Coheed and Cambria
The Afterman: Descension
04 February 2013
by Ruth Booth
Coheed and Cambria’s star had never been higher. Claudio Sanchez and his bandmates stood amongst the most celebrated progressive rock acts of the past decade. Not the departure of sticksmith Chris Pennie, not even their ex-bassist’s drug store robbery could drag them down. Then Mark Wahlberg announced he’d be filming a live action version of The Amory Wars, Sanchez’s comic book and novelized universe behind the band, for the big screen. On the cusp of breaking into wider consciousness, it was the perfect time for Coheed and Cambria to release arguably their most challenging album to date.
Ascension, the first part of new concept The Afterman, was ambitious, forward-thinking – and somewhat unsettling. A series of powerful vignettes, strung together by an accomplished, but ultimately inward-looking sound, Ascension seemed too conscious of being the prologue to the bigger story of Coheed’s strident backcatalogue. Perhaps this was just split record syndrome, we reasoned at the time, the consequence of an abrupt break in what is, after all, a double concept album. And so, we waited, anticipating that follow-up Descension would complete the picture, binding both halves into a unified whole. Three months on, we have our missing puzzle piece – but it doesn’t fit as we’d expected.
Descension spawned of the same complex as Ascension, of triumphant eighties rock and progressive metal. No less intricate in its make-up, witness ‘Number City’ – funky seventies cop show guitar, video game traffic, New Orleans trumpet and bopping backing singers woven into hip shaking pop – a poppier mirror of ‘Holly Wood The Cracked’ from Ascension. Once again, the songwriting relies not just in lunatic bombast, but refined subtlety. Nuances like the shapeshifting vocals on the bombastic ‘The Hard Sell’ (and its disturbing post-song blurb), or the Van Halen road romance ‘Away We Go’, are stardust on these anthems – paragons of the kind that made Coheed’s name in the first place.
Yet, at the time they’re poised to hit the mainstream, Descension is the way into Coheed that Ascension never was. It’s not a question of hooks, and certainly not technical overreach. Ascension was always going to be the trickier of the two – the story of a man’s journey through the afterlife, assaulted by the psyches of the dead. But Descension is hardly episodes IV, V and VI to Ascension’s I, II, and III. Nor was Coheed ever just a vessel for The Amory Wars. Sanchez’s story instead leaves its legacy in the flow of the record. Ascension smoulders with slow burning tension – but Descension pounds a combative edge from the start, barrelling into ‘Number City’ with both guns blazing, pop nouse pulling the insanity up by its bootstraps. Last year, we pointed out the irony of naming such an insidious record Ascension. This time is no different.
Watch the “lyric video” (URGH LYRIC VIDEO) to ‘The Hard Sell’ by Coheed and Cambria:
Taken as a whole, The Afterman is a complementary pair of conjoined twins. Descension is the confident defiance to Ascension’s self-regarding contemplation, and by that token, the cipher for the latter. Yet, strangely, this dependence makes the split release of this double album more understandable. Though both records push against the band’s comfort zone, Descension is a meisterwerk of progressive rock, while Ascension hints at life beyond anthems. Likewise The Afterman marks a point at which the band’s progressive ambition and pop songwriting nuance began to be fully realised – if not yet wholly reconciled.
Sounds like: The last one, with more Van Halen.
Standout Tracks: Away We Go, Number City, The Hard Sell.