CYNIC was a band which, as many technical Death Metal-devotees like myself know, changed the face of an entire genre of music in the course of one album. Unfortunately this would be their only recorded album to ever be released, but the wake it left behind was immense and undeniable. There are those who would say that combining Death Metal, Jazz/Fusion, New Age, Thrash and Electronica into one "sound" would be impossible to do without sounding pretentious and overambitious. I can only say that such people remain the unfortunate ones in this case, as the music CYNIC brings to life on "Focus" is as intensely involving and FOCUSED as one can imagine. Even after owning this album for seven years now, I still uncover something new with each repeated listen.
The band begin with "Veil Of Maya", which pretty serves as a microcosm for the intentions of the entire album. Fueled by the percussive wizardry of underground drum-legend Sean Reinert, the band seamlessly shift from 16th-note double-picking, double bass insanity to mellow, almost Latin-sounding Jazz-interludes and back with the greatest of ease. The guitar duo of Paul Masvidal and Jason Gobel play riffs that constantly weave in and out of one another in an almost improvised fashion, complimenting one another perfectly. The riffs are so incredibly complex and notey, a feature of this band's music that would later make them the underground-legend they were, and still are to this day.
The vocals are varied between throaty Death-rasps (courtesy of Tony Teegarden) and Paul Masvidal's synthesized clean vocals that add an almost "electronica" vibe to the band's music along with Sean Reinert's occasional use of electronic drums. This is most prominent in songs like "Uroboric Forms", which ends in a double-bass-thrash-assault ala DEATH's "Human"-album, which Reinert and Masvidal also played on. On "Sentiment", the band shows it's Jazz/Fusion-affinities, as they abandon the Death-vocals and challenge the listener, beginning the song with some groovy drum n'bass with alternating bars of 5/8, 6/8, and 21/8 in the "chorus" sections, showing the depth of each musician's rhythmic and theoretical musical knowledge. The album ends with the epic "How Could I" which, for me, contains the best drum performance in any genre of music, EVER. The outro is a Melodic Metal-lover's wet-dream, as Gobel solos over a beautiful, double picked guitar melody which serves as an unforgettable conclusion to perhaps the most groundbreaking "Death Metal"-album to ever be recorded.
Let it also be known that the bass-playing, by none other than the great Sean Malone, is unparalleled. The only player in Metal to ever touch this performance was Steve DiGiorgio on DEATH's "Individual Thought Patterns". Ironically, both players favoured the fretless bass in their performances, which is a rarity in Death Metal, and has scarcely ever been used in Metal at all, but the slithery, serpentine sound of the fretless in Malone's solo on "Textures" is, by anyone's standards, a sound to behold.
...and truly an album to behold as well. I would suggest giving this album a listen ONLY if you possess an extremely open mind. Otherwise the sheer extremity of it all may frighten you into dismissing it as pure musical pretentiousness. This is not an album to "chill with your friends and have a few beers to", it is too demanding of one's full attention. If you are willing and open, it will show you amazing things.