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Cynic - Focus CD (album) cover

FOCUS

Cynic

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.19 | 504 ratings

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Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Focus is a highly complex, challenging, and cryptic metal album from early in the prog-metal period. It is frequently described as "death metal meets jazz" by other reviewers, but I think this is an over simplification because it probably won't sell a fan of either of those two genres of music alone on the group's sound. Focus isn't heavy, oppressive, or loud enough to be conventional death metal, and it isn't so open-ended or mellow enough to be avant garde jazz. So what the heck is Focus?

Well, it's definitely more metal than anything else. There is a prevalence of chugging, guitar shredding, and growling vocals to lock it firmly into that genre; however, it's very tame compared to "real" metal bands like Slayer or Metallica or (insert "real" metal band here). Focus is noisy and moderately aggressive, but it's not going to destroy you with metal awesomeness. Maybe that's where the jazz comes in? The band strives, and succeeds, to make their flavor of metal highly instrumental and complex. There are countless time/key/dynamic changes within songs, and each of the players is on top of their game. The drumming is one feature that I think distinguishes Focus from other metal bands, Reinert's playing is clear and often the "jazziest" of the bunch; very different sounding for a metal group. As a whole, the quite moments on Focus are more interesting than the real metal ones, which is part of the reason why I enjoyed the more mature Traced in Air than Focus.

Let's talk briefly about the vocals. Yes there are death metal growls; there are also electronically altered singing. Both of which are weak and don't contribute much of anything to the overall effect. It is very difficult to distinguish any of the lyrics, and both singers are surprisingly monotone. This makes the vocals just sort of "there," contributing to the noise of the album in the way that a crying baby contributes to the annoyances of a busy restaurant. It's there, you can ignore it if you're strong enough, or you can focus on it and get frustrated and let it ruin your meal.

You may have heard that Opeth is another of these "death metal for people that hate death metal" bands. Again, this is an over simplification, but I think it's much more true than with Cynics work here. Focus is death metal for math-rock enthusiasts that value technical proficiency and experimentation. Even though short, I found myself happy that it ended when it did.

There are a lot of sounds crammed into this 35 minute album, and if you're interested in instrumental hard rock/metal, then you've found a great album with some amazing playing. That's with the notable caveat that you can tolerate a very noisy and structure less album that lacks emotional touchstones or identifiable lyrics. As a fan of Prog Archives, that's probably OK with you, but be warned: Focus will probably not jump out at the average listener or beg for repeat listening. It's an album that happens whether you want it to or not, and doesn't make much appeal to invite the listener to the party.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 1 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 2

Prog Leviathan | 3/5 |

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