I honestly can’t think of another instance where a band had released a genre-defining album and just faded away. Imagine if Queensryche had debuted with Operation: Mindcrime and then broke up. That’s similar to what happened with Cynic. They released Focus in 1993, bringing a whole new dimension to both the death and progressive metal genres, and then drifted away.
It’s hard to adequately describe this album. The band had amazing technical prowess, and they used it to create a death metal album that would make a Dream Theater fan’s jaw drop. I’m not talking about Malmsteen-esque guitar heroics either. Cynic’s style owed more to jazz fusion than shredding, and the result was this free-flowing, yet highly technical sonic platter. And while it was highly technical, it is still very enjoyable and easy to listen to. Sometimes a band will go all out on technical showmanship and forget to write songs (see Spiral Architect). Fortunately that is not the case here. Focus can be appreciated on many levels. Prog fans will marvel at the musicianship and death metal fans should appreciate the uniqueness Cynic brought to the genre, even if they weren’t as aggressive as most death metal bands tended to be. After Focus was released, the band split up. Some of the members resurfaced in bands like OSI and Gordian Knot, but the now-legendary Cynic was never heard from again.
Focus is an absolutely essential album for anyone who is a fan of death and/or progressive metal. It’s just a breathtaking listening experience, and when you hear it you can “see” the blueprint for just about every technical metal band that followed.
Edition Notes: In 2004, Roadrunner took a great album and made it even better. The re-released version of Focus features remastered sound, 3 remixed tracks, and 3 demo tracks from a Cynic offshoot called Portal. The remixes really don’t add much, but the Portal demos are quite cool. Featuring female vocals, they have almost a Cynic-meets-The Gathering sound. I give it my highest possible recommendation.