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Coheed And Cambria - The Afterman: Ascension
on 9 October 2012
The Afterman: Ascension is the sixth full-length studio album from the unique American band Coheed And Cambria.
If you have never heard the band before, they mix Progressive Rock tendencies such as long conceptual tracks, multiple time signatures, recurring themes, occasional use of keys and electronics etc with occasional heavy sections of heavily distorted low pitched guitars and double-kicks, although the band never go too far with either and mainly tend to exist around a core sound of cheerful melodic alternative rock (that's just a bit more varied and expressive than usual). As such, the band can cultivate a broad audience from Metal fans to Emo fans to Prog fans, and are especially suited to fans of all three.
They also have an incredibly expressive and diverse signer who is most famous for his high-pitched slightly feminine vocals but also has an unbelievably large range of tones and styles and can convey emotion vocally better than almost any of his peers. He is able to display a character's conviction, sadness or pain really effectively which makes for seriously interesting listening.
Like their two Good Apollo albums (which were the band's third and fourth studio albums), The Afterman is a set of two related albums consisting of this 2012 album, Ascension, and 2013's upcoming Descension album, although that being said The Afterman is more truly a double album than the two Apollos were since both parts were written and recorded simultaneously this time.
Like all double albums this inevitably raises the question of whether the band should have just taken the best tracks and made one very good album, and I guess we'll have to wait until 2013 to really find out.
Musically, this particular album covers a few different angles. For example, with the return of drummer Josh Eppard after a two-album absence, there are parts of the record which are fairly reminiscent of the band's earlier work in feel, such as in a lot of the aforementioned `The Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute' and `Goodnight, Fair Lady.'
There are also moments such as `The Key Entity Extraction III: Vic The Butcher' and `Mothers Of Men' which are more reminiscent of the direction that the band went on their previous album Year Of The Black Rainbow as well as some territory that's fairly unexplored for the band at all.
When you get down to it, this isn't necessarily the band's most heavy or energetic album, or indeed particularly filled with ballads and soft songs. It sits somewhere in the middle of the band's musical spectrum, but as long as you just enjoy the music that's there it shouldn't be a problem. Luckily, the music that's there is very good.
Lyrically; Like all of the band's albums the lyrics tell a part of the story of The Amory Wars, a complex multi-generational cross-media Sci-Fi story, set in the fictional universe of Heaven's Fence, that is also illustrated in-part in graphic novels, actual novels, Coffee Table Books, an upcoming movie project with Mark Walburg and in the lyrics of band member's side projects. The Afterman's story takes place around the very beginning of the timeline, before the events chronicled in the band's first four albums and deals with Sirius Amory and his All Mother spaceship (which occasionally talks during the tracks) as well as the background to a few lost souls. It centers around the revelation that the Keyframe is actually powered by the souls of the dead, imprisoning them in a grim afterlife.
In terms of the production job, by Michael Birnbaum, Chris Bittner & the band, the album sounds possibly closest to Good Apollo Part 1. The band's previous two albums were often criticized for their production jobs and with this record, although it may still not please everyone, it seems to be aiming for a more normal sound, not going too weird or too sweet. Its fairly brief in length, but then it is only one half of a double album so that's to be expected.
I have to admit that initially, I was actually a little disappointed by the album, as the pre-released tracks `The Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute' and its title track `The Afterman' were so absolutely brilliant (right from the off, they became two of my favourite Coheed tracks and they just keep getting better on each listen) that when it came to the rest of the album, nothing else felt of an equal quality. This wouldn't be a problem for anyone who just listens to the record for the first time without hearing anything beforehand though, you'd just get a great record with two obvious highlights. It also has to be said that the feeling of disappointment did go away on repeat listens, as the second half of the album grew on me a lot.
Overall; The Afterman: Ascension is a grower and you should definitely add it to your Coheed collection if you are already a fan. It contains some very strong songs (two of the finest Coheed songs ever in tracks two and three) and covers enough of their different styles to interest fans of almost all the band's eras at least a little bit. If you never heard the band at all, you may want to start your collection elsewhere with some of the more fan-favourite stuff and then move to this once you know you definitely like them.