Sound — 9
To try and label the sound of 'Focus' as any specific genre is anything but futile. Cynic have managed to craft a majestic concoction of death metal with various elements of other musical styles, most notably progressive, jazz, and avant-garde. Upon first hearing 'Focus', I was quite literally enthralled by the talent and creativity that the band so readily displayed on the album. They have a knack for creating textured musical layers that interweave seamlessly and without outside influence. For a CD released in the early 1990's, it still manages to remain musically relevant, and I have heard very few progressive metal albums to this day that push the boundaries as far as this album. Production-wise, the sound is very similar to Death's 'Human' album, and Atheist's 'Unquestionable Presence', but the bass seems to be relatively high in the mix (which is great since Shawn Malone's playing is quite a highlight on this release). The guitars are interestingly played, switching from obscure death metal riffagery to melodic, clean playing. The drumming is top notch as well, nothing to complain about in that aspect.
Lyrics — 8
In keeping with the progressiveness of the music, Cynic decided to make their lyrics somewhat quirky and unique as well. Might I say, it works a charm, and the abstract lyrics only strengthen the mysterious sound they try to emphasize. They definitely are thought-provoking, and provide a refreshing take on our perceptions of life, and the world in general. For example, some lyrics from the song Veil of Maya: "Veil of Maya, Balance every joy with a grief, Dual scales of Maya, Earth's unending law of polarity." The vocalist, Paul Masvidal, uses two vocal styles: growling/rasping, and a robot-like voice (which has been transformed electronically). The former is fairly standard, but has its own unique tonality and intricacies which I enjoy. The latter vocal style is a curious thing, and at first I could not make up mind if I liked it or not. However, I have since grown to like it, and the progressive feel of the record wouldn't shine through completely without it.
Overall Impression — 8
If you're looking for refreshing, stimulating metal, then Cynic's 'Focus' is a good album to check out. It is, in my opinion, one of progressive metal's finer offerings, and is well worth a good listen. As for the robotic vocals, you'll probably either love them or hate them, but at the end of the day the incredible musicianship is still there. My favorite songs from the album would probably be 'How Could I', 'I'm But A Wave To...', and 'Celestial Voyage'. Whether you're a metal fan or not, give this release a go if you want something a bit different.