You don’t forget your first introduction to Coheed and Cambria. Big of hair and high of voice, Claudio Sanchez is possibly the most distinctive frontman in the rock world, which – along with the extended comic-book concept surrounding their albums – has built them a frighteningly fanatical horde of followers. But for those who don’t care about Kilgannon and The Fence and The Keywork and just what Sirius Amory is up to now, the music – an infectious prog-hardcore-metal melange – was more than enough to be going on with.
But with the releases of No World For Tomorrow and Year Of The Black Rainbow, Coheed and Cambria were in severe danger of becoming boring. The post-hardcore slant of their earlier work had been ditched to leave a polished but humourless metal turd – impressive certainly, but rarely enjoyable. The Afterman: Descension (the second half of a double album), with its accessible lyrics and eclectic bag of styles, goes a long way to reverse this slide into mediocrity.
Part of the credit must go to drummer Josh Eppard, whose departure coincided with the band’s dip in form. Even in the album’s most crushing moments, his stickwork remains somehow relaxed and instinctively rhythmic where the outgoing Chris Pennie was mathematical and bludgeoning. The riffing on The Hard Sell and Dark Side Of Me are as toe-tapping as anything in the band’s canon – the line “feel the groove, release the touch that moves you” from 2’s My Favorite One could almost be written in tribute.
They haven’t forgotten how to be heavy, mind. Gravity’s Union may refer to a “ten ton truck” but it’s about as far from The Smiths as a guitar band can be, opening with an industrially dirty riff and closing with possibly the most epic chorus they’ve ever committed to Pro-Tools. Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry The Defiant isn’t far behind, though you’d think a line like “Don’t close the coffin yet, I’m alive” might have been sung with a little more urgency.
But for every sledgehammer track, there’s a garlic crusher, destructive in a lightweight and cosmopolitan kind of way. You’ll fund backing vocals counting up to nine, or engaging in some entertaining scatting on the surpisingly soft Iron Fist. Away We Go is a mid-paced ditty in the Blood Red Summer mould, so poppy it’s almost AOR, and Number City begins with distorted bass but goes no heavier, layering piano, synth brass and falsetto prog flourishes over the top.
It’s this lightness of touch and ecleticism that makes the album such a refreshingly undemanding listen (along with its 45 minute running time – the decision to split this latest release in two was definitely a wise one), one that gives you a portentous spoken-word narration relating how the “connection to principle craft has been lost”, but also offers a more personal message within the overarching narrative. Whether addressing his wife, his band, or the record industry, the words are unmistakably Sanchez’ own, creating a level at which the more casual listener can emotionally engage.
So if anyone is tuning in for the first time, as so many did in the days of …Silent Earth and Good Apollo, they’ll find, for the first time in years, some real entertainment after the initial shock has worn off. It’s good to have them back.