DB HOF NO. 56
The making of Cynic’s “Focus”
Focus almost never happened. Hurricane Andrew (a Category 5 storm that devastated South Florida in 1992), bassists frequently exiting and three separate visits to Morrisound Studios could’ve cost the world Cynic. Despite Andrew—considered a blessing by vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal—the setbacks and Roadrunner Records’ visionless disposition, the Miami-based quartet persevered, crafting eight exhilarating, uncommonly technical songs that would spark death metal anew. Unlike any before (Death’s Human comes close) and after (Gorguts’ Obscura righteously bends minds), Focus dropped jaws, defied expectations and expanded horizons. The problem was that too few—from fans to label reps—outside the band understood Cynic’s sophisticated, barely metal musical language.
But it’s always been like that. They’re perennial outsiders. From the first demo in ’88 to Focus, Cynic, as regarded as they were in the press and by fellow musicians, failed to attract the attention they so justly deserved. The mold—whether it’s thrash or death—that was cast by progenitors like Slayer, Possessed and Death ultimately didn’t fit. Cynic weren’t emulators. The aggression was there. But the mindset contrasted vastly. In fact, more was owed to crossover heroes Ludichrist and thrash metal mavericks Voivod than to any band from the Sunshine State. They were innovators. Post-Andrew, Masvidal and company developed wider and deeper tastes, seamlessly stitching in new influences like jazz fusion, progressive rock and shoegaze to create new, imaginative shapes.
From “Celestial Voyage” and “How Could I” to “I’m but a Wave to…” and fan favorite “Uroboric Forms,” the genre’s trademarks—growls, hairpin riffing and double bass drums—were immediately recognizable. Yet most things on Focus weren’t. Masvidal’s alien, computer-like voice, the effortless slip from tech-y crunch to groovy lines by guitarists Jason Gobel and Masvidal, bassist Sean Malone’s subtle taps of the Chapman Stick and drummer Sean Reinert’s skillful inclusion of electronic drums contributed to Cynic’s clever yet composed songwriting. What defined them, however, weren’t the neat add-ons. It was the full trip: the songs, the posi-lyrics, the flourishes of jack-of-all-trades Tony Teegarden, the brilliant colors of Robert Venosa’s cover art and the bright Scott Burns production.
Cynic might be a little fey to a Deicide or Cannibal Corpse diehard, but it’s important to remember death metal roughnecks at the time thought otherwise. So did we. Focus is, for all intents and purposes, superlative, and therefore the Hall of Fame rolls out the magic red carpet to induct the most significant progressive death metal (by association) record of all time.
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