New York prog-rockers Coheed and Cambria can be a tough sell. They combine a plethora of different styles, with influences ranging from Rush to Iron Maiden to The Band. All they’re albums are concept albums, based on an epic science fiction story conjured up by lead vocalist/guitarist Claudio Sanchez. Sometimes their music is a bit out there.
All of that is why I love them, and hey, they have a new album out, so it’s an opportune time for me to tell you all about what I think of it. “The Afterman: Ascension” was released last Tuesday, and it’s a major step forwards – and maybe a minor step sideways – for Coheed and Cambria.
The band’s last album, 2010’s “Year of the Black Rainbow,” didn’t exactly blow up my skirt. In fact, I don’t think I ever even listened to the whole thing. Except for a few tracks, it was dull and uninspired and a long way from the magic of their previous albums.
“The Afterman: Ascension,” which is the first part of a double album (the second part, logically “Descension,” will be released next year) corrects quite a few of the problems that plagued it’s predecessor, but creates one or two new ones.
For starters, it’s a lot shorter. There are only nine songs (not counting iTunes bonus tracks and such) and unlike their previous epic-filled albums, only three of the tracks run over five minutes. Over half the songs are less than four minutes. That’s normal for most bands but Coheed is known for some pretty lengthy numbers.
So, in a way it feels like we’re getting less product, but it also makes the record more accessible.
The album opens with the nice little instrumental “The Hollow,” before kicking into high gear with first single "Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute,” and the Iron Maiden licks come out early. Also the longest song on the album, “Domino” is actually a nice microcosm of Coheed’s music as a whole: an epic song with intricate guitars, out-there lyrics, and a few guttural chants for good measure.
Next up is the title track, “The Afterman,” and it’s a nice mid-tempo ballad that reminded me of a less over-the-top version of one of their previous songs, “The Road and the Damned.”
After that is “Mothers of Men,” which has some cool moments (like an interesting female backing vocal) but doesn’t really do it for me as a song. “Goodnight, Fair Lady” fares better, and sounds like a more laid back “Blood Red Summer” from “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.”
The “Key Entity Extraction” series that closes the album contains it’s hardest rocking song, “Vic the Butcher,” and the vocally complex “Evagria the Faithful.”
It all ends, for now, with “Subtraction,” which is a gorgeous blend of acoustic guitars, light electronic beats, and soaring vocal harmonies. Perhaps “Subtraction” is meant to be the calm before the storm, as we still have another half of the album coming early next year.
“The Afterman: Ascension” may not be totally satisfying, and it definitely leaves you wanting more, but I’m thinking that was the point. It gets you excited for the next chapter and provides some great tunes along the way. Hopefully no one points out to Claudio and friends that “Descension” isn’t a word before the next album is released.