Review Summary: Not a true return to form, but at the very least proof that Coheed haven't run out of steam just yet.
Coheed and Cambria is a decisively difficult band to write about in a succinct or singular manner. Even in reference to a single album, the fact that their entire discography is based around Claudio Sanchez's expansive Amory Wars mythos has to be taken into account, breaking any illusion that any Coheed release exists in true isolation from its fellows, and on top of that, member changes, personal tribulations, and label changes have all left their distinct marks on the past few years of the band's career. In the aftermath of the arrest and expulsion of Michael Todd, to the recent reunion with original drummer Josh Eppard, and everything in between, The Afterman: Ascension
sees Coheed more as a band struggling to recapture their footing rather than one that's experienced a true revitalization.
Up until this point in the band's career, the role that the story of the Amory Wars has played in the band's music has indeed been a central one, but it's remained more as a unifying thread that ties the thematic elements of the music and separate albums together. However, on The Afterman
the story is placed front and center in a nearly blunt narrative style, giving the album more of the feel of a soundtrack and creating some fairly uncomfortable moments therein. By their very nature, Coheed has always straddled the line between campy and serious, but with tracks like "Holly Wood the Cracked" and "Evagria the Faithful", the band crosses into fullblown absurdity. The chugging intro riff and off key lead work that signals the intro of "Holly Wood" might actually have accomplished it's menacing intent if it wasn't the for off putting and slightly elementary lyrical content (I mean the character's name is Holly Wood, come on). Much in the same way, the rhythmic dinging and vocal patterns in the intro to "Evagria" wouldn't feel entirely out of place in a cheesy broadway musical bit.
That being said, The Afterman
also contains some of Coheed's best moments since the release of Good Apollo I
. "Domino the Destitute" brings back the 7+ minute prog outings that were missing from Year of the Black Rainbow
in triumphant fashion, replete with driving rhythms, seamless transitions, fairly jaw dropping basslines, and choruses that prove that Claudio is still more than capable of producing massive hooks. In much the same fashion, the explosively riffy and hook laden "Vic the Butcher" begs the question of just how solid YotBR
could have been without all the dead weight, and may just well be the band's best track since GAIV: I
. "Mothers of Men" and "Goodnight, Fair Lady" both sit somewhere in between the poppy sensibilities of Blood Red Summer and The Suffering, and some of Good Apollo
's noodlier moments, but contain enough of their own character to keep from feeling like filler, and "The Afterman" finds Coheed giving their softer side a much needed shot in the arm by exploring a much airier feel than most have come to expect.
With all of its triumphs and downfalls, The Afterman: Ascension
seems to mark a turning point in the band's career in a "back to basics" sort of way without being overly cliché by (mostly) shifting focus away from the runaway elements that stretched YotBR
so thin and left a sort of "phoned in" feeling to much of Good Apollo IV: II
. However, it's important to note that Ascension
isn't really Part I of a double album as much as it is the first half what seems to be an exceedingly long album, as "Subtraction" gives no real sense of finality or transition and ends the affair on sort of an anticlimax. Whether or not that was the best choice to make for the entire release remains to be seen, but for the most part, it seems that Coheed may be well on their way to recapturing their former glory.