Every year there’s this one progressive metal band that suddenly delivers this completely fresh sound and changes the perception of what the genre can do. Last year it was Native Construct, before that A Sense Of Gravity, then Persefone, 2012 had Gods of Eden, and 2011 had The Odious. These bands all have a common narrative in that they both paid great respect to the core sound that is commonly associated with the label, but they also pushed it with creative influences and blended genres into their mix seamlessly. Cyborg Octopus are poised to do the same for 2016, and their debut Learning to Breathe is a brilliant exploration of styles and songwriting that delivers on several levels.
It’s not easy to evaluate a band that comes out of nowhere with a complex sound like this. Especially since every song on said debut release covers a different base in terms of sound. Cyborg Octopus seem to come at it all from a heavier angle than some of the bands already mentioned, having the root of their sound more in metalcore than old school progressive rock (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those). Between the Buried And Me also came from the same place, after all. On top of that, they build a framework of genre-bending experimentation taking from neoclassical, technical death metal, hardcore (“Shark Pit” is basically a metallic hardcore song), ska, funk and more. This might sound disjointed, but it’s all actually quite tame and well-integrated. It never feels like the band go on these wild tangents that are added for the sake of being wacky, instead they’re there because they fit the core of the band’s sound. The band has made these elements a part of their main repertoire instead of dabbling with them.
It’s easy for an artist to get lost in seemingly random influences and not have a core sound. Cyborg Octopus skirt dangerously close with that idea, as they take so much from other styles, but they’re clearly in control here. Every riff feels deliberate, blast beats escalate masterfully into slower riffs, the guitar work is rhythmically driven and full of neat ideas that all work well together. The vocals are mostly screamed, and it goes well with the progressive deathcore-driven framework the band have built. It’s really quite reductive to try to explain the band’s range of talents with words as they pack in so much stuff with many cool sections that it’s just unfair to them. Perhaps they’re not as varied as Native Construct, not as ridiculous as Gods of Eden and not as obsessively polished as A Sense of Gravity. Instead, they’re so consistent yet somehow consistently diverse that the dichotomy alone makes them intriguing – then they build great songs on top of that!
In the end, the only real issue with Learning to Breathe is that it ends too quickly. Usually, that’s a pretty good sign for an album, and it’s the case here as well. Cyborg Octopus come out the gate swinging and hitting on most counts, delivering a varied, ridiculous progressive metal delight and making a strong statement. Learning to Breathe deserves to be one of the landmark releases of 2016, and sets the band on a good path for future releases.