Kyros – Celexa Dreams
I was introduced to progressive music in the late 80’s and early 90’s. My way in was through the more extreme genres, that at the time had started to blend technicality and fusion elements with their intense thrash and death metal. Shortly after I encountered my first taste of what would become known as prog metal; Fates Warning, Queensrÿche and of course, Dream Theater. I would voraciously consume everything I could find on this rising subgenre, reading interviews with band members, and pouring over the “thanks to:” lists on my albums, where the musicians would often mention other bands and inspirations. There was one band that always seemed to be mentioned. Rush. No matter, if it was intricate melody, focused prog or someone blasting blistering fast technical riffs, it seemed Rush was part of their DNA.
Of course, back then I did not know that prog had been declared dead at the start of the 80’s. That most early bands had either succumbed to the onslaught of punk, and the changing landscape of popular music, and folded, or morphed into different variants, trying to keep up with the changing times. But I quickly learned that this was an era looked back at with shame by a lot of prog fans. Dinosaurs like ELP releasing failed albums like “Love Beach” and then subsequently falling apart, with Palmer surfacing shortly after in pop-rock supergroup Asia, together with Yes guitarist Steve Howe. Genesis changed into the pop group they are mostly known as today, and you still hear fans complain about it to this day. There were of course a few new bands surfacing around the same time, with names like Pallas, Marillion and Pendragon. But these bands seemed to be more focused on continuing the legacy of the early 70’s masters than to take any inspiration from contemporary sounds and stylings.
And here we get back to Rush. A very unique sound appeared on their albums through the 80’s, a sound that has since disappeared, or does not seem to be much of an inspiration to newer artists. They were not completely alone in this however. Yes, to a certain degree, shifted their sound when Geoff Downes and Trevor Horne (and later Trevor Rabin) entered the band. We got albums like “Drama”, “90125” and later “Big Generator”. Albums more or less appreciated by the Yes fans at the time. All the while Rush never lost their way, and gave us a string of amazing albums through the 80s. Albums that blended their progressive roots with a, for the time, modern sound and inspiration. They created a fantastically catchy and pop-infused style, that few have been able to even come close to since.
Why this long-winded introduction when I’m supposed to write a review of an album by UK band Kyros released in 2020 you might ask? Well, as I stated earlier, this aforementioned era of progressive music has not really been tapped into by bands since. There have of course been attempts more recently to paint a layer of 80’s veneer onto prog, by certain bands. Currently we are living in an era where the 80’s have been seen as “in” again, and synthwave, neon-lights and cyberpunkish dystopias seem to seep into modern culture through mainstream channels such as Stranger Things and Glow. It comes as no surprise that bands should be inspired by this influx of nostalgia. For better or for worse.
Kyros – Rumour (click here if the video does not play)
So now we might finally get to the point. Sure, you might get out your brush, and slap a coat of bright neon paint on your patented progressive metal or rock album, or you could do what Kyros has done here: Carefully unearth the still-beating heart of 80’s prog and infuse yourself with the absolute best the genre had to offer in those bleak years, where everyone proclaimed it to be dead. Kyros has with “Celexa Dreams” managed to do something quite unheard of. They have created an album of music that would not have been out of place in the era they draw inspiration from, but yet manage to fit their compositions into a modern, contemporary framework. “Celexa Dreams” is a heartfelt tribute to this “lost” era of progressive music, but at the same time, it stands firmly on its own two legs, adding important and unheard dimensions to cutting-edge prog.
I’ve been listening almost constantly to the album over the last couple weeks, and it instantly overwhelmed me with its sheer musicality and depth. As a listener, there is, of course, a sense of nostalgia and joy in recognizing the tropes and sound palette of the era in question, but that’s not the real point. It’s more than that, so much more. Because “Celexa Dreams” is a genuinely impressive album, brimming with great songwriting and surprising twists.
