Review Summary: YEAHIIIII
Coheed & Cambria are certainly one of the most atypical rock bands to gain critical acclaim in the states. Since the early 21st century, they've managed to eschew simple genre-categorization with a viscous suffusion of bombastic pop, sprawling progressive rock, and visceral emo. Enhancing this peculiar trichotomy is the easily identifiable and uniquely infantile vocal styling of frontman and metaphorical mixture-stirrer, Claudio Sanchez. Delving even further beyond the aural nature of their work, is an intricate, if a bit cryptic sci-fi narrative, which is almost as connectable on a humanistic level as it is desirable on a romantic level. If it hasn't yet been made apparent by their obvious quirks, Coheed & Cambria don't exactly do subtle, and Descension, part II of their Afterman duology, continues the foursome's tradition of standing out like a black sheep in an idiomatic proverb.
It's certainly a testament to this niche Coheed have carved themselves into over the past decade that Descension ultimately succeeds. Album centerpiece Gravity's Union
excepted, the songwriting on Descension is borderline insipid. This is not to say that following the archetypical recipe for a pop/rock song (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus) is a direct harbinger to mediocrity, but for a band that has had popular success in the past with more creative songwriting, it does come off as a bit uninspired, especially on songs like The Hard Sell
, Dark Side of Me
, and 2's My Favorite 1
Of course, rudimentary composition at the skeletal level can forgiven if the sections themselves are memorable, and Coheed certainly go out of their way to pack as much nuance as ever into Descension's nine tracks. Each cut has an authoritative identity, whether it be the auditory technobabble in Number City
, the massive reverb-steeped chorus in Dark Side of Me
, or the meticulous rhythmic guitar licks in The Hard Sell
. Coheed have also always had a talent for crafting memorable hooks, and for a band that's already associated with bombast and saccharinity, several individual moments on Descension are sweet enough to induce hypertension. The second half of the album especially includes some of the most sugary pop-writing in the band's discography, with Away We Go
and 2's My Favorite 1
both challenging No World For Tomorrow's Feathers
as the band's most sugary morsel yet. However, whereas Feathers' tonal sweetness was completely ironic and mocking when compared to its lyrics, the subject matter throughout several of the songs on Descension is legitimately cloying. While still firmly entrenched in the Amory Wars Saga, Claudio's lyrics deviate from the metaphysical fuckery found on previous albums such as Good Apollo I or the recent Ascension in favor for what ultimately amounts to a simple story of love, loss, regret, and redemption. While the narrative in question lacks the grandiosity found on Coheed's previous albums, it's certainly the most relatable to the human psyche, and thus Descension may be the first authentically effervescent album Coheed have written.
That's not to say that Descension is completely bereft of testicles, however, as some of the band's strongest material in years make appearances. Sentry the Defiant
mirrors its narrative of rebellion with some of the most triumphant lyrics in Coheed's discography and an equally empowering chorus, and the final minute of Gravity's Union
rivals the end of a track like The Crowing
in sheer energetic scope. If nothing else, Coheed & Cambria are masters at creating anthemic, crowd-pleasing moments, and Descension boasts several of them.
While the material on Descension is satisfying enough to exist as its own entity, it's obvious that it was meant to be experienced with its companion album. Though splitting roughly 80 minutes of material into a double album may seem like a cashgrab, it makes sense conceptually to separate the two given that the albums are almost complete foils of one another. This inverse relationship works in the project's ultimate benefit, as the the more familiar progressive-alternative leanings on Ascension wholly complement the experimental pop on Descension, and coalesce to create the most satisfying Coheed & Cambria release in almost a decade.