Album Reviews: The Afterman: Ascension by Coheed & Cambria
Posted by RiffRaff
I’ll be perfectly honest, while I love me some concept albums and follow the narrative of those which reach to tell a story more often than not, I’ve just about abandoned the sci-fi story that Coheed & Cambria have been telling since their first album. Not that it’s bad by any means, but because between sometimes cryptic lyrics, out of sequence unfolding, and the fact that it sprawls into graphic novel and written novel form I just lost place in the convoluted tale and haven’t put much stock into it since Good Apollo. So, what’s left of a band that puts so much stock into its narrative for someone who isn’t placing too much attention into their tale? Well, the most important part of any musical output, the music, and on this end CoCa also deliver tenfold quite consistently allowing the listener to enjoy their music first and as an added bonus be able to delve into a deeper level and get a crazy sci-fi story too. The NY quartet has recently released the first part their new double disc album, The Afterman, with part 2 to be in stores sometime early 2013. Titled Ascension, this first part of The Afterman series recaptures that spark that really made CoCa special that I felt that their past couple outings were missing (No World For Tomorrow and Year of the Black Rainbow were decent, but could have been a lot better). And beyond the excellent music, they also piqued my interest in rejoining the narrative of the whole CoCa saga with its character dossier style of storytelling.
If there’s one thing to be said about CoCa, it’s that they know how to write some damn catchy songs that will stick to your bones and they know how to write them encompassing a variety of rock music styles ranging from heavy metal, to pop rock, to Pink Floyd-ian soundscapes. On Ascension they have honed that talent into near perfection with nearly every song containing some kind of hook but never playing lowbrow as to just let the hook carry the song on its own (much like just about any top 10 pop song on the radio). Instead, the hook plays not to drag the fish out of the water to its death, but to lead it an area filled with a plethora of tasty vittles. And when that fish reaches that spot in the pond with all the tasty treats he gets a great selection of things to check out and try but is never overloaded with a deluge of different things to try. There is just the right amount.
Tracks like “The Afterman” make great use of a variety of different hooks as a mellow and memorable aquatic toned guitar soundscape backs Claudio Sanchez’s soft vocals pulling the listener through a pleasant swim in a lucid pond. More pronounced bits of metal push through, but not to create unrest, but to use moments of contrast to highlight the beauty of what surrounds them. There’s also songs like the hard-hitting “Vic the Butcher” where the hooks on the song are worn more pronounced on their sleeve. Here the big hook comes from Claudio’s anthemic chorus line really being the first thing that engages the listener on the first spin. But when you listen to what surrounds that hook you can hear the band chiming in with bits of music that are just as engaging as Claudio’s vocal hook. Most notably guitarist Travis Stever who has really come into his own on this record. On this particular song he plays proggy leads interchanging with bits of black metal inspired tremolo picking, bouts of modest style shred guitar playing (yes that actually exists), and bits of punk. With all the different styles he floats between he keeps everything fluid making no moment jarring or superfluous and he retains his own personality in his playing making pinpointing other guitarists to compare his sound to very difficult. Other notable songs include “Domino the Destitute” with its full on prog metal assault and structures (I love Claudio’s evil sounding ‘la la la’ vocal intro) and “Hollywood the Cracked” and its Marylin Manson inspired refrains and pre-chorus’ that lead into a saccharine sweet pop rock chorus’ and bridges.
The rest of the band ain’t no slouchers either as newcomer Zach Cooper does a standup job on the bass after the previous and originating bassist Mic Todd made some bad life decisions and couldn’t continue in the band. And making a return to the band to compliment the new guy on bass is Josh Eppard who is taking his spot back behind the drum kit after Dillinger Escape Plan’s Chris Pennie kept it warm for him. If you are familiar with CoCa’s earlier works not much has changed in Eppard’s style of playing other that he has made natural improvements. He still plays complex yet easy to follow rhythms jumping from different time to different time with ease.
And to talk about a CoCa album without mentioning Claudio Sanchez’s unique voice is quite hard to do as it seems to be the make or break point for many people when deciding whether or not to continue listening to the band or not. On Ascension Claudio sounds his best by far. His voice still carries that unique tinge and is quite pronounced, but this time around it has found a happy medium. Never does it sound like a prepubescent choirboy as it did on songs like “A Favor House Atlantic” or strained like on “In Keeping Secrets”. So if you haven’t given CoCa a listen since their earlier albums because Claudio’s voice bother you, now is a great time to give them another shot.
All in all I feel that Ascension is a completely solid record and worthy of a purchase from any prog rock fan. Its dearth of content and excellent presentation and songwriting make it one of the best they have released in years. My singular complaint of the album is that it was split up with the next disc coming out in the near future so the label can make a few extra bucks, but oh, well, more time for me to absorb this part of the record. If you’re like me and lost place on the narrative, don’t worry, the record is just as enjoyable on its musical merits and the bits of story presented here are interesting enough without any previous knowledge of the saga. So, ya, for newcomers, this isn’t a bad place to start, for fans, if you were less than impressed with CoCa’s past couple of albums you should be more than pleased with this. Enjoy! Peace Love and Metal!!!!