Review Summary: Coheed and Cambria pull together the lessons learned as Shabutie to release a modern classic.
For any other artist, the level of precision seen on a debut album such as The Second Stage Turbine Blade
would be uncommon, if not unheard of. Enter Coheed and Cambria, a four-piece from New York fronted by guitarists Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever along with bassist Mic Todd, drummer Josh Eppard, and a wealth of experience playing together, including three EPs as Shabutie. In fact, the final lineup of Shabutie was the exact lineup of the Coheed and Cambria featured here. Moreover, two tracks (three if you include the very different acoustic version of "Junesong Provision") featured on The Second Stage Turbine Blade
were first featured on Shabutie's final EP, Delirium Trigger
, making it obvious that, though this is a debut for "Coheed and Cambria," the truth of the matter is that it's a well crafted, calculated release by a band with a long-standing synergy.
While Coheed are, admittedly, not too far off from Shabutie (especially on Delirium Trigger
), there are some noticeable differences. Primarily, while Shabutie tend to explore the downbeat, angst-ridden side of rock that seems to resurface further into Coheed's catalog in In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3
and Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
, the Coheed of Second Stage
are persistently upbeat in terms of musicality - even vocally, despite lyrics depicting hearbreak, rape, murder, and suicide. Production on Second Stage
is also markedly improved since the days of Shabutie and perhaps marks the band's signing with Equal Vision.
That's not to say that the album has crystal clear production. On the contrary - it's gritty and somewhat raw at points, but somehow it adds to the character of the record. This is an album with an undertone of distorted riffs, layered with bright lead melodies, surrounded by high-pitched and emotional singing, all while riding the currents of the audible and fluid rhythm section. A smoother production would result in an album that felt much less emotional and much more cold. Dialing down the production just that notch adds the bit of space for the music to build a connection to the listener and further allows the vocals to take a commanding presence on the album. The consistent, upbeat tone of the album creates a poppy sound that could, all too easily, be abused by any of the pop-rockers of the day. And in a way, Claudio's voice takes advantage of this, using his high range to play upon the listener's expectations and twisting them with screams, harmonies, and emotional cries that take the listener on an emotional journey which, in the hands of any other singer, might leave the listener feeling unfulfilled.
Oddball lyrics such as "Papercut my heart in half and discard the evidence" and "Assure me your metronome's left arm stick shift was set on the right words in your ear" dot the album and add to its charm. They also add to its sense of independence and, when employed in tandem with Claudio's unique voice, help make the album the inventive masterpiece that it is by tugging the listener the extra mile along the musical journey. It is worth noting that Second Stage
is technically a concept album, but with lyrics as quirky and jarring as "I need Mayo!" it'll be nearly impossible for the casual listener to mine out any "story" without consulting the companion comic series (for example, "33" is just on the license plate of Patrick's car, while "Hearshot Kid" is a nickname given to an alien - if you pull that out of these songs, you may need to consult a psychiatrist).
But while the concept of the album is easily overlooked, the flow created by the album is not. While the pop sensibility and generally upbeat tone helps to tie the album together, the group do a good job of transitioning from one song to another with melodic snippets, piano themes that play on the title track's tune, as well as introductory crescendos and ending decrescendos. This does a good job of keeping the energy flowing, which is good, because energy is what this album is all about.
It's truly worth noting that, while the vocals and leads take the prize for being most instantly noticeable on the album, the rhythm section really keeps the album and sets an incredibly stable ground for Stever and Sanchez to flourish on. The active basswork of Mic Todd creates a rapid flow of energy not usually heard on the bass line that adds an extra dimension to the album. Many of Todd's grooves fall on his own shoulders and plod away at that extra dimension overtly, while others work as subtle variations of the tone set by the rhythm guitar, but provide enough air between the two that it consistently stands out, especially due to its prominence in the mix.
Josh Eppard, on the other hand, is somewhat hard to figure out. While, especially in the wake of replacement Chris Penne, Josh's drumming is often heralded as uninspired and simplistic, Eppard provides a deceivingly powerful performance on Second Stage
. Some of his patterns are, perhaps, lacking in complexity in comparison to the technicality displayed by Todd or Stever, but the drumming in Second Stage
takes on a bedrock quality. It really is hard to imagine any part of this album with a different drum track without cringing a bit. It's a safe base for the listener to stand on, while experimentation flows around them. Not only that, but I say that Eppard's drumming is deceptively simplistic because at many times he plays a simple pattern, only to throw in subtle variations on the pattern that can easily go unnoticed. A good example of this is opener "Time Consumer," where it can easily be said that the drum track carries the tune with style and subtle flair.
All in all, this brand of subtlety is what makes The Second Stage Turbine Blade
the prog-rock classic that it has turned out to be. The album showcases Coheed and Cambria's technical strengths without flaunting them, asserts itself without being overbearing, and varies enough to stay interesting, but never deviates far enough to lose the listener's attention. Perhaps most importantly, however, it stays fun and enjoyable throughout while still managing to remain intelligent, intriguing, and fresh.