Round Table Review
The Cyberiam — Connected
In just three years, this heavy progressive quartet, based in Chicago, has built an enviable reputation as one of the most promising new arrivals on the scene.
There is a full background of the band's origins in our review of their self-titled 2018 debut album. It was more than good enough to make my list of Top 10 releases of that year, followed by highly-positive DPRP reviews of their 21-minute, one-song EP and the live album that followed.
The band's sound has been compared to many of their musical mentors and heroes, notably Dream Theater, Rush, Tool, Spock's Beard, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. All of those influences can be heard throughout the band's compositions. This, their second studio album, is likely to take them to the next level.
The line-up is unchanged from the debut album. All four members are now credited with vocals; testimony to the excellent harmonies employed throughout. So we again have Keith Semple (vocals and guitar), Tommy Murray (drums), Frank Lucas (keyboards) and Brian Kovacs (bass).
The first thing to say is that the performances are superb throughout the band, throughout the album. The production values are top level, as is the packaging, with the band keen to supply full lyrics, even with digital purchases. I like that, as the songs are wrapped up in a concept that works best if you read the lyrics as you listen.
The band have explained this about Connected's concept: “The loudest lesson that we've learned over the last year and a half is the importance of human connection. We all want to be connected. You, us, our communities, the places we live, the music ... we're connected. This album talks about connection, feeling disconnected, connecting the dots, and our connection to you.”
There is a great mix of compositional styles that gives this album a lovely balance. Opener Interrogation Room B and Wilde Things possess memorable opening melodies, before exploring extended instrumental sections. Moral Landscape is more direct and catchy, reminding me of Presto-era Rush. In sanity was the first single and carries-off nicely from the debut album. A couple of songs, including the title track, take a more balladic approach.
Overall the hooks on this album have not latched into me in the same way that Alice In Afterland, Cool Kids, Don't Blink and 2020 Visionary did on the debut. That aside, there is no denying that this is a top quality album that should be enjoyed by all fans of heavy progressive rock.
Since first hearing this Chicago based quartet, when I had the luck to request their magnificent (and my album of 2020) live album Forging Nations, I have been totally in awe of these guys. So, will their second studio opus live up to their first self-titled album, or would this be a disappointing failure?
Well, I can proudly shout from the highest vantage point, The Cyberiam have done it. Not just exceeded their potential, but with Connected, have in my opinion become the Ferrari of the progressive rock, prog-metal, and whatever other label you wish to attach to the music.
Tommy Murray and Brian Kovacs are the engine of the machine. They hold the band together, but when they touch the accelerator, they produce pure magic. They purr and growl, and add delicious fills which not only compliment, but add something which can't be described, but once heard, is very difficult to forget.
Keyboard wizz, Frank Lucas, provides the mechanics of this machine. He steers and conducts proceedings with such ease, that at times you can forget he is there. But that is the beauty of a high performance car, the drive feels natural, but the experience of driving it is what makes it so special.
Finally we have the frustratingly talented Keith Semple. Keith is the shiny stuff that adds that bit extra. But that bit extra is the bells and whistles that takes something as simple as music, or a sports car, and takes it to the next level; making it special and desirable, something that everyone should want.
With any high performance car, you need the right pit crew, and this is provided by the band's wonderful manager, Rita, who tried her best to keep the guys in check and to fulfil fan requirements when required.
So, what makes The Cyberiam so good? If this could be easily described, then it would be the magical musical formula. At times, you have to believe in fate, or the stars, or inevitability. Only so often do you get a collection of like-minded musicians, that come together and produce music of magical proportions. Think Rush, Dream Theater, Queen, Yes or Muse. These are bands that don't come along all the time, but I would already add The Cyberiam to this list. For the many bands around that have been compared to Rush, how many have you listened to that create the same magic that Alex, Geddy and Neil did? I would suggest you answer would be not many.
And why? Well, I have guessed that it all revolves around how the three members of Rush melded and wrote. You would have to think in the same compositional way that Rush did. Listening to The Cyberiam, they have that same musical synchronicity that the aforementioned bands have. Take Muse, would they be the same if Chris and Dominic were not a part of the band? While Keith Semple takes credit for writing most of the songs, and provides stunning production, Frank, Tommy and Brian obviously share Keith's musical vision. Brian Kovacs takes the opportunity to provide lead vocals on Miles Away, a song he penned lyrics for and that reinforces the immense talent within the band.