As someone who is familiar with the name, the title of the album also stood out to me instantly. “Celexa” is, of course, the name-brand of a drug that is used to treat, among other things, depression and social phobia. And I don’t know if it’s because I’m personally familiar with this drug that I can hear traces of the struggles relating to mental health in the music and lyrical content of ‘Celexa Dreams’. But seeing as one out of four people will be affected by a mental disorder at one time or another in their life, I surmise that I’m not alone in this.
I knew, of course, that the guys in Kyros are accomplished musicians, capable of crafting great music.The band was originally a vessel for keyboardist/vocalist Adam Warne’s musical ideas, and originally named Synaesthesia, since then he has recruited a full band around him, consisting of bassist Peter Episcopo, drummer Robin Johnson, and finally guitarist Joey Frevola. Frevola, of course, impressed us here at The Progspace with his own fantastic solo-effort “Gone” that was released last year. A concept album that also features Warne and Johnson as contributing musicians.
I became familiar with them after seeing them perform in the wake of the release of their second full-length album “Vox Humana” in 2016. An album that became a favourite almost instantly with its fresh mix of progressive influences. There were definite signs on that album, buds that had yet to fully blossom. But to state that I anticipated the hyper-focus of “Celexa Dreams” would be a lie. It is quite apparent that the band has an appreciation and understanding of this time in music, and that they are able to tap into that here. Not just as a pastiche of the sound of the era, but a legitimate work, infused with the sound and style of that time.
The real powerhouse of the album is the 14 minutes long ‘In Vantablack’, where Kyros, in my opinion, comes close to perfection of their intended style. The gated drums and percussion effects of Robin Johnson coupled with extraordinary bass-work by Peter Episcopo add great dynamism to the track. Warne’s vocals are varied, sometimes powerful, belting out the lyrics, other times more subtle and melody focused, simply adding another layer to the complex framework of the track. There is an uplifting quality to this epic, like a bright ray of sunshine breaking through dark clouds, somewhat reminiscent of the general optimism and positivity featured on one of my favourite Rush albums, “Hold Your Fire”, and I appreciate it so very much. ‘In Vantablack’ is a modern masterpiece of the genre, no more or less.
Kyros – Phosphene (click here if the video does not play)
‘Phosphene’ is a slow-burning melancholic ballad of the best pedigree. Reminiscent of something Genesis might have done in their transition between prog and more straight forward pop-music. Warne sings with passion and carries the track to an emotional finish. It’s quite apparent that these lyrics mean a lot to him. If you are a fan of It Bites, Kino or Frost*, ‘Phosphene’ might hit you where it hurts, as its style is quite reminiscent of those bands at their best. One of the more soft-spoken tracks on the album, but nevertheless one of the highlights.
‘Two Frames of Panic’ is also one of the highlights of the album. A rhythmic spearhead driven forward by Johnson’s pounding drums and Warne’s catchy vocal melodies. Certain parts of the mid-section almost give me “So”-era Gabriel vibes, before opening up to a brilliant guitar solo from, I have to imagine, none other than Frevola.
Kyros – Two Frames of Panic (click here if the video does not play)
Finally, the sophisticated instrumental ‘UNO Attack’ deserves to be mentioned. More guitar-driven than the rest of the album, but with space to marvel over the instrumental prowess of this group of young musicians. Still, let us be clear, this does not come across as convoluted just to impress. There is melody, a clear red thread to follow and enough forceful heavy riffs to make your neck ache from headbanging, if so inclined.
I could really go into detail about almost every track on the album. The Gabriel vibes of ‘Rumors’, the flowing parts of ‘Technology Killed The Kids III’ that remind me of Kate Bush, or the magnificent ending track ‘Her Song Is Mine’ that sounds like it could be taken from a musical. But I won’t bore you any longer, because you have better things to do: put on your headphones and go out into the sunlight my friend, and bring ‘Celexa Dreams’ with you!
- In Motion
- In Vantablack
- Ghost Kids
- Technology Killed the Kids III
- Two Frames of Panic
- UNO Attack
- Her Song is Mine