From being called a Vienna choir boy to a dying weasel, Claudio Sanchez has been practically hated amongst the general populous. His high-pitched squaws of ambitious story lines and contrived characters blare over the catchy, but proficient band. Travis Stever, Zach Cooper, and Josh Eppard all fall in their spot perfectly and sync very well with the intensity of Claudio’s vocals. For the past ten years, Coheed and Cambria’s lead singer has created strange sci-fi stories to accompany the already cinematic music. This album is a change in direction, but still aimed at the heart of their fans. The Afterman: Ascension is a new beginning, but completely aware of where it has came from.
What is blinding is that the band is now on their sixth studio album. This album – only nine songs long – is fixated on the idea of loss. Losing someone or something is nearly mentioned in every track. The album is another concept album, which stays in the same formula as the previous five albums – all with the nifty title The Amory Wars – but this record is not a part of the storyline of its predecessor. Instead, this album shines light on earlier times in the mythical solar system known as Heaven’s Fence, a 78-planet amalgamation clustered together. All that binds them is the light of the Keywork, the band’s familiar logo. This album is centered on Sirius Amory (Sy-russ Am-or-y), who discovers what the hell the Keywork actually is.
Coheed and Cambria’s “The Afterman”
Musically, the album starts off with a synthy, mystical rhythm of “The Hollow”, but from there everything dances around the sound of Coheed and Cambria. From each song, you can hear a distant, but ever aware, homage to previous bits in Coheed’s decade-long career. Their raw debut The Second Stage Turbine Blade, their spell-bindingly beautiful In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, the most technically demanding Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness, their masterfully epic Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrrow, and their darkly, dissonant, and delicious Year of the Black Rainbow all have their place on the record.
The Afterman: Ascension does offer us some new sounds though, including the industrial/metal-chugging of “Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood The Cracked”, the ethereal brightness of “Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria The Faithful”, and the heartbreaking, tear-inducing of “The Afterman”. I can’t describe the surprise I had when I first heard “Holly Wood”, with it’s weird, evil laughter and explosive chorus with lines like “fucking a loaded gun”. Speaking of explosive, “Key Entity Extraction III: Vic The Butcher” also detonates right from the beginning with brilliant percussion from Eppard, to note. Gang vocals ensue in the chorus, which just yearn to be screamed at a live show. Claudio approaches this song a little differently in the second chorus, opting for more lower key and angrier bits.
The new aside, the old shines bright in the lead single “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute”. Written about their ex-bassist, Mic Todd, the song tells the story of a boxer who gradually throws his prowess in the ring for drugs, sex, and probably rock n’ roll. Musically, the song would feel right at home on No World For Tomorrow. Chanting vocals and high-arching, brilliantly segmented bits play along with bliss and harmony. Already a fan-favorite, the song reaches a length of 7:51. Yes, only Coheed would release the lead single as an eight-minute travel into the insanity of a boxer’s mind. “The Afterman” is brilliantly written about the death of a great friend of Claudio’s wife, Chondra. She discovered his death on Facebook (“the cold, blue glare”). The song echoes a large portion of “Wake Up”, from Good Apollo, Volume I. “If he’s not here, then where?” echoes through the entire song with grace and beauty. “Mothers of Men” is a heavier, protest song echoing the sentiments of the Occupy Movement, but this song definitely feels at home with Year of the Black Rainbow. Building around the chorus, the talent of Zach “Super Duper” Cooper shines. His percussive bass leads along towards the end and thunders along next to the derivative guitars.
The only two oddballs that don’t lean too much on other albums have to be “Goodnight, Fair Lady” and “Subtraction”. “Goodnight, Fair Lady” plays along on the evil love song, about a man trying to drug a girl and take her home. “I’m the snake, waiting for you, dear. And, eventually, you’ll come to me. I know you will. Oh, it’s my fate to be your biggest mistake” echo that soundly. With popping snares from Eppard and chiming leads from Stever, the song comes together as a complete winner. On the other hand, “Subtraction” sounds like a Prize Fighter Inferno b-side (which is Claudio Sanchez’ side project). It’s rhythm is grating to the ear, and doesn’t fit very well with the guitar. The lyrics are DYNOMITE. It’s just missing a serious element of Coheed – intensity.
If you were smart and rich enough to purchase the deluxe edition box set or the vinyl on Record Store Day, then you should know the brilliance of the Big Beige demos. “Goodnight, Fair Lady’s” acoustic demo is golden, and shows the more reserved and intimate. “Subtraction” gets rid of the annoying rhythm previous mentioned. If “Subtraction’s” annoying rhythm was… subtracted… and added to the album, it would be much more enjoyable. “Vic The Butcher” features a much more bluesy solo, rather than the incendiary one featured on the album. “The Afterman” is even more polarizing without the band. Featured at the end of the of the demos is an unreleased track, “The Homecoming”. It fits much more than “Subtraction” and is a much more haunting, “absolute” track.
This album is a masterful victory for the prog-rockers – Coheed has made an exciting, cohesive album of rock brilliance. With a story to get behind, great music, and great production (from Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner), Coheed and Cambria colloquially make their best record, and this is only the first half. The second part, Descension releases February 5. It features already announced “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry The Defiant” and “Iron Fist”. Those two tracks should make you excited for months to come.
Written by Dylan Tracy
OurVinyl | Contributor