Review Summary: Coheed and Cambria's first half of their double album lacks a unified mood like their past albums, but still has some engaging and impressive tracks that'll keep you listening until Descension lands in 2013.
Coheed and Cambria should’ve never been a hit on radio. With such a tremendous emphasis on concept albums and over-the-top, seven-minute-long compositions on many of the band’s albums, they seemed to be just too ambitious to settle in the rock charts. They have always sat in between the yardbending storytelling of Rush and the heavier alternative rock of At the Drive-in, but since their debut album, the band has gathered a following that embraces their musicianship and their intricate narrative of the Amory Wars. Coheed and Cambria slowly began to pick up steam in the growingly complex story of the Keywork and its followers after four studio albums, mostly thanks to the amazing compositions that complimented an almost intimate story (seen best in the third album Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
). However, with their previous album, Year of the Black Rainbow
, Coheed and Cambria’s skill began to harden and the intimacy had been taken away in favor of bigger tracks, not in size, but in mood. Year of the Black Rainbow
was just TOO big.
The Afterman: Ascension
is Coheed and Cambria’s sixth album, but it’s the first part of a double album with a new approach to the expansive mythos. Following the namesake of the Amory Wars, Sirius Amory, The Afterman
mixes in startling encounters with dead souls and interplanetary energy links. It’s over-the-top as always, as Coheed and Cambria’s Amory Wars mythos has always been filled to the brim with mind-scrambling complexities and if you haven’t educated yourself with the graphic novels, you’re bound to be just as thrown off as ever. Especially with a full-length film on the way, understanding Claudio Sanchez’s massive mythology of robots, godlike writers, and interstellar energies is an uphill battle. The more relatable and personal elements seen in From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
are scrambled and mixed into a story that’s more about discovery than personal struggle. It’s more for the revisiting fans than newcomers, so if you’re new to Coheed’s mythology, Ascension
won’t be up your alley when it comes to conceptual work.
But if you’re only out for the Coheed music, you’ll find a very surreal mix of new and old in The Afterman: Ascension
. Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
seems to be in serious recall during the first half of The Afterman: Ascension
, because Coheed and Cambria’s compositions (despite having such enormous and lofty settings in the mythos) nail that darker alternative rock vibe seen in their third studio album. The band has taken cues from other influences on “Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked,” where Sanchez snarls alongside a heavy, heavy melody, sounding almost like Dirt
-era Alice in Chains of all things. It’s in songs like “The Afterman” where things really get bizarre, with Sanchez echoing U2’s The Edge with lighter and toned guitar sounds, a stark contrast from other songs on the album. The No World for Tomorrow
trappings appear in the later track “Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher,” where furious drums from Josh Eppard and a thunderous and climactic ending make the song one of the heaviest on the album. “Mothers of Men” and more prominently “Goodnight Fair Lady” echo “Apollo I: The Writing Writer” of From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
, a steady pace mixed with textured guitar themes from Sanchez
As can be gathered, The Afterman: Ascension
is a mixed bag not in quality, but in tone. Being the first of a double album, The Afterman: Ascension
is a brief portion of this big story, clocking in at around 39 minutes. For what it delivers, however, it’s a fine album, one with a band trying to step outside its comfort zone on some songs and holding their ground in others. The brief length is definitely a downer, but the album’s biggest flaw is its collective nature. While there are some fantastic songs on this album, the cohesion is lost when drawing from so many moods from the band’s past albums, especially for a concept album. There is no overarching mood emanating from The Afterman: Ascension
, which makes the album feel anthological and scattered.
At the end of the day, The Afterman: Ascension
takes bits and pieces from a number of past works to make an ultimately enjoyable first half of this double album. You can’t tell if it’s an intimate and personal album like From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
or a more epic and bombastic tale like Year of the Black Rainbow
and that’s a discouragement. Coheed and Cambria is a band with a lot of great musical ideas; they’ve proven that from the get-go. The Afterman
double album is off to a solid start, thanks to a revisiting of the better sounds of their career, but it also doesn’t feel cohesive enough to be a star player in the band’s catalog. If the bigger-than-big anthems of Year of the Black Rainbow
threw you off, The Afterman: Ascension
is the beginning of something more refined and textured for Coheed and Cambria. Right now, though, it’s just the beginning. Bring on The Afterman: Descension