Coheed And Cambria

The Afterman: Ascension

Written by: AP on 19/12/2012 14:12:36

Since the release of their critically acclaimed sophomore album "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3" in 2003, subsequent releases by Coheed & Cambria have been somewhat hit-and-miss. The infectious mixture of pop and prog on that album defined a sound that has remained exclusive to the band ever since, despite the latter influence playing an increasingly large role at the cost of the former and resulting in albums that were undeniably good, complex prog-rock opuses but lacked the instant memorabilia of old. One could argue that since Coheed & Cambria prioritize the story of the "Amory Wars" graphic novels that Claudio Sanchez has written over everything else, this was hardly surprising. The music had to fit the story, and not vice versa.

In the process of complicating their music, however, I fear the band may have lost some of their key fanbase that was introduced to them via "Second Stage Turbine Blade" and "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3". Their 2007 album "Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow" did come close to restoring everything that rocked about those first two albums, but even then hopes of a return to that era were crushed by "Year of the Black Rainbow" in 2010, which must go down as the most disappointing Co&Ca album to date. Well, it seems as though Sanchez & co. took note, as this latest creation - the first part of a two-album saga dubbed "The Afterman: Ascension" ("Decension" will follow next year) - is yet another retrospective piece in the puzzle that is the Coheed & Cambria discography.

In keeping with the concept, "The Afterman: Ascension" provides the musical backdrop to one of the storylines from "The Amory Wars", concentrating on the character Sirius Amory (chronologically it is the prequel to "Year of the Black Rainbow", which itself was the prequel to all of the previous records). As such, it is hardly surprising to find that the intro, "The Hollow", is rather a mysterious conversation between Sirius and an entity called The Mother backed by ominous piano than an actual song, and that such tracks and passages are to be found elsewhere on the album as well. It is not a song one would listen to on its own, but in the context of the full album it is pivotal in creating the fantastical sci-fi atmosphere that reigns over it.

The first actual song comes with track two, "Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute", which also provides the consummate highlight of the album very early on, recalling the progressive grandeur of songs like "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3", "Cuts Marked in the March of Men" and "Welcome Home", yet injecting a fresh punch that suddenly makes Co&Ca sound unprecedentedly heavy. It is particularly refreshing to discover the prominence of newcomer Zach Cooper's bass playing here, as it reveals an entire new dimension of texture that, at least to me, was sadly lost on previous efforts. Cooper's bass playing is borderline incredible at times, and together with the varied drumming of Josh Eppard, it gives the music a much-needed, hard-hitting rhythmic foundation.

With the title track, and the following "Mothers of Men" and "Goodnight, Fair Lady", the retrospective feel is strengthened even more - the first of them an uplifting pop song recalling the likes of "Feathers", though with much more delicacy; the second a hard-hitting prog-rock song akin to their mid-career songs "Gravemakers and Gunslingers" and "No World For Tomorrow"; the third an energetic pop-punk infused piece that sends my thoughts toward "Devil in Jersey City" and "A Favor House Atlantic" from the first two records. But the inevitable side effect of packing so many standout tracks into the first half of the album is that the last four songs do not make quite so strong an impression.

Indeed, the following trio of "Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked", "III: Vic the Butcher" and "IV: Evagria the Faithful" is not prone to imprint itself in many memories, with the exception, perhaps, of the first part, which has an extremely strange, sleazy feel to its verses and a chorus to die for, exposing the full breadth of Sanchez's vocal abilities. It's chilling stuff, but the anonymity of the following two songs drags it down somewhat, and the album coser "Subtraction" does little to redeem the downward spiral. Still, purely by virtue of the first five songs (discounting the intro), I feel inclined to rank this as their best work since "Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow", and as their fourth best album overall. True it will likely go down better with those fans that prefer the progressive minded songwriting Co&Ca now stand for, but with a couple of nuggets of the leechy pop stuff it should still find it way onto the shelves of "Second Stage Turbine Blade" fans as well.


Download: Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute; Mothers of Men; Goodnight, Fair Lady; Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked
For the fans of: The Dear Hunter, The Mars Volta, The Prize Fighter Inferno, Three
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Release date 09.10.2012
Hundred Handed / Everything Evil

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