greatest of death metal's first-wave, space-age experimenters, I find this record works less well than those by Death, Pestilence, Atheist, and Cadaver. Excepting "Uroboric Forms," the majority of what I would even consider as death metal music hardly appears at all. Taken directly out of that narrowing genre stricture, the record is more enjoyable but having picked this up in 1993 expecting another classic Floridian death-thrash masterpiece, I was confused and disturbed. This sounded more like those horrible jazz-rock fusion bands that death metal ought be smashing to pieces.
Time heals all wounds however and I can appreciate Focus more now that I am older and less interested in keeping my genres so strictly dissected. But if Cynic really wanted to be the world's heaviest King Crimson, the idea is a bit of a bust. "Veil Of Maya" is notably interesting in its three-tier vocal approach of vocoder, ethereal female phrasing, and death grunts. I like the bouncy, rubbery bass grooves and double-bass aggression. But beneath this veneer is some fairly standard, straight-forward songwriting. The guitar work is mostly boring. These aren't great riffs and the solos get too self-absorbed to really make a lasting impact. There are some occasionally beautiful passages, like at the finish of "How Could I" and in certain passages of "Textures," but overall I am not as blown away as most by the guitar work. Thirty-five minutes blow by without making much of an impression outside of "Uroboric Forms," which is a gripping slice of riveting death-thrash with just the right amount of progressive accoutrement. I wish the rest of the record were more like this. Whereas Pestilence et all deviated from traditional death metal, they still retained the sort of laser-like focus to the genres initial underpinnings that this record seems to throw over completely, leaving "Uroboric Forms" the exception rather than the rule.