Review Summary: Let this colony know: In the name of the dead, we're coming.
Claudio Kilgannon has a choice to make. It’s been revealed to him that he is the Crowing, a Christ-like figure who is the savior of the Keywork, the fictional universe in which he lives. A huge responsibility, to be sure, and Claudio isn’t sure if he wants to take on this role. Meanwhile, the Writer of Claudio’s story is spiraling into insanity, manifested by visions of his Ten Speed bicycle. Ten Speed advises the Writer to kill Ambellina, the character in his story who represents Erica Court, the Writer’s cheating ex. At the Willing Well, the Writer’s world collides with his fictional story and he kills Ambellina as Claudio watches helplessly. As the Writer walks off, Claudio makes the decision to fulfill his destiny and save his world.
That is a simple outline of the story of this album, Coheed and Cambria’s Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. Does it seem confusing? Of course it does. Don’t worry though, you don’t really need to know the story that well to enjoy the music. Coheed came straight out of New York and made a name for themselves in the underground scene with Second Stage Turbine Blade. With the release of their second LP In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 they achieved some mainstream success, due mainly to the insanely catchy single “A Favor House Atlantic” getting airplay on MTV. When Good Apollo came out, the success no longer came in drops, but in rivers. Lead single “Welcome Home” was extremely popular with the metal community and “The Suffering” appeased the appetites of pop fans. The album has since gone platinum.
This third installment of the Armory Wars series sees the band taking their music in a decidedly darker direction, which is evident in both the overall mood and atmosphere of the album as well as the lyrics. While both previous albums had their fair share of dark songs and a somewhat dark atmosphere (due in no small part to the violent lyrics), Good Apollo really showcases frontman Claudio Sanchez’s knack for writing songs that very accurately convey moods and emotions. This is the album where the story’s characters are plunged headfirst into darkness and violence, whereas before they only had their feet dabbled in such things. Claudio’s lyrics have always been top notch, but now we get to see the dark, violent side of him, mostly when he writes the part of the Writer. The Writer’s insanity-fueled ramblings and rage over the unfaithfulness of Erica Court, the absurd yet relatable manifestation of his psyche, and his brutal murder of Ambellina are the most obvious examples of the incredibly dark style of writing that Claudio adopted for this album. Although SSTB and IKSSE3 both had dark songs and lyrics, there was always a slightly campy, quirky feeling about them because many times Claudio paired dark lyrics with poppy, happy music in songs like “Devil In Jersey City,” “Three Evils (Embodied In Love and Shadow),” and “Al the Killer,” which features one of the catchiest, cheerful-sounding choruses around with the line “When I kill her I’ll have her. Die white girls.” With Good Apollo, however, the music matches the lyrics. It’s a good sound for the band, one that I hope they can further develop on their next album. Lyrical highlights include “Welcome Home” (You’re just as I presumed: a whore in sheep’s clothing fucking up all I do
), “Apollo I: The Writing Writer” (I’ll make you wish you hadn’t burned our time before. I’ll live through this in a manner cursed at my own accord
), and “The Lying Lies & Dirty Secrets of Miss Erica Court” (You’re just a page I’ll burn from a book
). Obviously there are many more highlights, but those stand out most readily.
Much like the lyrics, which progressed and changed as the story developed, Claudio’s voice also changed. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the band, Sanchez has quite an interesting voice. It’s slightly high-pitched, but not in a way that sounds nasal (you know, that voice that so many vocalists employ these days) and it sounds a bit boyish. Think Geddy Lee, only a lot less annoying. On this album, he sings at a much lower range than he did on their previous releases. It was certainly a good move, because the lower range not only suits the dark mood of the story, it enhances it. While I certainly would not have minded hearing Claudio sing Cry on bitch why aren’t you laughing now?
or Burn in hell young sinner
in a high-pitched voice, overall the lower vocals make the listen more enjoyable for a few reasons. The first reason being that after two albums it’s nice to hear Claudio singing lower for a change. The second reason being that when his voice fits what’s happening in the story, the album becomes more than just a bunch of songs. It becomes a book, a novel, a comic, a movie; it becomes something that you can see
and not just hear. You can actually envision the Writer standing over Ambellina’s dead body and looking Claudio in the eye while growling all the worlds from here must burn.
