It’s nearly impossible for me to approach Coheed and Cambria with any semblance of objectivity, but even for someone so biased with love for the prog-rock quartet as I am, The Afterman: Ascension was a surprise and a delight. After 2010’s uncharacteristically disappointing Year of the Black Rainbow, the band has returned with all of the literary vitality, grandiose vocals, and evocative instrumentation (as well as former drummer Josh Eppard) that’s ensured them a position in the pantheon of my favorite bands of all time.
Black Rainbow was baggy and fruitless, but by contrast, The Afterman: Ascension (the first of a double-album package, to be completed by Descension in February) is tight, practiced, and full of feist. Because it’s not stuffed with extra tracks, each song, from the groovy “Goodnight, Fair Lady” (reminiscent of the most romantic tracks on Good Apollo) to the whispered refrains on the album’s closer, “Subtraction” (“Misery / I digress / No recourse / No remorse”), is melodically memorable and emotionally charged. Regardless of your feelings about the genre which includes wailing guitars, vocals three or four octaves higher than what you’d expect from a male, and spoken-word oration by an intelligent computer mothership, The Afterman is without doubt the pinnacle of said genre; it shows Coheed at the top of its form.
Coheed’s discography follows an over-arching story called the Amory Wars; however, I’ve never been able to parse out the three levels of reality and 78 planets (not kidding) involved in lead singer Claudio Sanchez’s sci-fi mess — until now. The Afterman focuses on the story of Silas Amory, an astronaut and explorer who unlocks a terrible secret about the fictional universe of Coheed’s music, and because of the spoken-word dialogues between Silas and the aforementioned mothership (“The Hollow”), as well as the incredibly produced interludes between most of the songs, the story is actually comprehensible.
This comes at no loss to the music itself, fortunately: with Eppard back on the kit, and a tighter focus on more memorable instrumentation, Claudio & Company seem to have gotten back on track: “Domino The Destitute” and “Vic The Butcher” hearken back to the six-minute epics of past albums (specifically No World for Tomorrow) and shorter cuts like “Mothers of Men” are as punchy as classic Coheed songs like “Ten Speed”. Though I consider myself a man who appreciates stories, it has always been the music, more than the Amory Wars saga, which has enchanted me about Coheed and Cambria, and that’s the biggest reason why it’s so invigorating to here the crashing refrains on “Vic the Butcher” or the crackling Travis Stever guitar riff on the title track.
There’s nothing much for me to say here: I love Coheed and Cambria with my heart of hearts; there is something epic and passionate in their music that has always touched me. Even for those who do not, however, there is no denying that Coheed have returned to the beautiful recipes its fans have always held so dear. With the sequel (hopefully of equal merit) coming in just five months, the band has reasserted its force as a powerhouse of grand, story-driven rock. Score: 8.5/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor