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Cynic – Focus

It has been a long time since an album blew off the top of my head.

I consider myself pretty lucky – I get to hear a lot of great albums in a year. Many become favourites of mine. But it’s rare for an album to just shove me backwards as effortlessly as this one did.

I can see you rolling your eyes at the hyperbole. But seriously, this thing is just… immense. I’ve tried a million ways to describe what I heard this afternoon as I spun it in the Office, and I’ve been finding myself coming up way, way short.

The best I can do from my own brain is that it’s like five albums from different genres all crammed into one record. Hell, crammed into each song! It’s so all over the place, and yet it all holds together. It’s completely intoxicating. In the hands of lesser musicians, this album would have sounded like utter shit. But these guys nail it, again and again, shape-shifting effortlessly and pasting together elements that shouldn’t work but, here, they do! It’s wild.

To listen to this… it demands your absolute attention. Your… Focus. [Ahem.] I was sitting there, listening, and thinking I heard so many other recent bands in it. But then I realized that, quite probably, I was instead hearing what had influenced all those other bands. I was inside looking out, not vice versa. Cool.

This copy I have here is the Expanded Edition remaster from the venerable Roadrunner Records. It contains 6 bonus tracks (as if the album proper wasn’t enough to fry your circuits!), new artwork, photos, etc. And on the slipcover it sums things up better than I ever could, so I’ll just quote it here, verbatim, and let it constitute full agreement from me:

“With the release of Focus in 1991, the Florida-based Cynic successfully re-wrote the progressive rock blueprint, and in the process reached a new technical benchmark in extreme music. Widely heralded as a musical masterpiece, Focus showcases Cynic’s seamless meshing of progressive rock, jazz, eastern mysticism and computerized vocals interspersed with ethereal harmonies and aggressive vocals. In a word, Focus is an absolute classic.”

That this record even got made is a gift to us all. That it was this band’s debut album is mind-boggling.

This was crazy. It feels like you’re holding on for dear life the whole time. I loved it!

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