Connected builds on what the debut album laid the foundations for: catchy lyrics with melodic and captivating instrumental passages. The similarities with Rush and Muse for me are two-fold. First with Keith's vocals being in the higher range, there are musical passages were comparisons to Geddy Lee and Matt Bellamy are inevitable. Add to the mix Brian's inventive bass playing, which being up-front in the mix is reminiscent of Geddy Lee and Chris Wolstenholme. Then there is the drumming of Tommy Murray, who must be one of the most exciting new drummers around. His rhythm patterns and use of his kit is as adventurous as Neil Peart, but with the fun that Mike Portnoy added with his playing. Frank Lucas then adds magical layers to the mix, which at times are understated, but if you listen closely, his presence is always there.
This is such a magical release that to try and describe any track individually, I don't feel I have the literary skills to provide the appropriate narration. But if you are a fan of the heavier side of prog, without going full metal, then your tastes should be catered for here. You have the harder element to kick-off with Interrogation Room B, the epic Sunrise On Mars, a tribute to Oscar Wilde in Wilde Things, the slightly off-kilter Insanity, and the mellower Be Connected, with the remaining tracks filling in anything else you would be looking for.
Connected is without doubt my essential album of the year, an instant classic, and hopefully the tip of a very large and fruitful iceberg.
Encouraged by comparisons to musical mentors Dream Theater, Rush, and Porcupine Tree, it was the favourably reviewed Live Nations, capturing their energetic 2019 ProgStock live performance, which was my first encounter to The Cyberiam's music.
I took a back seat enjoying their self-titled debut album and the The Butterfly Effect EP, where the latter's adventurous composition at an entertaining length of precisely 21:12 minutes doesn't take a genius to see my growing fondness. However, it is the brilliant Connected that has now ensured firm front row seats in my affection cabinet.
With my DPRP colleagues Andy Read and Stefan Hennig (thanks guys!) saving me essential listening time by clearing The Cyberiam's historical road through their previous reviews, it's full steam ahead with Connected. Recorded during a pandemic-led time frame, the result is an awesome, exhilarating and vibrant effort that amongst other memories brings back the (once enjoyed) exciting 'Revenge Of The Mummy' roller coaster ride of Florida's Universal Studio's theme park, through it's hugely entertaining heavy progressive rock.
The attractively quiet and atmospheric opening of Interrogation Room B shows divine transporting similarities, as perfectly restrained instrumentation brings smooth ambient passages, mindful to Porcupine Tree, that occasionally converge into explosive ignitions of melodic interplay showcasing the many colourful facets of the band's sound. Encompassed within dexterous musical unification and stunning instrumental display, it glides onwards with excellent bass play, reminiscent to Geddy Lee, courtesy to Brian Kovac's efforts. Meanwhile, solid visions of Enchant reveal themselves through Keith Semple's superb and engaging melodic vocals.
On the composition's threshold moment, somewhere halfway down the line, the cart then magically transforms into a purple Barchetta, groovily steered onwards by Rush dynamics, tantalising key parts and accompanied by astonishing Dream Theater flexibility. Drummer Tommy Murray, understudy to the professor, gets to warm up his toms with some delightfully versatile fills and rolls, after which honey-laced bass foundations from Kovac adds Nektar empowerment. This is sweetly complimented by the surprising escapades of Semple on acoustic Spanish guitars, to which a tantalising key solo from keyboard player Frank Lucas provides a lush Eastern vibe. Thematically returning momentarily, the stunning composition propels into a final cataclysm of instrumental ecstasy, filled to the brim with energising deliciousness and heavy prog, for which I gladly take my hat off (as opposed to the actual loss of my cap in the equally thrilling Floridian adventurous wild ride).
The torrent of incredibly catchy rock, seamless transitions and immaculate interactions, sees a wonderful continuance in The Moral Landscape, where a funky bass signals images of Ed Platt (Enchant). This is emphasised by rhythmically challenging melodies, which at the same time ooze Rush. Light psychedelics brings a unique character to this naturally flowing composition which turns out to be as infectious as humanly possible, brimming with musical ideas and executions.
WakeUp Call slows the musical expedition down for a round of blissful atmospheric subtleties. The main role is reserved for the luminous interaction of the collective. Within a well-balanced harmonic structure, in which glowing emotional intensity slowly gets the upper hand, it's the wonderful combination of Temple's emotionally filled vocals with pristine harmonies, enveloping symphonic orchestrations and passionate deliveries that make this epic ballad beautifully pure. It glides into a sensitive melancholic end-solo from Temple that is simply beautiful.
