Review Summary: Coheed and Cambria regroup and release the soul successor to From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness, all expected progression intact.
If you're Coheed and Cambria right about now, you're finding yourself in an interesting situation. With a catalog of commercial and critical success, you can pretty much do whatever you want to do - push the boundaries, release a safe album that'll appease the fans - whatever, it's your call. Creative freedom, they call it.
Of course, you also find yourself in the interesting position of being two men short of the usual lineup at the start of the recording process. Naturally, who you pick's going to play into what you end up with - so who's it going to be? If the acquisition of Chris Pennie, longtime drummer for The Dillinger Escape Plan, proved anything, it was that Coheed could pull down anyone; and if the frantic drumbeat and electronics of "Guns of Summer" proved anything, it was that personnel outside of masterminds Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever could have a dramatic influence on the band's sound. So, again, there's a huge array of options with an equally large room for impact on the finished product.
So, given the knowledge that Coheed brought back former drummer Josh Eppard and brought in the relatively unknown Zach Cooper “because he fit the band dynamic,” it should come as no surprise that The Afterman: Ascension
sounds like a focused power-blend of the group's first three albums. After all, No World for Tomorrow
, the first album without Eppard, came at a time not long after Eppard and former bassist Mic Todd had been fired for their various addictions and, with a drummer in escrow and a bassist who was surely growing more and more unreliable due to dependency issues, it's easy to see how the album became guitar dominated to the point where it created a clear shift in the band's paradigm. Follow-up Year of the Black Rainbow
, too, proved a creature unfamiliar to the original pop-prog sound of the band, relying heavily on electronics and complex drumming (seemingly a hallmark of Pennie) that often sacrificed hooks for dramatic experimentation.
So now, using their creative freedom, Sanchez and Stever have decided on a lineup that brings back that ability to, as Cooper put it in his introductory video, "groove." Case in point, the hypnotic instrumentals of songs like "The Afterman" and "Evagria the Faithful" and their companion choruses create a sound so infectious that it will bounce around between the ears for days between plays. Tracks like "Mothers of Men" and "Goodnight, Fair Lady" generate a similar feeling of near nostalgia through Eppard's simple(r) pop rock beats backing up clever guitar hooks that go just far enough to catch and maintain attention. Of course, with Coheed there's always another wrinkle to the game, and with "Evagria" and "The Afterman," there's a newfound melding of electronic processing and an acoustic touch that come together in a light, spacey trance. Similarly, "Mothers of Men" and "Goodnight, Fair Lady" revisit tones previously heard on No World For Tomorrow
and In Keeping Secrets
, respectively, re-purposing them to new melodies that pump an energized nostalgic undertone into the album.
is certainly lighter in tone than an album like From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness
, tracks like "Domino the Destitute," "Holly Wood the Cracked," and "Vic the Butcher" manage to deliver on a heavy, dark sound. The latter two also deliver on the catchy phrasing and light choral hooks employed more reliably early on in Coheed's discography through dynamic shifts in tone, while "Domino" links itself more closely to the lead-heavy tracks from No World
that follow a bossy guitar-fronted epic format. But even songs as gritty and hard-hitting as "Holly Wood" are complemented by a serene chorus of clean singing from Claudio Sanchez that delivers the "hook and groove" that fans of the band have come to expect. After all, who can keep from singing along to a melodic
She's a few cards short of a full deck,
A joker in the game
She's got a bullet with your name on it
No doubt she's a mental case
Unsurprisingly, the use of electronics on the album has grown since From Fear
, but they feel like a welcome addition rather than a full takeover, as was the case with many tracks on Year of the Black Rainbow
(the one exception to this rule being closing track "Subtraction," which was originally intended as a track for Claudio's electro-pop side-project, The Prize Fighter Inferno). Used as an industrial compliment ("Holly Wood") or as an ethereal augment ("Evagria," "The Afterman"), electronics on Ascension
are generally used as supplemental, atmospheric material, and are kept from assuming the limelight as they often did on Year of the Black Rainbow
. And the balance seems to work out well - adding a science fiction feel to the space odyssey of the album without eating away the human element at its heart.
does feel a bit short, but that's to be expected what is essentially only half of a full double album. "Subtraction" is as good a cliffhanger ending as any album could ask for and, in some way, its light, looping melody even feels like intermission music. For a concept album incorporating small dialogue breaks to introduce tonal shifts between tracks, it's good to have an ending that can work as a pause between start and finish without destroying a sense of flow.
In the end, Ascension
comes across as a soul successor to From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness
and its predecessors by picking up a penchant for writing hooks and memorable choruses. Placing Eppard back behind the kit has brought a certain pop vitality back to the sound and it seems that the duo of Eppard and Cooper have also succeeded in putting a lot of head-bobbing groove back into the sound from an instrumental perspective. While the previous two albums were certainly not bad, Ascension
sees Coheed and Cambria recapture a certain youthful, contagious energy that reminds listeners that despite all of their technical prowess and innovation, this is still a band that can keep the fickle attention of radio listeners. As for whether or not the sound will stick: it’s anyone’s guess. But with a track record like theirs, even if they do decide to switch things up dramatically, it's hard to believe that they'll start struggling anytime soon. But for now, it's not hard to be content grooving along with Ascension
until the latter half of The Afterman
comes along in February.