Review Summary: A fluid collection of top-notch signature singles that espouses self-influence without self-indulgence.
As with most of Coheed and Cambria's albums, it's difficult to find fault in their latest outing. The first in a new series of Amory Wars-based concept pieces that will somehow eventually relate to the tale of a creator who talks to his demented bicycle, The Unheavenly Creatures
takes on the Colosseum-rattling chants of No World for Tomorrow
, the pop hooks of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3
, the electronics of Year of the Black Rainbow
, and some grim edge from From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
. It's no shock that at this point in Coheed's career, their self-influence is readily apparent. The real surprise is that for all of the amalgamation of past sounds, The Unheavenly Creatures
steers clear of mimicry and self-indulgence in delivering a new slew of relevant signature tracks.
Okay, so maybe an album full of 5+ minute tracks can't steer away from being labelled as "self-indulgent." But for all the runtime in the world, no track on The Unheavenly Creatures
feels too bloated. Most feature significant change-ups and bridges that keep things fresh while maintaining the catchy feel of a deftly-directed single. In fact, though there's a solid flow on the album from start to finish, damn near every song on the album feels like it could be a single all its own.
This isn't entirely a Coheed first - I'd dare say the band have been making some of the catchiest rock music of the 21st century. Nor would I say it's necessarily an extraordinary positive for the band in the broader sense. While songs like "Toys" are undeniably fun and steady head-nodders, the consistent format striking the balance between offering radio-friendly cuts and fan appeasing long-form comes at the cost of any true C&C epics and suites in the vein of "The Light & The Glass", "2113", or "The Willing Well."
That said, the absence of Coheed's long-form songwriting isn't overbearing on The Unheavenly Creatures
. In all honesty, with the way tracks like "Black Sunday" and "Queen of the Dark" take time to rev up to speed and given the already lengthy runtime of the album, I'd be concerned that anything longer would
propel the album to a gluttonous bloat. As it stands, slow-burners like the aforementioned tracks certainly do pay off, though the band are at their best when the build-up is present, but not belabored. My favorite example here is "All On Fire," which fires from a somber piano intro to build into one of the album's most memorable choruses and inarguably hallmark fretboard dancing, only to mix that almost forgotten piano back in with the track's early-Coheed energy.
Naturally, the album's slowly accelerating tracks are buoyed by those with more immediate impact like "Love Protocol" (which features some of the same Police influences as fan-favorite "Number City"), "The Dark Sentencer," and "True Ugly." But perhaps only "The Pavilion (A Long Way Back)" brings an immediate, upbeat energy that just grows and grows, building from an absurdly catchy melody and keeping the listener immersed in its twinkling choruses as it continuously presses upward. Its only fault is that it's based almost entirely on a core melody that's taken nearly wholesale from Tears for Fears's "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." But hey, it's a good melody, right"
The Unheavenly Creatures
finishes as an album of incredibly strong material for a band on their ninth studio recording. Every song on the album manages to drive both an air of "epicness" that was most apparent on No World for Tomorrow
and a Coheed-specific quirky catchiness that the band has been refining for years. Still, I can't shake the feeling that a little something is missing - whether it's a "2113" or the introspective lyrical darkness of the group's first trio of albums. It's the same feeling I had with No World for Tomorrow
- though no fault can be found with any material offered, there's still some little, invisible piece missing. But that piece is only what keeps The Unheavenly Creatures
from reaching for honors like "album of the year," while its current state still qualifies it for a highly regarded honorable mention and a high degree of critical and
commercial anticipation for what's to come on Vaxis
Acts II through IV.