Review Summary: Welcome home Coheed fans, The Afterman: Ascension is so good it erases the damage done by the less than stellar last two records by the band, and stands as the group's best album in seven years.
Coheed and Cambria have had some hard times lately, not so much with album sales, but with the invaluable aspect of releasing albums: fan reception. After two less than stellar records made on the last limbs of The Amory Wars
storyline, many fans were beginning to abandon ship. The overly 80's tone of No World For Tomorrow
coupled with the heavy and serious, yet stale sound of Year of the Black Rainbow
had many fans crying foul at the band's sense of direction and seeming lack of passion in the band, especially after losing their original bass player and drummer. Coheed stood at their lowest point and would either falter under the pressure, or rise above their adversity. Fortunately strength through adversity is an expression that rings especially true with Coheed and Cambria's 6th studio album The Afterman: Ascension.
Coheed and Cambria are finally living up to their admittedly high standards yet again with this release. The technicality and serious tone from the last album are still present, but they never get in the way of the excellent songwriting. The band opted to refine the sound of Black Rainbow
rather than abandoning it completely, keeping the best qualities of that record and integrating it into the band's outstanding pre-existing blend of hard rocking prog rock and a strong emotional core.
The nine songs on The Afterman: Ascension
are tight, focused, and short with only one song crossing the seven minute mark and most in the three to four minute range. The Afterman: Ascension
is rather short mostly because it is half of a double album, with the other half set to be released in a few months in the vein of the way Mesmerize
were released by System of a Down in 2005. The result is a tight, trimmed down runtime with little room for filler or missteps. Sandwiching seven tightly crafted prog rock songs are an electronic story setting opener, and an acoustic closer. The main focus of the record is the "Key Entity Extraction" suite, comprised of the second track and standout "Domino the Destitute," and the penultimate trio tracks. The first song "Domino the Destitute" is an epic sweeping track that calls back to previous large scope Coheed tracks like "Welcome Home" and "In Keeping Secrets." It's the track where Coheed give it their all and aim to prove they still have it and it succeeds at its mission. The second of the suite "Holly Wood the Cracked" starts off with the heaviest verse the band has ever had, then shifts seamlessly into one of the band's signature big and catchy choruses. This dichromatic formula proves that the band is still the undisputed champion of both styles. The continuous blaring of "Hang your secrets hang em up hang em up now" from the track "Vic The Butcher" is the catchiest the band has been in a long time and shows they've still got what it takes at sounding big and radio friendly. The non suite tracks peppered in the album are great as well and certainly not filler. The build up/pay off song structure of "Mothers of Man" explodes into one of the catchiest and biggest choruses the band has ever had, while "The Afterman" is a great tender tune that contrasts most of the rest of the album well. What Coheed and Cambria pull off in 40 minutes should be the talk of the town for most modern prog rock bands that can't do anything nearly as focused or complete in 80 minutes.
The original bassist seems to be gone for good after an arrest, but the original drummer Josh Eppard is back, and the band's trust and familiarity in his ability to set the backbone of the band's sound allows them to focus purely on the songwriting. There is also a relatively great deal of electronic programming on the record, such as the more obvious examples like the opener "The Hollow," to more subtle cues like an electronic effect on snare hits in "The Afterman," to the electronic beat in the closer "Subtraction." The returning of old elements, and the introduction of new elements only go to prove that band can excel at stringing multiple components together to make a fresh an balanced sound.
The Afterman: Ascension
is the first half of a concept album set during the Amory Wars
focusing on a new character Sirius Amory. I'm not going to pretend I know anything about the storyline, and my ignorance shows how truly great the music is being able to stand on its own without an understanding of the story. The Afterman: Ascension
is sure to be even stronger when paired with the unreleased second piece. As for now it's a welcomed return home to Coheed's signature sound and is sure to please fans who were disappointed in the last two records, as The Afterman: Ascension
is the band's most mature record to date. Mixing the best elements of the last two records while cutting the undesirable elements allowed Coheed and Cambria to craft their best record in seven years. The Afterman: Ascension
is a return to form for the band and an obvious indication that the band is finally back on the right track and will strive to build and refine on an already impressive sound and body of work.