Review Summary: Year of the Black Rainbow will forever be known as a temporary detour in the increasingly pleasing history of Coheed and Cambria.
Make no bones about it, I am fanatically in love with his band. I am truly crazy about them. I have been for a while now; tangentially since In Keeping Secrets.. and actively since Year of the Black Rainbow. Back in the IKSOSE: 3 days I was aware of them and liked their singles but I never made the effort to explore their discography. What can I say? I was a kid. They didn’t sound like Slipknot or System of a Down so I couldn’t be bothered. Later on though, once I’d reached the age of refinement and Black Rainbow came around I immediately found myself foaming at the mouth with need for their music. I gobbled up as much Coheed as I could in a very short period of time and thus began a long-standing love affair between me and my favorite band, not close.
Coming in at Year of the Black Rainbow, I wasn’t as.. offended by it, as others may have been. I didn’t hate anything about it and still don’t. Of course, later on, once I’d explored the rest of their material, I gradually grew away from it. I went through a long period of never touching it. I still don’t think it’s a bad album; quite the contrary, there are a lot of aspects of it that are quite good. But it was different, just enough that most people (myself included) didn’t really enjoy it as much as previous albums. Come The Year of the Mayans and Coheed announces a double album: The Afterman, parts Ascension in October and Descension in the following February. With that announcement came the debut single: “Domino the Destitute”
It didn’t click with me immediately but when it did I was absolutely blown away.
It was almost like Year of the Black Rainbow never happened. Coheed and Cambria had gone all the way back to the Good Apollo sound, and it was great! It’s very much a return to form for the band, as is the rest of the album. This can be attributed most likely to the return of Josh Eppard, the band’s original drummer. The creative connection between Eppard (brother of 3 frontman Joey Eppard, if you didn’t know already) and Claudio gave a lot of what gave The Second Stage Turbine Blade and In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 their charm. Appropriately, that charm has returned with Josh.
This nearly eight minute gets the album off to a great start and takes one all the way back to In Keeping Secrets.. and the lengthy title-track that followed the short intro. The Afterman: Ascension does it the same way: the second track, “Domino”, is preceded by a gentle, piano-led intro titled “The Hollow” the sets the stage for the rest of the album. The track feels like it would be at home on a Good Apollo; it doesn’t feel quite as overproduced as a Black Rainbow follow-up would be. Indeed, the compressed and loud production of that album is gone and in it’s place is the more enjoyable, palatable production of albums beforehand. While it’s not quite as good as In Keeping Secrets... it’s roughly the same sort of sound present on the Good Apollo duology. I found it to be an acceptable medium between the two extremes; as much as I enjoy their second effort, I also enjoy the hard rock leanings of later efforts. But not to the extent that Black Rainbow went.
Though this isn’t always true of The Afterman. “Goodnight, Fair Lady” seems to break this rule with it’s crisp guitar and vocal performance. It’s much less of a hard rock epic than “Domino” or even “Mothers of Men” two tracks later. It feels much more modest and less bombastic, as their third effort did in general. This nod to previous sounds continues in the next track, “Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked” which brings back the heavy guitar and loud production of Black Rainbow while invoking the hard rock leanings of Good Apollo Vol. II. These winks at the listener (remember what I said about short intro -> long progressive opener?) cannot be coincidences. I feel like The Afterman: Ascension is deliberately calling back to every trope that the band invoked before their 2010 release. The infections refrain of “Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher” is likely another one as it reminds one of the conclusion of “Three Evils (Embodied in Love and Shadow)”.
Lyrically, the album’s big set piece is the Key Entity Extraction suite, which tells four stories concerning the previous lives of the souls that Sirius Amory.. well, extracts from the Keywork (which a triangle-shaped collective of planets being held together by some hitherto unknown force ostensibly consisting of the souls of the deceased). In the interim, we peek into the life of his wife, Mary, who is grief-stricken with his absence but eventually finds someone else. Sirius meanwhile encounters two hostile entities, a mad woman obsessed with celebrities by the name of Holly Wood and a serial killer named Vic. Our protagonist unfortunately ends up badly injured by the end of the second encounter and has lost a lot of blood. The final extraction, “Evagria the Faithful”, is primarily Sirius’s apology to his wife and his acceptance of his pending death.
Ultimately, as expected, the lyrics stuck with me. Whether it be through infectiousness or simply the weight behind the words. Also as expected, there is a double-meaning behind each song. Whereas each Key Entity Extraction is a look into the life of an extracted quintessence, they also explore something on Claudio’s mind. “Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked”, for instance, is also about a fan that had made videos (described by Claudio as ‘bizarro’) and sent them over Twitter to him and his wife. The first Extraction, “Domino the Destitute” is also Claudio’s feelings toward former bassist Mic Todd and the unfortunate decisions he’d made as of late. Fans of Coheed and Cambria’s lyrical aptitude will surely not be left wanting by this album by any means, as the principal lyricist has not yet begun to lose his touch.
The Afterman: Ascension is an excellent album. It’s everything a Coheed and Cambria fan could ever want and a little more. It’s a cheeky nod to previous material with a story all it’s own, not to mention a complete abandonment of the deviation that Year of the Black Rainbow took. If you were a Coheed fan that was turned off by that album you can feel free to come back to the light side of the Force, for you’ve nothing to fear. You will not be disappointed.