Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension / Descension

The Afterman Double Album

Concept-Rock outfit Coheed and Cambria is one of my many obsessions. I’ve been listening to them and following the sci-fi opus that is the subject of their music since 2005, when a friend in college introduced me to their second album: In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. The title tune from the album (from which the album derives its name) completely blew me away. I wasn’t aware that there was a group taking metal, prog-rock, unique (and exquisite) vocals, and combining them in an epic and (to me) incredibly enjoyable way. You can listen to In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 here.

In the years that have passed since I first heard of Coheed and Cambria, they’ve released four albums. About each I’ve grown progressively more excited, and the dual release of double-album The Afterman was no exception. I preordered the deluxe collector’s edition, complete with all the bells, whistles, and doohickeys; decided that wasn’t enough and ordered the vinyl, then made sure to order a +1 pass for my VIP pass to a show on this year’s tour. (I’m going to Seattle to see them with Max on 2.19 and I am exercising the highest degree of restraint in not typing in all caps about how excited I am for that show.)

I won’t delve into the details of where the albums fit into the story (the concept is massively complex and still difficult for me to follow. If you’re curious about the concept, read up here.) I’m here to talk about the music, which I’ll get to now.

The double album, like all of Coheed’s records, has elements of “classic Coheed” and some departures from the norm. The Afterman marks the return of drummer Josh Eppard to the band, which in many ways brought back an element many Children of the Fence (as fans call themselves) felt missing from their last two albums. I agree with this sentiment insofar as it highlights the natural way that Eppard’s great playing supports the music, but I feel it’s important to clarify that No World for Tomorrow and Year of the Black Rainbow were both fantastic records in their own right, with Chris Pennie (of Dillinger Escape Plan) absolutely destroying on the drums. The albums with Pennie, however, did sound very different. I am glad to have Eppard back, as are many of the fans.

There has traditionally been an element of cleanliness to most of Coheed’s sounds, and The Afterman exhibits a good amount of this, but incorporates a thing they started on YoTBR, a sort of grungy fullness to many of the guitar sounds. It’s really outstanding when it is used, and doesn’t detract from the melodies when it is featured. It seems to fit in really well with the other tunes, too. The vocals, as usual, are outstanding. Claudio (frontman, story progenitor, vocalist and guitarist,) has a voice that some people find hard to listen to, but for the life of me I’ve never understood why that is. He can sing incredibly well, and on Afterman’s two albums he does some of my favorite vocal melodies and harmonies I’ve heard on any of the Coheed records. In short, I love these two albums. They may be my favorite Coheed records to date.

 The Afterman: Ascension

Part I of The Afterman opens like almost all of Coheed’s records–with an instrumental piano piece. This one is called The Hollow. These have always served as an introduction, like the preface to any story. It reminds me that Coheed’s music is set in its own world, a thing that, as a (hopeful) storyteller, I appreciate. From there it moves straight to epic with Domino the Destitute, an 8-minute powerhouse. This song is, for lack of a better term, totally badass. The Afterman is classic Coheed in that it is a softer tune (Coheed features at least one of these in every album. They are all great.) The addition of strings over the chorus complements the song well, and the melodies are all really pretty. Mothers of Men throws you right back into the fray, the more metal aspect of Co&Ca shining through. The chorus of Mothers is one of my favorite parts of the record. The way the tune opens up at the chorus is just fantastic. Goodnight, Fair Lady is another piece of classic Coheed excellence. Claudio is capable of writing almost whimsical melodies on guitar. It feels almost like a musical (and by his description, that was something he was going for.) Holly Wood The Cracked is one of the tunes that features that grunge I mentioned, and it really works. The bridge for Holly Wood is also fantastic, and shows Claudio’s ability to vary his tone in a single tune. Amazing stuff. Vic the Butcher is epic features some classic metal-style riffing, which is always fun to listen to. Evagria the Faithful is a totally different tune from the ones that precede it, and feels like it winds down the album. To me, it is the mark of great production, since it prepares me as a listener for the album’s closure. Subtraction is another classic Coheed move: closing on an acoustic, vocally powerful track. It acts as an epilogue, and gently settles the raging furnace of awesome that begun to cool during Evagria. The whole album is outstanding.

The Afterman: Descension

Pretelethal seems to naturally follow Subtraction. The transition between the Ascension and Descension albums feels very natural to me, as a result. It opens with mellow acoustic/electronic building, follows with epic metal-intro licks, and it builds new tension and prepares me for the unbelievable tunes that follow in all of Descension. Sentry the Defiant might be my favorite Coheed song of all time. In essence it is made of simple parts, but it combines them beautifully and showcases the talent of the band as arrangers and musical group. As a guitar player, I appreciate hearing music that displays an understanding of the value of playing as a part of a group as opposed to fighting for superiority. (Too many guitarists are, in my opinion, mixed too loudly into tunes and play like they’re the only people in the band who matter.) The Hard Sell brings a swing reminiscent of funk to the verses, and a rhythmic, muted heavy metal theme to the chorus. Nestled in the middle of the tune is a beautiful three-part harmony that separates the chorus and second verse. Complete with a rockin’ solo section, this song is really excellent. Number City is one of the tunes that brings new elements into Coheed’s repertoire. Incorporating synths (glitch sounds in particular) and horn sections is new and works in its own way. Though it isn’t my favorite track on the album, it feels like it belongs. Gravity’s Union turns the grunge up to 11 over some classic Coheed riffing. The chorus on Gravity is epic and a perfect example of that wider, grungier sound. The bridge on Gravity also serves as another example of Claudio’s versatility as a singer–specifically during the lines “colliding up and beyond this fatal possibility”–where he’s able to alter his voice just enough to sound like a different person. Away We Go is a slower, softer song that reminds me of songs from In Keeping Secret and Good Apollo, and I welcome that nostalgia warmly. Iron Fist is an acoustic-ish track with a great glitchy electro beat added to the march-like drumming. It all fits together really nicely, in my opinion. Much like the song The Light and The Glass on In Keeping Secrets, the song climbs in intensity and eventually introduces more electric guitars and more substantial drums, and it’s very well arranged. Iron Fist is 3rd or 4th on the list of best tunes in the double album, in my opinion. Dark Side of Me is a great tune that falls more into the poppy Coheed tunes camp. (For the record, another pop-ish tune they’ve done are A Favor House Atlantic, which was pretty popular for a time.) 2 is my favorite 1 is the final song of The Afterman, and like Evagria2113The Willing WellThe End Complete, and their other concluding tracks (or several-tracks) brings with it a sense of finality that I’ve come to recognize in Coheed’s albums. Though the lyrics at the ends of their records might conjure a less-than-ideal (almost emo, occasionally) circumstance, the music has a generally positive twang to it. This isn’t universally true (Good Apollo and No World For Tomorrow both have intense, dramatic sounding endings) it’s true for this one, and it feels right in the moment.

Ultimately, these fit into the Coheed canon perfectly for me. I love both of the records and can’t wait to get to Seattle to see them play. 9.5/10

If you want to listen to Descension, Rolling Stone is streaming it here.

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