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Coheed And Cambria - The Afterman: Descension
on 4 February 2013
The Afterman: Descension is the seventh full-length studio album by the American Progressive band Coheed And Cambria. It was released in 2013, and is the second part of a two-record set alongside 2012's Afterman: Ascension.
If you've just discovered this band and aren't sure what they might sound like, they mix Progressive Rock tendencies and occasional metal sections into a core sound of cheerful, highly melodic alternative rock, never sitting still in one style for long to really sound like anyone but themselves. It's all topped off with fabulously varied and expressive vocals from a distinctive singer with an unbelievably large range that allows him to convey emotion remarkably well.
If you are a new fan interested in the band and want to try this album in particular, I'd recommend that at a minimum you also get yourself a copy of Ascension so as to make sense of the connections that those albums share, and to appreciate the effort that the band went to when deciding to create a double album.
Structurally the album is similar to the one which precedes it. Both albums open up softly with an intro track that sets the story's tone, follow it by an adventurous progressive centerpiece track (`Domino The Destitute' and `Sentry The Defiant'), go on to deliver a main body that provides a mixture of softer more ballad-esque numbers (`The Afterman' and `Iron Fist'), heavy moments (`Vic The Butcher' and `Gravity's Union') and fun (`Goodnight, Fair Lady' and `The Hard Sell'). Additionally, the characters "All Mother" and Sirus still pop up between tracks with spoken dialogue, as they did on Ascension, and the last notes of music here are a callback to the first notes on the previous album.
Within that similarity there is still variety however, for example the opening track on this record becomes a lot louder and more dynamic, and the closer is a much more up-tempo affair in comparison to the one Ascension.
Josh Eppard is still back on the drums with his distinctive playing style and the production job is still in the same style as the previous record, as opposed to the one found on No World For Tomorrow that some fans complained was over-sweet, or the indeed the one on Year Of The Black Rainbow that people said was too weird. The combination of drumming and production styles would appear to suggest that now the band are returning closer to the style of Good Apollo Part 1.
Musically however, the band aren't simply repeating themselves or trying to recreate any one album, even the last one. Yes, there's material littered throughout which is reminiscent of parts of each and every one of their previous albums, but the way that the band have found to mix those elements together has resulted in fresh sounding, interesting material.
They even cover a bit of ground they never have before on the eccentric track `Number City' which has an almost funky, disco sort of feel and mixes electronic sounds, with guitar and vocal tones that the band haven't used since their debut record, as well as wind instruments to create something altogether new for them.
If you care about the band's story side, here's a brief synopsis. If you don't want spoilers skip to the very last paragraph. The story of the first part, Ascension, concerned a scientist called Sirus Amory (title-character of the band's overall Amory Wars concept, which stretches across all their albums as well as some non-musical ventures like a novel, graphic novels and an upcoming movie).
Sirus; alongside his spaceship's/space-suit's Artificial Intelligence, (the "All-Mother"), leaves his wife Miri on a scientific expedition and discovers that a source of energy called The Keywork, guarded by angels called The Prise, which provides power and nutrients for planets in the fictional universe Heaven's Fence, is in fact a grim purgatory for the souls of the dead.
Sirus is accosted there by three malevolent souls; Domino, Holly Wood and an evil military general called Vic, who damage his ship and greatly injures him. Luckily Sirus is rescued by a benevolent soul named Evagria, at which point he realizes he was wrong to hurt his wife by leaving on what now appears to be a suicide mission. With his spaceship destroyed, the world believes Sirus to have been killed. Back on their home planet, a grieving Miri falls in love with a police officer who saves her from a rapist that had interfered with her drink.
Decension carries on that story. Evagria, along with another benevolent soul called Sentry, who had been hanged by Vic for not committing military atrocities during their lives, help Sirus escape the Keywork, imparting knowledge of a plane of existence that is better than the purgatory they're currently in. When Sirus emerges after what appeared to be one week, 547 days have actually passed outside and when he makes his way, mangled, to a space station, where he lies to the scientific community about the nature of the Keywork at the insistence of The Prise who don't want mankind to know the secrets of death and the afterlife.
Sirus then attempts to return to his wife, who is now pregnant with the police officer's baby, but accidentally kills her and the unborn child in a car crash and after both medical recovery and grieving, he attempts to return to the Keywork at great personal risk, to help them pass over to a better afterlife.
Admittedly; if you are a new fan it may be confusing and mightn't work on its own with no context, so do try and pick up Ascension as well. I'd also recommend you try their third album, Good Apollo Tonight I'm Burning Star IV: Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness, as it is one of the band's most popular and well-regarded records and contains a lot of their concert-favourite tracks.
Overall; Descension is a good addition to the band's catalogue and if you are an existing fan, there is no question at all, you absolutely should pick up a copy. Its always going to vary with an individual's personal taste whether this is better or worse than any other album or band, some people are always going to argue that a double album would be better edited into single album, and some fans will only ever like the old stuff, but in my opinion The Afterman: Descension is a success and is of a high enough quality to sit proudly alongside Coheed And Cambria's other records without feeling out of place or like a let-down. The mixture of tracks like `Gravity's Union' with stuff like `Iron Fist' is what this band are all about, and Descension adds another interesting selection of tracks to your collection.