Cynic‘s Focus turned 15 yesterday. Plenty of ink has been spilled on it, so I need not discuss its importance, except to point out that without it there would be no Alarum, Behold…The Arctopus, Between the Buried and Me, Intronaut, Spiral Architect, and many other bands today. I don’t remember when I first heard it, but my impressions now are distinctly different from then.
First, the record seems transitional. Yes, its innovation was combining death metal and jazz fusion, but the mix isn’t seamless. Some of the parts are quite messy. Often, the pretty jazz bits drop in out of nowhere, and I don’t think the band had a complete grasp on its sound. Of course, such unpredictability was part of the appeal, the sound of exploring new territory. Even the brevity of the record (36:14) suggests unfinished business. The 2-song promo leaked earlier this year (downloadable here) seems more like the direction the band was heading – less metal, more jazz fusion.
Second, Scott Burns wasn’t the right guy to produce. This is probably obvious – but it does make me wonder if I would love the record, rather than just like it, if it had gotten the widescreen production it deserved. Nothing against Burns, as he helmed some of my all-time favorite records. It’s just that the Death Metal Guy wasn’t ideal to produce a record that was hardly Death Metal.
Third, the Roadrunner remaster from 2004 sounds like shit, as Roadrunner remasters usually do. It’s harsh and shiny, yet the low end is booming and muddy. Sean Reinert’s drumming is crisp and nuanced, and that’s completely lost in the remaster. But the remaster does include three way-cool Portal demos (as well as three pointless “remixes”) and the expanded liner notes typical for reissues. Nice-looking package, if not a nice-sounding one.
I’m really excited to hear Traced in Air (out on October 27/28). It’ll likely have a Cynic-worthy production, as well as low metal content. Normally that’s a minus, but I think metal was only holding Cynic back. The jazz/prog parts of Focus were so much stronger than its metal, and I think they’re where the band’s heart lies.