Dick’s Picks: Cynic’s groundbreaking debut album, Focus

While Cynic were championed early on in the burgeoning Florida death metal scene, Focus saw the band presenting themselves as a completely different entity. Yes, the searing extreme power of the genre is part of their lexicon, but this is technical death metal that has dined on progressive rock, followed by a jazz fusion dessert. Cynic mastermind, Paul Masvidal, had joined Chuck Schuldiner in Death for their seminal album, Human, which often draws comparison to Focus in terms of composition, but this pulled death metal off into an entirely different tangent.

It’s not your typical dragons and goblins prog-rock concept album. Masvidal drew inspiration from spirituality and philosophy to to put together incredibly poetic lyrics for what is, at it’s core, extreme music. The ideology is that you perceive the world as a whole, separating reality and illusion, and concentration and meditation. The narrative of Focus also pulls from writings of George William Russell, as well as a prayer from Indian yogi and guru, Paramahansa Yogananda.

The spiritual nature of the record is carried by an auspicious sonic palette of jaw-dropping guitar work, off-kilter time signatures and drumming, with Masvidal leading the charge with his powerful vocal delivery. Due to their association with death metal, Cynic would still tour with extreme bands, including Cannibal Corpse, and failed to ignite the passion of the metal community who wanted nothing but sheer brutality. It goes to show how ahead of their time they were, though, as countless bands would go to be influenced by them and achieve great success.

Cynic disbanded in 1997 due in part to the criticism the face from the metal community at times, but a resurgence of prog metal in the mid ’00s led Focus becoming a cult classic. The band would reunite in 2007 to critical acclaim, and have since released two albums, two EP’s and two compilation albums.

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