Coheed and Cambria was first introduced to me as a concept band. (Get ready for some long titles here; this band loves them. There would be a four-part story told by music, starting with part II, The Second Stage Turbine Blade. This was followed by In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth:3 and the double-album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV (From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness and No World For Tomorrow. Fans learned the origins of the story two years ago with the release of Year of the Black Rainbow, and except for anniversary tours (The Neverender Tour) that was going to be it…
…except I surmise that the band learned two things: (1) they found their tone and (2) they like money…so it makes sense to keep Coheed and Cambria going. This fall, fans were given a new offering: a two-part album with the second part coming out sometime next year. There are familiar themes in The Afterman: Ascension with new ‘story’ elements.
Every album has a somber, almost-macabre opening, with this album being no exception. “The Hollow” features the trademark opening motifs; there is a person (presumably Sirius Amory) talking to his ‘ All Mother,’ the latter insisting that she will be with the person, “…every step of the way…” Nice. The melody breaks, and changes into “Key Entity Extraction (KEE) I: Domino the Destitute…”
C&C have done these character exploration tracks before. “Ten Speed: Of God’s Blood and Burial” introducing the insane hallucination of the demon ‘Ten Speed;’ “The Camper Velourium III: Al the Killer,” the racist, psychopathic captain the the spaceship The Camper Velourium, just to name a couple. There will be four of these ‘extractions,’ including ‘Holly Wood the Cracked,’ ‘Vic the Butcher,’ and ‘Evagria the Faithful.’
As a story, it is difficult to know where in the ‘Amory Wars’ (the C&C named book-version of their music, all written by C&C frontman Claudio Sanchez) “Domino” is placed. It is more difficult to separate the story element from the music alone. Sanchez loves seeing his fans niggle over what the meaning of certain lyrics mean over others, and adores reading fan speculation. “KEE I: Domino the Destitute” is about this genuinely miserable guy; the music video portrays him as a boxer, and Sanchez has said that the music videos are canon to the over-arching story.
“Domino” opens softly with a building mini-story that has its own rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. Domino is called the ‘undisputed champ of misery’ to a cheering ‘audience’ of ladies and ‘broken gentlemen.’ It is also nearly eight minutes long, and there is enough time to launch into this new story and sing at length about this complicated character all while laying the foundation for the theme of The Afterman. If In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth:3 was, “…man your battlestations…,” then this album is, “we made our beds to lie in them, proud of our great mistakes.” “Domino” talks of mistakes from the past, self-pity, and present self-loathing.
“The Afterman” is a somber, guitar-picking ode to a close friend lost. “If he’s not here, then where?” it asks metaphorically. The track was written after the real-life death of Sanchez’ wife’s friend, and said death affected the couple markedly. It is powerful, but Sanchez has written it in a way that allows any listener to put themselves in the song as well.
“Mothers of Men” and “Goodnight, Fair Lady” sound close enough they belong together. The melody for “Mothers” is inverted for “Fair Lady.” The themes for both are about knowing you are being lied to and lying/temptation/deciept (I actually know the concrete answer, but that would be spoiling), respectively. We are then told that the second ‘Entity’ has been identified…
Enter “Holly Wood the Cracked,” which sounds real similar to “Al the Killer.” Holly is crazy, possibly drug-addled, if ‘a few cards short of a full deck’ was not a dead giveaway. “Holly Wood” is a glimmer, a tease; you want more, but it is clear that this was merely a taste. The listener is quickly yanked from “Holly Wood” and diverted to…
“KEE III: Vic the Butcher.” It is rather difficult to clearly explain what is going on with ‘Vic’ without spoilers, so I will stick to the audio aspect. The progressive guitar shredding, present in ‘Domino’ and ‘Holly Wood’ get more intense in ‘Vic.’ This song is about caution and openness (well…only sort of). Progressive guitar tracks have been a Coheed standard since Turbine Blade, and the styling has only become more complicated. Listeners who can listen to separate instruments while hearing a track will be delighted with Travis Stever’s and Sanchez’ guitar duo. ‘Vic’ ends with All Mother giving some bad news to Sirius, and introducing (sort of) the next extraction.
“KEE IV” and “Subtraction” close the album. Where the rest of the album built up the excitement, these two lead to the inevitable cliffhanger. ‘Something’ happened to Sirius Amory and listeners will have to wait for the release of The Afterman: Descension to figure it all out. These last two tracks hint at betrayal, while the music feels like a heartbeat, slowly slipping away.
Overall, it is great to have more Coheed and Cambria. It truly feels like Sanchez has found his voice and tone, and knows where he wants to go. If the two ‘Afterman’ albums are a separate story in the Amory Wars concept, it will be a bit liberating to no longer have to guess what happens to the established characters, and learn more about the mythology of the Keywork. This would be a great album for new people to get acquainted to C&C. This allows new folks to come in to a band that has a rich discography.
There was no real attempt at change, though. I suppose I have to acknowledge that the ‘concept’ part of C&C may be finally concluding, and realize that there is nothing left to be challenged as far as the Amory Wars album go. I want to find something to be critical about, but being cryptic is expected with this band, so that is not available to me. Do I believe this is in the running for album of the year? Compared to other rock offerings this year, it might be. When compared to other bands, C&C leave many others wanting. Sanchez has long proven his ability to be an excellent lyricist and composer.
Thinking about recent releases like Matchbox Twenty’s “She’s So Mean,” I think there is no contest that C&C beat out M20. Where Rob Thomas is putting together lyrics just because they rhyme: “She’s a harcore, candy store, give-me-some-more girl” vs Sanchez’ “This warring knife, the flash of this blade, turn about-face.” I know more about the dilemma in the latter than I do the former, and the responsibility for comprehensible lyrics lie on the front man for both groups.
With all other factors put in perspective, this is a great album. There are progressive, soul, and even some pop-ish overtones that supplement The Afterman: Ascension well.
FINAL GRADE: A-
TRR Music Revue by Geoff Beebe