Cyborg Octopus

Here’s the scene: I’m at Toot’s Tavern, a very NorCal bar situated in sleepy little Crockett that’s full of flannel and decapitated deer heads, a venue which serves as a haven for heavy metal heads in the far East Bay area. I only know prog-metal outfit Cyborg Octopus from a handful of stellar tracks I was blown away by on their Bandcamp page. I have no idea what to expect in terms of their live performance.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: A lead singer clad in a ridiculous skin-tight scuba suit (at least, that’s what I think it was), a saxophonist (that’s right, a saxophonist in a metal band), and shirtless guitarists prancing about the stage like tech bro incarnations of David Lee Roth. Oh, and their drummer, one of my absolute favorite parts of their recordings, turned out to be a computer program.

You can imagine my initial conflicted feelings. This was the same band I heard railing against corporate tyranny and the increasing digitization of humanity? Theses guys jumping around, making the sizeable crowd collectively smile, having fun? Metal bands aren’t supposed to have this much fun, are they? Embracing the collapse of civilized society shouldn’t be a party, should it?

The fascinating contradictions inherent in San Ramon-based Cyborg Octopus had me scratching my head for days after this show. I thought I knew exactly what metal bands should look, sound, and act like. I thought you could not accept humor in this genre without becoming a self-mocking parody. I thought that if you delved into deep philosophical lyrical excursions you necessarily had to succumb to the sulking seriousness of the topic, inevitably falling into the perceived pretentiousness of progressive music. But this band manages to, if not balance, then at least expose the extremes of human nature, from radical political messages to absurdist theatrics, acknowledging both the severe drama and surreal comedy that constitutes the chaos of modernity.

Their upcoming full-length Learning To Breath, which is set to drop May 20, elegantly converts that chaos into high-concept metal. Incorporating classical influences (“Divine Right In D Minor”), hardcore punk (“Shark Pit”), that aforementioned touch of silliness (“DiscoBrain!”), and overall astounding musicianship, the album is a dense, rewarding collection of compositions that grandly showcases the many talents and genre-melting ability of the band. Their sweeping, epic arrangements will wrap around your brain like tentacles, suffocating your preconceived notions of what metal should or can sound like. I’d like to believe this is how they came to choose their name.

When you get to the end of “Epiphany,” the closing track of the LP, you will come to this realization as well: that above the blast beats and screams, the furious bass lines and maddeningly intricate guitar-work, above the confusion and despair and frustration, there is enlightenment. Even beauty. And, maybe, hope for a better world that can faintly be glimpsed on the distant horizon.

Now all they need is a human drummer…

The band’s next scheduled gig is in Reno, but if you’re hoping for something closer to your neighborhood, the group is planning an album release show at the Red House in Walnut Creek May 20. Be on the lookout for more updates.

The Zenith Passage, The Kennedy Veil, Ostracized, Cyborg Octopus
Psychedelic Ballroom (Reno, NV)
April 22, 2016
7pm, $10 (21+)