It’s amazing what a simple pitch change can do for an album. We don’t get those incredibly fun girly vocals like in “A Favor House Atlantic,” or those growls (perhaps guffaws
would be a better word for them) like at the end of “Backend of Forever,” or shrieks like at the beginning of “Hearshot Kid Disaster.” Instead, we get welcome changes like Claudio’s demonic chanting of Feed little maggot
on “Fuel for the Feeding End.” Progress is the name of the game for this band.
As if a step up in vocals and lyrics wasn’t enough, Coheed and Cambria decided to bestow another gift upon us humble listeners: musical progression. The band has been often filed into the Progressive genre, but their first two albums really did not possess any of the traits of a progressive album, save long song lengths. Even after the release of Good Apollo, I personally don’t think that they can be labeled “progressive,” at least in any strict sense. Of course any band that furthers and changes their sound could be called progressive because they progressed
their sound, but when people try to label the band as Progressive, referring to the genre, I just can’t see it. However, if they ever did come close, it was with this album. On IKSSE3, the emphasis seemed to be placed more on vocals and lyrics than on the actual music. Those who considered that a problem will be satisfied with Good Apollo. More guitar solos, musical interludes, and audible bass playing (!) will put a smile on the face of those who were left wanting after listening to IKSSE3. Claudio and Travis’ incredibly cool tradeoff guitar solo in “Welcome Home” opened up the band to a whole new fanbase, and those who chose to delve deeper soon discovered that tradeoff guitar solos aren’t all this band has to offer. Catchy riffs, skillful acoustic guitars (fingerpicking!), and some of those snatches of noise moments that progressive fans seem to love so much. It’s just a shame that drummer Josh Eppard couldn’t keep up with the progression of the rest of the band.
I must confess that Good Apollo, while it is not my favorite Coheed album, contains the crowning achievements of the band’s career. “Welcome Home” is definitely one of Claudio’s shining moments, both lyrically and vocally, deftly dropping emotional and violent lyrics like Now get in the ground!
The guitar solo, chanting, and the violins at the end make for a truly epic song. The band has always written great pop songs such as “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Blood Red Summer,” but “The Suffering” tops them all. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and by God the band employs one of the best uses of background vocals I’ve ever heard. Then you have the songs that could almost be called the “unsung heroes” of Coheed songs. Although they were probably passed off as filler by some, and I’ll admit that I thought that too at first, “Crossing the Frame,” “Mother May I,” “The Lying Lies & Dirty Secrets of Miss Erica Court,” and “Once Upon Your Dead Body” are all fantastic songs in their own right, and while they don’t offer too much musically, they each are great lyrically and vocally; not to mention they represent pivotal parts in the story. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, you reach the end of the album. The four songs that sum up the entire career of the band, the four “Willing Well” tracks. All the musical, lyrical, and vocal ground that the band has covered is all summed up in these four songs. They’re certainly the bands darkest songs and the ones that could best be filed into the progressive genre. Each over seven minutes long, each having at least a little ambience, and each interesting and unique in their own way. Just listen and you’ll see what I’m talking about. After a bit of silence, the album ends with a bit of grandpa’s guitars (that’s for all you Metalocalypse fans).
Good Apollo is a fantastic album. It’s an immensely enjoyable and satisfying listen. Some might think a fifteen track album to be a tedious listen, but there’s so much to hear and so much to take in that you’ll be captivated. You’ll want to immerse yourself fully in the world of Coheed and Cambria. The band took the musicality of Second Stage Turbine Blade and combined it with the lyrical advancements of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 to come up with Good Apollo. Change and progression are good things, and I hope that the band continues to prove that. I also think that the album packaging is worth mentioning. Slipcovers are always awesome, and the huge foreboding red “IV” on the cover is utterly fantastic. Christopher Shy’s dark, brooding artwork in the liner notes is incredible, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the Good Apollo graphic novel. The Armory Wars universe is a dark world of shadows, murder, and deceit. Frankly, I feel right at home.