Review Summary: Well, it certainly is a Coheed & Cambria album!
Coheed & Cambria are arguably one of the most integral bands to a lot of kids music taste these days, coming out as the mainstream torchbearers of both exciting pop-punk music and the new wave of "prog" bands that started popping up in the early 2000's. Even with some stumbles, they've managed to stay somewhat relevant for all these years by a combination of releasing albums controversial enough to draw positive praise and negative conversation, and perhaps by a little residue fame from "Welcome Home" via Rock Band and a few trailers and commercials. Where before they had strayed into more of an 80's sort of hard rock/metal shtick, with The Afterman
records they certainly have come back into the realm of "progressive" music...with a heavy, facetious emphasis on progressive.
See, what used to make them any kind of a prog band was their penchant to occasionally write a song that would jump between time signatures and keys, and not stick to a standard song structure. Yeah, the concept of their records gave a little more prog aesthetic, but mostly you'd have a record of hard jams and then four or five complicated prog numbers. On Ascension
and specifically now Descension
, they've replaced a lot of that with sampling spacey sounds and adding some random, out of place instrumentals and a cheesy vocoded narrator. I can't tell if the intro to "The Hard Sell" is supposed to sound similar to a Beatles sitar number or if they just distorting *** to make it sound weird, but once the choppy guitar part and Claudio Sanchez's saccharine "woo oh oh's" come in, nothing makes sense anymore. The song comes off as a b-side to the sound of No World for Tomorrow
, a hard rock number bogged down by Coheed's reliance on guitar pedals and lots of monotone, 'soaring' vocals. Is it inherently bad? No. Does it add anything that we haven't heard before? No.
And besides a few exceptions, that's how the record plays out. At the risk of alienating people who haven't heard their previous discography, "Away We Go" is a less inspired version of "Feathers", a pop-metal song that lacks any of the bite of its predecessor and just goes by-the-numbers to the end. Is it cute to hear him reference Josephine, a character that's been around since their first record? Yes. Does anyone really care at this point? Besides members of Cobalt & Calcium, probably not. "Iron Fist" comes off sounding like a new Prize Fighter Inferno song, a psuedo-acoustic jaunt that just doesn't go anywhere. Instead of using this point to really experiment with the sound, Coheed just goes back to another little solo here, another little jangley guitar part here. You'd expect "Dark Side of Me", the first single, to perhaps liven things up, but instead it's just another loud power-ballad disguised as a hard jam. Incredibly repetitive and lyrically brain dead, the song is sonically acceptable, but from a band that has written so much more intricate and powerful songs it comes off as a letdown and missed opportunity for something really great.
The album isn't all mediocrity and gloom, though. "Sentry the Defiant" kicks the album off well enough, resurrecting the desperate metal sound of the better songs from No World For Tomorrow
to great effect. "Number City" is a legitimately fun pop gem, the song never letting up and being surprisingly fun and catchy. With a little funk rhythm and a whopper of a chorus, it shows that Coheed still has it in them to write an exciting pop song. The same can be said of "Gravity's Union" and their epic rock roots, the song being a pleasant throwback to In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3
, with loud crunching riffs and great layered vocal melodies. The samples actually complement the mood of the song, and Claudio actually bends his pitch for one of the few times on the record, creating a very tense musical scenario where you don't know what's coming next. It's something that has been sorely lacking in their past few records, and is done differently enough here to come across as really fresh.
That said, I can't recommend this album for people that aren't already to Coheed fans. If you're looking to get into more spacey progressive rock there are better places to start (Sula Bassana), and if you're looking to get into pop rock well, you honestly haven't made it to this point in the review. If you're into Coheed there are some really good new tracks lumped at the beginning, but be forewarned you could get really depressed by the dull and uninspired second half. The lyrics have never been worse, so ridiculous and insipid that it would take a whole other review just to delve into. All in all, not the death knell that it could have been but not the triumphant return it so could have been at the same time, Descension
is another addition to the Coheed saga, and for better or worse will probably allow us to get another record out of the band.
Out of Genre: 2
In Genre: 3
For its Time: 3
These Days: ...3?
Influence Level: 2