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If ever a band deserved a dedicated episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, it would be Coheed and Cambria. The group is no stranger to discord, tragedy and circumstances conspiring against them. To compound their past confluences, current circumstances continue to test the mettle of this group’s cohesion: over the course of the last two years bassist Michael Todd was taken into police custody after what was described as an attempted robbery, drummer Chris Penne left the group citing creative differences and prodigal drummer Josh Eppard was offered, to crib from the band, a warm “Welcome Home.”

 

Amidst this turmoil and tumult we learned that plans for a new album were in the works: a continuation of the concept of the Amory Wars surrounding Cyrus Amory, the concept’s namesake, as he studies the energy that binds the fabled Keywork (the cluster of 78 worlds in which the Amory Wars occur). Since then, the concept has expanded into a double-album offering collectively entitled The Afterman. The first of the two albums to see circulation was released 10/9, given the suffix of Ascension. The second work, set for release February 2013, will be concurrently labeled as Descension.

The album shares a structural similitude with all previous Coheed records, beginning with an atmospheric introductory track to establish the tone of the tale to be told. For Ascension, the album’s opening piece, “The Hollow,” introduces us to the entity All Mother (evoking the AI entity Mother from Ridley Scott’s Alien) over a piano pad bearing a distinct resemblance to the opening of the first two Coheed efforts. This track fuses into the album’s first single, “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute.” This track perfectly distills the band’s various musical templates, embodying Pink Floyd‘s Division Bell tone with a sprinkling of Rush for the descending arpeggiated guitar that gives way to a nasally chant of “Na na na” from Sanchez. Soon the signature syncopated riffage sets in, soaring straight into vintage Coheed groove and grind. The band flawlessly executes changes in time signatures and stops on a dime to give the song dynamic waves, eventually surrendering into the anthemic chants of “Woah oh oh,” that are a definite calling card for the group’s material.

 
As with all other Coheed records, there is a considerable quantity of storytelling going on. This is not always linear, but there is a definite depiction of various characters and plot threads that unfold as the album progresses. Claudio’s excellence at crafting lyrical and melodic hooks is in full-effect on this record, giving a listener an embarrassment of embedded riches to sing along with.

 

 

The album’s title track, “The Afterman,” is our first taste of Coheed‘s gentle side on this record— a facet of the group’s style I’m particularly fond of. Delicate muted electric arpeggios sit softly atop a bed of glistening strings and a rumbling drum march as the first wistful utterance, “She gave her heart to a falling star…” fills your ears and chest with the tragic emotional underpinnings omnipresent in the Amory saga. Lovers are often riven and rent as these stories unfold, but the group executes the material with such grace as to keep the sentiment from feeling cliché. “The Afterman,” is mournfully beautiful, easily leading to the tumult of the album’s next track, “Mothers of Men.”

 

This record’s movements blend as brilliantly and fluidly as each previous effort, showing the band’s innate understanding of the dynamics that make for a perfect concept album. There is a familiarity to each track that echoes the tone and feeling of their previous work while constantly stirring fresh material into the ever-expanding concept. “Goodnight, Fair Lady,” evokes the spirit of “Feathers,” from No World For Tomorrow, in a delicate amalgam with From Fear’s, “Crossing the Frame.” There’s a subtlety to the execution that is not lost on initiated ears, but also crafts allure for new listeners. You needn’t have studied the concept extensively to walk blindly into the midst of this record and enjoy the songcraft or poetic principles of having stanzas share structures.

 


 
My initial reaction to the record was that it does not feel as aggressive as past efforts, but songs like “Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked,” toss that theory on its’ ear. Gritty, grating and venomous as anything in the Coheed catalog, this track will kick you back into overdrive but also contains a lovely melodic bridge with a soaring vocal melody that saves you from any ear fatigue from the distortion.

 

“Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher,” keeps the intensity peaked with a speedy, striking blast of distorted guitars and wailing bends to jar you loose of your seat. The band’s titles aptly label their songs, and this one is no exception: embodying the chaotic ferocity of the track, Vic the Butcher feels like the heir-apparent (or at least a distant cousin) to Al the Killer.

 

“Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria the Faithful,” pulses with a techno-pop vibe in its introduction, opening into a ballad-esque chorus that is one of my favorite melodies of the record. There’s a funk-oriented groove to this track that uncontrollably shifts hips and shoulders to put the listener in a lambada-like shimmy… something Coheed absolutely excels at. They know how to move an audience’s bodies. Yet, even within this song the dynamic dies down enough to allow a recovery period, giving a brief respite before surging back again into the established churning tempo.

 

“Subtraction,” the record’s final track, would be absolutely at home on a Prize Fighter Inferno record. Sampled beat, synth trills and acoustic guitar rule the day, staying true to the template of having a lighter track end their albums as a bit of a palate cleanser. In this instance, it works as a transitional tune that will segue between this record and the second chapter, Descension.


As I’ve indicated with Coheed previously, they are a band that has firmly established their style and sound. It is unique to them, and the fact that it has endured through lineup changes, personal tragedies and interpersonal strife is a testament to the strength of character of both the band and its individual components. I am thrilled to hear their sound still evolving and arching back upon itself so expertly in spite of their current confluence of events. With the promise of tracks like the previously teased “Sentry the Defiant,” on the next installment, it certainly sounds as though Sanchez and company are still hitting their stride.

 

Afterman is a brilliant addition to the band’s ongoing musical saga. Blending mirth, murder, marauders and madmen in a melting-pot brimming with melodious marvels, this is definitely one to keep in the rotation.

 

For fans of: Pink Floyd, Rush, The Dear Hunter, Manchester Orchestra

 

 

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