Review Summary: Descension proves a solid, forward-thinking album to fans, but probably won't change any made-up minds.
I’m starting to think that most of the critical world has turned on Coheed and Cambria. From cries of "false prog" from detractors who probably never enjoyed the band’s brand of pop-inspired experimentation to fans who lost faith following No World For Tomorrow
, public opinion has decidedly soured. And, citing No World For Tomorrow
, there’s decent reason for the turn in opinion – the album’s stadium rock approach was creatively tepid at best (sans the closing quintet of “The End Complete”). Things didn't get any better with the initially heralded but quickly overlooked Year of the Black Rainbow
, either. Public opinion turned, and suddenly Coheed had become the golden boys who’d hit a slump.
To contrast, a lot of people saw the first half of this most recent release, double album The Afterman
, as a return to form. Claudio, himself, remarked that the music felt reminiscent of his younger days as a musician – something that was apparent in the similarity between the tone of first half Ascension
and that of From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
. And, so, some of the naysayers gave way. Well, at least a little bit.
Yet, fear not, good naysayers! Coheed have done something on The Afterman's
second disc, Descension
, that is sure to push you away yet again. “What could that be?” you might ask with an eye-roll. Well, Coheed are experimenting with their sound again. While Ascension
committed most tracks to the tone and form of those on From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
, Descension pulls a few tricks from the playbooks of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3
and maybe a couple licks from From Fear
. But, mostly, it’s an album that sees Claudio and company getting playful with their sound again by incorporating new techniques, inspirations, and hell, even a brass section on "Number City." And, detractors beware! That playfulness and change is a good
Think about it. We wouldn't want to hear another twenty attempts at recapturing the pop-prog wonder of albums like The Second Stage Turbine Blade
– they just wouldn't turn out the same this late in Coheed's career. Would you really want to hear In Keeping Secrets
, an album described by the artist as an emotionally-pummeling breakup album, written by happily married men? While Coheed took time to figure out where exactly it was they wanted to go (on No World For Tomorrow
and Year of the Black Rainbow
) as they've matured, we finally have the product of their past and present with hints towards their future on Descension
Tracks like “Sentry the Defiant” (pretentious heading omitted) continue the darker third-album leanings of predecessors like “Vic the Butcher,” while the Keeping Secrets
vibe of back-handed optimism is smattered on tracks like “The Hard Sell,” “Iron Fist,” and “Dark Side of Me.” But it’s in tracks like “Number City” where we see the so-called signature sound coming under heavy fire from friendly sources, dropping all pretense and borrowing without shame from The Police to create an upbeat, head-bopping pop-prog track. And while it’s firmly rooted in the sound of its genre’s ancestors, it’s notable that, for an album which gives so many nods to the band’s own storied career, this track plays a different ballgame. “Away We Go” and “Gravity’s Union” take similar cues (though not from The Police) and show that Coheed are perfectly willing to defy expectation and do something a little different. The best part is that that little bit “different” shows versatility and self-efficacy: after more than eleven years as a band, they’re still working on improving themselves, and while it’s been a bit of “the fans be damned” on albums prior to The Afterman
, the experimentation is well-integrated and should be offensive to only the snobbiest of listeners and those who despise change.
That’s not to say that many tracks don’t pay their dues to the back catalog – “Iron Fist” may have one of the catchiest choruses in the band’s discography, falling just short of the “woah-oh”s of “Blood Red Summer.” “Away We Go” has the kind of fluttering and shimmering leads you’d expect from a cleaner version of “Junesong Provision” while maintaining a freer, more pop-inspired mentality. And, maybe to the album’s detriment, “The Hard Sell” pulls influence from the radio rock of No World For Tomorrow
New or old, self-inspired or forward-thinking, when taken as a whole, the tracks on this album are well-written, catchy, and inventive. But that’s Coheed's standard fare, and most of the critical community seems to have grown cold to that. Will Descension be 2013’s album of the year and blow our minds the way The Second Stage Turbine Blade
did back in 2002? No. But in any case, it may be enough to sway a few new fans and satisfy return customers. As for those who've already made their minds up about Coheed and Cambria? Well, you can paint a smile on a rock, but that rock isn't going to get up and laugh along with you anytime soon.