the focus hasn't really shifted from permas to rebangs... most permas are less populated/competitive because the player base is spread out over like 10 different ones. rebangs aren't terribly inactive tho a couple are. Extended rebangs are usually pretty competitive.
There's been tons of changes since you left. lots of people have quit and the general consensus is that the game is in decline. toonces now runs the game by himself without a team. Gameplay has become more complex, and often imbalanced, so the simple game that you left is now very different. The perma dynamic has gone from a highly competitive, fast-paced war game with many active and distinct factions per server, to a single corp or group of players trying to amass as many colonies as possible so they can be virtual kings in a non-competitive environment
Just telling it like it is
If you haven't played in years, it will still be fun at first, for at least a couple weeks, maybe a month, maybe even two. Then you might start to lose interest