Central Floridian death metal band Cynic comes into focus again, 30 years later

‘ReFocus’ is worth listening to ahead of Saturday’s show at Conduit

Cynic photo by Andres Montero Conde

In the early 1990s metal underground, Tampa death metal was king. Bands like Obituary, Deicide and Malevolent Creation were ascendant. And then, in 1993, the young band Cynic released their seismic album Focus.

It was a fearless, progressive odyssey with flawless and technical musicianship merged deftly with emotional vulnerability and just the right hint of DM-savagery. There was nothing like it at the time and, as such, it confused most everyone on the industry side. The band would soldier on for years, blissfully undaunted and confident the times would catch up with them. They were right.

In 2023, Focus is a touchstone of progressive metal that's rooted in the heart rather than the head, influencing heavyweights like Meshuggah and Between the Buried and Me. This year's remastered reissue of the album as ReFocus to mark its 30th anniversary reveals ever more prismatic layers of soul and subtlety hitherto unheard.

Now the band is on the road, marking that same milestone and playing Focus in full. Cynic frontperson and guiding light Paul Masvidal talked to Orlando Weekly about memories of Focus and grieving onstage for gone-too-soon friends and Cynic fulcrums Sean Reinert and Sean Malone.

Does it get emotional when you're performing Focus and also thinking of lost friends?

I have experienced intense emotions at times, baring my soul. Each show provides a new experience, and when I step on stage, I am unsure of what to expect, except for a deliberate transparency in the present moment. I allow myself to feel a range of emotions. When we first started touring Focus in Latin America last April, I struggled to make it through a few shows because I felt the intense and raw grief of their losses all over again. I felt completely vulnerable and exposed. My intention is to allow myself to break down and not try to put myself back together. This helps me connect with the audience in an authentic way that feels fair and reciprocal. The music helps me get back on my feet.

Is there hesitation to revisit albums or mark anniversaries, especially with a forward-facing album like Focus?

I am not a big fan of nostalgia and looking back. Even though Focus turned 30 this year, what lies beneath these tours is the gratitude I feel towards Sean Reinert and Sean Malone, and the beautiful work we were able to create together all those years with the fans. It is also an opportunity to share where we are now and find a way back into performing with an awesome band.

I saw Cynic back in the '90s and what impressed me was this feeling of serene calm you all exuded that night. What was the onstage dynamic at that time for you?

It sounds like it was a good night, ha! I felt relaxed while playing the songs back then, and I still do now, three decades later. Despite the dynamic and turbulent swirl of notes and sounds, Cynic, for me, is for the most part driven by a sense of calmness at its core. The songs are lyrically focused on this vibe. Focus was born from a range of energies, from incredible tension to the intimate and serene spaces we created for ourselves as a means of survival.

When writing Focus, what were you all listening to and how were you encouraging and pushing each other?

As we delved deeper into playing our instruments, jazz and fusion resonated with us more deeply. We found inspiration in artists like John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Allan Holdsworth. Cynic was always drawn to music that defied conventions and sounded innovative. We were young and dealing with the confusion of our own traumatic childhoods, but we found solace in each other through music. Music became a sanctuary where we could find strength and courage to navigate life on our own terms, with integrity and discipline. Above all else, we prioritized the music and were determined to be the best we could be. Much has changed, but much has also remained the same.

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