From here on, the electrifying "small steps" of Connected, lift off into a "giant leap" for prog-kind, as Sunset On Mars takes an infinite swing at being rewarded my "Composition Of The Year 2021" award. It's a brilliant composition that expresses the album's feeling of connection, loss thereof, and many other other aspects involving humanitarian importance and alienation, from both a lyrical point of view and a musical perspective.
It builds, compelling tension, as mighty melodies, embraced by tasty footprints of keys and organ, seem to explode at any given moment into an eruption of musical delicacies. On the verge of doing so, it soothingly descends into restrained, recurring musical environments at the exact right moment, which in combination with Semple's tuneful vocal delivery creates a balancing-on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling. A memorable middle section cautiously landing in Rush territories follows, which at long last combusts in an endless oasis of spine-chilling aggressive guitars from Semple. It's one of the few times when a link to the ravishing organic sounds as captured on Live Nation becomes apparent in full glory. The magnificent flowing song then finally sets foot for a chorus reprisal and ends in fully satisfying completeness on the sounds of astronautic spaciousness.
The spiralling waterfall opening of the consecutive In SaN1tY takes one right down to earth with refinement similar to early 90s Rush, now driven onwards by luscious keyboard soundscapes which ignites Dilemma deliciousness to the fore, encased by a vibrant Enchant framework. It's the perfect illustration in just five short minutes of all that encompasses The Cyberiam's musicality. Insanely catchy, the swift performances, enraged by subtlety and thrilling to the bone, are just a pure progressive delight which in Wilde Things sees an even greater accomplishment.
The sheer indulgence laid bare in this equally irresistible song is like honey to a bee for those who enjoy Enchant's rockier edge, as found on their superb 1998 effort Break. Constantly thriving on musically exciting melodic atmospheres that includes some amazingly created musical fireworks with sublime interplay nods to Rush and Dream Theater, it successfully warps in a formidable rock dimension where things get wild from illustrative tempo changes, fierce riffs, pounding bass eruptions and magnificent gushes of keys circling each other in perfect unison.
Prior to these three delightful album highlights, it's the embracing atmospheric richness of Be Connected, which besides harbouring an initial gracious Dilemma touch, throws a heavenly One Eighty Ambrosia presence to the board. The band delivers a sensitive ballad with a winning score of intricate play and anthem elegance. Imaginary, flashing lighters appear, as moving melodies pass by on acoustic accents, after which Kovac's vocal contribution brings deepening wealth. Semple's majestic solo just moments later elevates the song. Stationary travelling onwards, surrounded by perfect harmonies, the growing melodies and subtly-designed keyboards make the song's finale melt in melodic beauty most soothingly.
The attractiveness of the mildly haunting atmospheres found in Miles Away, flowing into permanently-present waves of Rush, is equally alluring. Yet, somehow it isn't as memorable as the tracks preceding it. The established alienating mood and the extraordinary performances are perfectly heart-warming throughout, but the absence of a powerful rock segment to tickle the senses makes it ever so slightly less fluorescent. In its defence, it must be stated that the preceding Wilde Things is a hard act to follow.
Or maybe it's just a case of the album over-exceeding its length. Bigger Questions is affected in a fairly mutual way. The opening chords, amalgamating Nektar, Rush, and Enchant in the shortness of a heartbeat, is sublime and fully gripping, which also applies to the tasty drum dexterity, inventive melodic musical variety, and outstanding balance of play. Still, somehow a minor division on my account occurs, despite its compelling melodies and beautiful harmonies that manage to ask attention effortlessly and linger in my mind for days after. Nevertheless, its finale sees me press the remedial "Play it again"-button time after time, for the addictive album manages to connect to me more and more upon revisits.
Close to perfection, The Cyberiam's Connected seriously messes up my top 10 list for 2021, which is something that should happen to a lot heavy-orientated progressive rock fans. Embracing their influences and making them fully their own yields uniquely inventive compositions, topped by musical deliveries that are of the highest order. As such The Cyberiam are most definitely a band to keep a close eye on in the future.
The saying goes that money can't buy you happiness, which I'm not so certain of, for The Cyberiam's amazing achievement puts a very large smile on my face. With all albums now widely available in Europe, apart from the Bluray which is only available on their website, it looks like Santa has got his work cut out for him again. However, I can't imagine any fans waiting that long to enjoy Connected's radiantly projected images and words, which has all the makings of a milestone. I know I couldn't.