on 14 October 2012
Coheed and Cambria are back! Two and a half years after the release of the much maligned (unfairly so in my opinion) Year of the Black Rainbow comes the release of their new album, part one of a proposed double album entitled The Afterman: Ascension. Can it live up to fan expectations, or has the story gone too far?
This review is really one for the fans, those who know Coheed's prior material and understand the comparisons made. However, I will say that if anyone is a fan of the prog-rock, metal or even emo rock, (as mentioned by the other reviewer), then you'll certainly get a kick out of this.
Ascension kicks off, like every Coheed album before it with an atmospheric instrumental, this one entitled The Hollow. Led mainly by piano, it is a rather haunting and moving piece, setting up the story of Sirius Armory and the tone of the album as rather downbeat and, like YOTBR before it, humourless.
Next follows the albums two best songs. First, we have Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute. The song it's most closely comparable to in their back catalogue is In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3, what with its many tone and rhythm changes across it's seven plus minutes, ranging from frantic and furious, to slow and sly. It's also Claudio's strongest vocal performance on the album, strong and consistent throughout. On the whole, it's a barnstorming effort that sets you up for a ferocious ride across the nine songs.
And then, they take a completely different tack. The following track, The Afterman is a gorgeously atmospheric mix between U2 , what with the guitar echo and reverb, and modern day electronica. The song it's most similar to, or most strongly reminds me of is Far off YOTBR which was actually my favourite song on that album. I just can't overstate how haunting and beautiful it is, with Claudio's whispered vocals mixing hypnotically with the subdued drums and almost symphonic guitar. Coheed at their finest!
The following track Mothers of Men is a decent track which is let down by a feeling of `been there, done that'. It just seems so uniform for the band and almost passionless, that even with an enjoyably sly and sexy main guitar riff it can't really be saved, and I just wish they'd left it on the cutting room floor.
The next track Goodnight Fair Lady is incredibly catchy pop-rock. With a main riff very similar to Velorium Camper: Faint of Heart (Perhaps too similar. Self plagiarism anyone?) and great lyrics reminiscent of Phil Lynott at his folklore/storytelling best, the band display their strength for out and out pop. This is something which I know many fans find slightly irksome, but something which I've always loved. It's not all about seven/eight minute epics, but short, sharp condensed pop.
If Goodnight Fair Lady is this albums Faint of Heart, then the next track Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood The Cracked is this albums Al the Killer. The verses are distortion filled, heavy and brutal, with a melodic yet menacing chorus. It's a decent track, but Claudio's often distorted vocals are just horrendous. He tries every trick he's got, from high pitched wail, low guttural screaming, to creepy child-like simper and it just doesn't work.
The following track, Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher is a far superior slice of brutal yet melodic hard rock, with a great vocal delivery from Claudio that doesn't undulate as frustratingly along the scale, and a ferocious rhythm that never lets up. The chorus in particular is fantastic, benefitting from looser productions on the guitar and vocals, which is strange considering this same production style almost kills Holly Wood the Cracked.
Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria The Faithful is softer, more melodic and symphonic, with the bands seeming newfound love for electronica quite prevalent in the underlying riff. The problem with this track is, is that while beautiful and atmospheric, it never really crescendos into anything particularly epic or satisfying, and rather like previously long tracks like Mother Superior feels like something of a missed opportunity.
The final track, Subtraction, is a strange one. Beautiful, multi-layered vocals married to a soft, electronic underlying through line, it feels like what it is, an intermission between albums one and two, setting you up for the next album while simultaneously playing out this one. The problem is, Ascension isn't really epic or sprawling enough to warrant it, and as such it feels wasted.
Production wise, the album is loose with lots of distorted electronica, as previously mentioned, which makes it most similar to Year of the Black Rainbow. However, sometimes this production is to the album's detriment, because musically it seems to segue between YOTBR and In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3, and for me the two don't really mesh well together.
Along with this, if the band is going to go for heaviness, distortion and the like then they need everyone to be comfortable backing this up. While the loss of Mick Todd is never really felt, as he's always been the bands most anonymous member, the reintroduction of Josh Eppard into the group as drummer is actually to the band's detriment. While occasionally strong, especially on Domino the Destitute and Vic the Butcher, for the most part he just doesn't seem comfortable with this sound. He can't bring the drums to the forefront the way Chris Pennie could on YOTBR, and as such the album loses much of the obviously intended ferocity, and comes across as a bit undercooked. This is nothing against Eppard, who is a perfectly decent drummer who Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever obviously like playing with. It's just that he's not a patch on Pennie.
So, as a whole, how does it rank? It's hard to say. Mainly because it feels very much like part one of two, which is exactly what it is. As such, it seems a bit unfair to judge it too harshly. Make no mistake, this is a good album. Filled with some great epics, ridiculously catchy pop, and haunting and atmospheric electronica it can take its place in the Coheed discography without any real embarrassment.
It's just that ultimately, due to the bands prior work and the high level of expectation they themselves placed upon it, it comes across as slightly underwhelming. At 9 tracks and just thirty nine minutes total length, it feels a little lacking. Like the band couldn't figure out what to squeeze into part one, and as such settled for an uneven middle ground that I can't see really pleasing or displeasing anyone to any extreme. For some bands, that's great. Job done, pat yourself on the back and all that. For Coheed and Cambria however, who have always strived for so much it's slightly frustrating and ultimately, and I can't believe I'm saying this about such a great band, comes across as slightly bland.
Hits: Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute,
Goodnight, Fair Lady,
Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher.