Coheed and Cambria
The Aftermath: Ascension
08 October 2012
by Ruth Booth
In a pair of shove-crazy years, it was a zenith of surreality. No, not when former bassist Michael Todd left in sub-Tap circumstances, whose exit was followed in short order by that of Dillinger Escape Plan founder, Chris Pennie. This July, at San Diego Comiccon, Mark Wahlberg announced he’d picked up Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez’s conceptual opus, The Amory Wars, for a live action feature. We all like to see something behind the eyes of bands we put our faith into. A blockbuster movie isn’t what first springs to mind.
In many ways its a logical step. If you want a band driven by something bigger than themselves (besides religion, or their label debt), Coheed’s Amory Wars is a graphic literary saga on the scale of Frank Herbert’s Dune, backed by five albums as expansive as Sanchez’s ambition. On the surface, new album The Afterman: Ascension seems the perfect time to jump in – the beginning of a new story arc set before the events of the previous records. But the record sees Coheed take a leap that’s oftentimes as disorienting as their July announcement.
Coheed set to …Ascension with that signature blend of sweet pop melodies and classic metal riffs, Sanchez’s twisting distinctive vocals channelling the collective consciousness of the story’s characters. It says much for the sound of Coheed’s universe that you barely notice the absence of Chris Pennie’s extraordinary beats. At times, it echoes the emotional writhing of The Mars Volta. While the anthemic bombast remains on the likes of recent single ‘…Domino The Destitute‘, it takes a little while to build itself up to full steam. This may be a personal record for Sanchez, but what stands out more is how much less immediate this is than its predecessors.
Watch some videos explaining the concept of The Aftermath: Ascension by Coheed and Cambria
Instead, …Ascension finds itself in its more contemplative moments – the uneasy calm of ‘The Afterman‘, or the lolloping electronic beats of ‘Subtraction‘. Those mellower numbers, where Coheed experiment with music box notes and contemplative atmospherics that hide something unpleasantly unnerving beneath. By contrast, where they plunge into more extroverted madness on ‘Key Entity Extraction II Hollywood The Cracked‘, the result is messy, an off-colour collision of faux-hair metal and splatterpunk. Though considering “she’s the joker in the pack”, perhaps that’s just what they wanted.
This kick-off to a new arc in the Keywork universe is much darker, inwards-looking album than we’ve come to expect from Coheed and Cambria. Less ascension, than a descent, from fairytale shallows towards the obscure depths of insanity. It’s a proud step out of a comfort zone, and an accomplished one.
Yet …Ascension is not wholly satisfying as a single album, and not just because of muddy middle. Though coalesced from a bigger story, every one of Coheed’s albums so far collapsed neatly into its own narrative and musical chapter within the larger arc. This is the first album that’s felt like its finished somewhat abruptly, tinging anticipation for the next record with not a little disappointment with this half. In isolation, …Ascension doesn’t quite stand on its own feet. In the past, Sanchez’s story has cushioned Coheed and Cambria from a lot of the slings and arrows that often fell bands. As their record shows, splitting an arc across two albums is only a problem when it feels like you just get half the story.
Sounds Like: Claudio Sanchez sat in the lotus position, Omar Rodiguez-Lopez whispering in one ear, Frank Herbert whispering in the other.
Standout Tracks: Subtraction, Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria The Faithful, The Afterman.