Contemporary progressive rock is often condemned and shelved with the dinosaurs who don’t know how to move on from age old musical formulae, capes and keytar solos. The argument is that progressive rock has ceased to be truly progressive by merely aping the musical and conceptual tropes of the guys who did it first. These ‘new school’ prog bands are simply parading as progressive because they embody the skeletal features of the style that were established and perfected long ago. Their influences are worn so tightly on their sleeves that the flesh has become septic.
This is one opinion, the other is that the genre has undergone a recontextualisation; it has been rebooted and reupholstered, and now stands apart—albeit always connected—from its classic past. This is where Kyros come in. Celexa Dreams, the four-piece’s most recent offering, is the confluence of many styles that are sonically linked, but underappreciated in terms of the radiant glow that can result.
Firstly, the band clearly take unashamed influence from the 80s output of Rush, particularly albums like Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows. These albums were slap bang in the middle of Rush’s synth-led era, where the synths encroached increasingly on their mostly guitar-driven sound. While not the band’s most lauded material in their catalogue, this period is certainly overlooked as the powerhouse of sun-kissed bangers that it was. Tracks like the saccharine “Rumour” epitomise this feeling, with stratospheric synths combining with earthly power chords to create aural bliss. Not just that, but the muscular, restless bass of Peter Episcopo just runs rings around the other instrumentation like a naughty child, bringing to mind Geddy Lee’s springy playing on a track like “The Big Money”. Kyros just hit that mid-80s synth-prog bullseye so effortlessly.
If it’s not already apparent, there’s a bit of a theme developing here: the 80s. Celexa Dreams is awash with that nostalgic aura that pervades every other pop artist at the moment. You never have to wait too long for gated drum shockwaves and beaming pop hooks to arrive. “Sentry” has this almost sultry impression to it with Adam Warne’s gorgeous android-y vocal processing sounding like something The 1975 would do. It just pops so hard it’s impossible not to belt your heart out to it. “Phosphene”’s hook is possibly the most arena-sized of the bunch, attempting what Steven Wilson attempted with To the Bone but arguably hitting the mark more successfully. Of course, massive pop choruses are not uncommon in the prog rock sphere, but Kyros’ are just a step above in their fluidity and genuine danceability, which is a hard tenet to come by in such a dorky and rigid genre. That’s why it didn’t exactly come as a surprise to hear Adam Warne express his love for Dua Lipa’s most recent homage to the golden age of hip-swinging pop on the Progspace podcast.
That’s not all though, Kyros indulge in instrumental intricacies aplenty to make those resplendent synth massages all the more sweet. The modern prog metal eccentricities of Native Construct and Others by No One make their way into the longer cuts on Celexa Dreams in the form of kooky scatting in the second portion of “Technology Killed the Kids III”. However it fully rears its head on the utterly frenetic and zany instrumental track “UNO Attack”, which is exactly what you want an unrestrained prog metal track to be. It tosses and turns between reforming melodic motifs from earlier in the record to a brief but throttling beatdown section that seems to come completely out of nowhere. It’s certainly the most invigorating an all-out prog assault has felt in a little while.
For me, why Celexa Dreams sounds as fresh as it does is down to a word I mentioned at the beginning of this review: recontextualisation. Of course, the individual components that Kyros are pulling from are not new and have been mastered time and time again. If the band had only referred to the relatively narrow sphere of prog in constructing their own work, this might be a very different story. But Kyros have taken the undeniable pop sensibility of Peter Gabriel’s So, and married it with Rush’s new wave turn, Native Construct’s oddities and the crisp production veneer and tech metal adjacent tendencies of Vola, Voyager and Haken. If you’re coming to Kyros expecting something revolutionary you may be disappointed, however those who love the interplay between synth, pop and prog will likely get a lot out of Kyros.
Celexa Dreams is available on 19th June via White Star Records.