Monday, 7 May 2012

CYNIC - Focus (1993)


01  Veil Of Maya
02  Celestial Voyage
03  The Eagle Nature
04  Sentiment
05  I'm But A Wave To...
06  Uroboric Forms
07  Textures
08  How Could I

'Focus' is the debut album by Cynic, released September 14, 1993 through Roadrunner Records. Cynic was formed by guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert in 1987. In 1988, the band made their first recording, simply called the '88 Demo. After the demo, Paul Masvidal took over vocal duties, while continuing to play guitar. The band also added a second guitarist, Jason Gobel. After years of being hailed as promising in Florida's death metal scene, Cynic recorded 'Focus'. The result was an album combining their love of death metal with other influences, notably jazz-fusion. Instead of choosing the brutal and hard-hitting approach to metal like most of their contemporaries, 'Focus' takes an experimental stance to music.

Although being often dubbed progressive metal, the musical approach on 'Focus' has arguably even more in common with jazz than it has with the progressive metal or progressive rock movements, leading some to coin the term "jazz metal" to describe the music. Elements of both can be found: progressive rock/metal is reflected in some song structures and occasional odd-time meters, while jazz influences are evident in some harmonic and rhythmic phenomena. The songs alternate between harsh death metal parts and more serene, smoother passages. In general, the parts flow smoothly into each other instead of making abrupt, sudden transitions. In addition to being rather complex rhythmically, the songs also feature an advanced approach to harmony, as far as heavy metal music is considered. The vocal melodies are mostly simple and linear, leaving a lot of melodic space for the guitars and even bass instead.

The most distinct feature on the album is the use of two types of main vocals, almost equally prominent. In a traditional death metal vein, the album features a hoarse, guttural, growling voice - death grunts - courtesy of keyboardist Tony Teegarden. Lead singer Paul Masvidal was in danger of losing his voice at the time and thus did not perform the growling vocals himself. The other main type of vocal output is Masvidal singing through a vocoder-type effect, resulting in a synthesized voice with a robotic quality.

The lyrics, written by Masvidal, are poetic, philosophically and spiritually laden texts that take on subjects such as perceiving the world as whole, distinguishing reality and illusion, concentration and meditation. Many of the songs incorporate themes, titles or excerpts from other works: "Veil of Maya" takes its title from a George William Russell poem of the same name, while "Sentiment" quotes a prayer from Whispers From Eternity by Paramahansa Yogananda. Many influences from oriental mysticism and religions as well as some New Age themes are present. The whole lyrical perspective is positive, humane and humble, all rather atypical qualities within the realm of death metal.

All in all, this was a pretty influential album for the technical off-shoot that was to become known as "jazz-death", yet the melody and accessible song structures seems to be missing. It's a very solid albumas far as the musicianship goes, but is by no means an essential purchase nearly twenty years later.

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