1993, Music

Focus (1993) by Cynic

Most of the time, when I encounter “progressive death metal” (which this sounds like to me, but which it isn’t categorized as on RYM), I think “this isn’t very progressive.” It usually sounds like more ambitious death metal, but it doesn’t sound very proggy. Well, not so here. If there is one thing this record is, it is proggy sounding, even if no track is even six minutes long. (Length is usually a big thing in prog.)

This is some ambitious, difficult music, that attempts to combine metal, prog and jazz rock or jazz fusion. Seriously. I have never heard anything like it and, on an intellectual level, I want to really like it. This is the kind of thing I expect to hear but never do when I encounter a genre with the word “progressive” in it.

And I think I mostly like the music. It’s not exactly death metal (more on that in a minute) but it’s super knotty and complicated while still being melodic enough that there are catchy moments. (I.e. you’re not going to have the problem most people have with death metal, where there are usually not too many strong melodies.)

But the execution is where I have problems. As others have noted, the biggest issue is the singing: one of the singers (a guest) is singing in a death metal-style growl. This it the most “death metal” thing about the record. The underlying metal strikes me as a little closer to mainstream metal. (Note that this is probably just what “technical death metal” means, as I’m not a genre expert or purist.) Those vocals would probably be fine on their own, even if they sound a little incongruous at times. But the real problem is the real lead singer, who sings virtually all of his vocals through a vocoder. I have no idea why he did this but it sounds really, really cheesy. It takes the cheesiest of the prog and fusion moments to new levels of cheese, and makes metal parts sound cheesy when they shouldn’t. It is a really weird stylistic decision. It was likely extremely unique at the time but it didn’t age well.

And for a “death metal” band, these guys do waltz into jazz rock/fusion cheese a little more than I’d like. I don’t know how you avoid that if you like jazz fusion, but I guess I’d prefer less of it.

Anyway, I wish I liked this more. It’s still interesting, though, and makes me wonder if there is a record they made without a vocoder which I could listen to and potentially enjoy more.


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