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A Masterpiece of Progressive Death Metal - 97%

__Ziltoid__, April 8th, 2010

Like Atheist, Cynic completely redefined death metal with a huge dose of progressiveness. Yet even though both bands went for the same general idea, they both turned out completely different in terms of their actual musical output. With Focus, Cynic took the same general path as Atheist, while also reaffirming the point that eschewing genre norms can lead to a unique and creative masterpiece.

Focus is simply one of the best progressive death metal albums ever, yet oddly enough, there really isn’t too much straightforward death metal on here. Every track is filled with calm, soothing, almost jazzy interludes, but even with that, the riffs are also not very heavy. The general lack of heaviness on the riffs, however, is absolutely necessary. Riffs like Brutality’s simply wouldn’t fit with the constantly transitioning dynamic structure of Focus. These riffs are not heavy, but rather they add a bit to the generally abstract and celestial atmosphere created by the bass and the vocoder by seamlessly intertwining with them, yet by also being just heavy enough to maintain their identity in the song (a good example of this is around the 2:39 mark in ‘Sentiment’). The solos are also of top quality. While not as significant to the album as those of Unquestionable Presence, they are very technical and add great finishing touches to the songs (of course, with the most notable being the ending solo of ‘How Could I’).

Anyone listening to this album can easily tell you that the bass is almost as central, if not more central, to the music as the guitars. Simply put, this is one of the best bass performances on record. The bass rarely stays behind the guitars, instead weaving intricate melodies all over the album while also staying nice an high in the mix. This bass sound also significantly adds to the atmosphere I mentioned before, giving Focus an almost extraterrestrial-like vibe. In addition, this is a landmark death metal album in that it was one of the very few (including Atheist’s discography) to emphasize the bass as much as it does. This helped revolutionize the role of bass in death metal, making it much more active and creating another dimension to music that many bands were simply ignoring.

The drums are perfect. Really, that is all that needs to be said. Sean Reinert created some amazing rhythms on this album, both in the heavier sections and in the softer sections. Like Unquestionable Presence, the drums often implement multiple rhythms in very short spans of time while also maintaining great cohesiveness. To be blunt, there are very few parts here that you could hear in any other death metal band. Instead, this are all highly creative sections that give the music a high level of complexity.

Of course, the one point of debate amongst the metal community tends to be the vocals. The harsh vocals admittedly aren’t really good, but the do the job enough. The clean vocals, however, really add yet another dimension to this album and to death metal as a whole. To this album, it adds to the atmosphere I’ve touched on before. The inhuman, robotic nature of them fits amazingly well, and the vocoder really shines when the vocals are over a soft section in a song. But to death metal as a whole, it showed that clean vocals can be used. I’m actually really surprised that nobody has attempted to create a death metal album with entirely clean vocals in this vein, but there are many cases now where some death metal albums implement clean vocals in a few sections.

Some of the standout tracks are ‘Veil Of Maya’, ‘Sentiment’, ‘Uroboric Forms’, ‘Textures’, and ‘How Could I’. Note that I listed more than half of the album. That speaks for itself as to how great Focus is.

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