Review Summary: The Afterman: Ascension marks indisputable growth for a band that up until this point seemed as if it had nowhere else to go.
For Coheed and Cambria disciples, the past five years or so have elicited a lukewarm, almost befuddled response. Their two albums, No World for Tomorrow
and Year of the Black Rainbow
, dabbled in retro and electronic territories, respectively, and garnered little more than an indifferent shrug from those who worshipped their opening trifecta like it was the holy grail of progressive rock. There was good reason for all of the dissension amongst fans, as signs seemed to point towards Coheed and Cambria losing a step; risking that slow, painful slide into oblivion that we’ve witnessed from other great artists far too often. The eight minute lead single ‘Key Entity Extinction: Domino The Destitute’ was just the apology that we needed to put our unquestioning trust back in the hands of Claudio Sanchez & co. – its heavy rock atmosphere and fluid progression surging like the unbridled optimism that the song managed to evoke. The question heading into The Afterman: Ascension
was rather clear: have Coheed and Cambria risen above their recent challenges to produce yet another masterpiece, or is ‘Domino’ just another mirage – a swindle to the tune of Year of the Black Rainbow’s ‘Here We Are Juggernaut?’ The answer doesn’t come in black and white terms, unfortunately, but Coheed’s highly anticipated sixth album is definitely better than anything they’ve done in the past five years.
is a rather brief endeavor, comprising itself of nine tracks totaling just under forty minutes – the first of two Afterman
releases set to drop between now and February of 2013. The album’s brevity serves to its advantage, placing the majority of its emphasis on ‘The Key Entity Extraction’ tracks while ornamenting those four standouts with a handful of songs that range anywhere from average to superb. The best moments come early, in the form of the eerie, futuristic intro ‘The Hollow’, the previously discussed ‘Domino The Destitute’, and the complexly interweaving strings and electric guitars of the lush title track. The album may not maintain its impressive start with total uniformity, but the good news is that while it occasionally loses steam, it never actually falters. There are weaker
songs, such as the tired-sounding ‘Goodnight, Fair Lady’, but most of the time Ascension
is comfortably settled in the kind of midtempo groove that made The Second Stage Turbine Blade
an instant classic. No, the songs aren’t quite as good or as fresh sounding as they were in 2002, but there’s also no denying how rejuvenated the band sounds during the chorus to ‘The Key Entity Extinction III: Vic The Butcher’, or the raw energy present in the opening verse of ‘Holly Wood The Cracked.’ While the heavy-handed influence of Year of the Black Rainbow
can still be felt throughout this record (occasional electronic dabbling and a pervading tone of seriousness), there’s a tradeoff to be had – and the good outweighs the bad. The vast majority of loyal Coheed fans will discover at least a couple fleeting moments of pure progressive nirvana, making Ascension
more than merely adequate.
Those who find fault with the album will most likely find it in a lot of the same places – the band spends too much time going over the top without a firm musical base or coherent plot, the sound can be too sleek and shiny (although, for the most part, this issue has been remedied since Black Rainbow
), and even with the astounding ‘Domino The Destitute’, they’ve once again failed to create a song that matches the simultaneous power, complexity, and infectiousness of ‘Welcome Home.’ Although a lot of these issues are minor, they still undermine Coheed’s attempts to create something grander than From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
or as lovable as In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3
. This record is juxtaposed somewhere in the middle – luring our attention but not stealing it, and teasing us with offerings of the past but rarely delivering with the conviction of ‘Domino’ or ‘Vic The Butcher.’ In a way, for as much of an improvement as it is over their prior two releases, The Afterman: Ascension
shares a lot of the same qualities – and that alone prevents it from achieving magnum opus-like stature.
With Coheed and Cambria’s sixth studio album, they have completely revitalized their sound, thus presenting us with the album that we’ve all been waiting for since From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
’ waning days. Only in spurts does it ascend to the heights of the band’s opening three acts, but it does manage to triumphantly assert itself as a leaps and bounds improvement over Coheed’s most recent material. For faithful followers and new fans alike, The Afterman: Ascension
is a genuinely good progressive rock album that will hopefully foreshadow even greater things to come from a talented quartet that seems to draw from an endless pool of creativity and imagination.