The first is The Afterman: Ascension which arrived this month and the second is The Afterman: Descension which has a slated date of February 2013. Continuing their thoroughly detailed fictional world of The Amory Wars, The Afterman is a new story within its arc. Even to this day I’m still learning and trying to grasp the complexities of this intricately woven world! However, as Claudio Sanchez - the main creator and frontman/guitarist explained, “I allowed the events of my life to drive the concept, and therefore opened up the songwriting to a fuller degree” Hence why this time around, with real experiences from over the last two years thrown into the blend (which you will soon learn about), you actually don’t need to understand the detailed sci-fi saga to enjoy the music.
Their epic powerhouse sound can and should be relished in by all, regardless of what planet you’re from. However, I’ll try and summarize the plot at hand so that anyone who likes to get their geek on and completely immerse themselves in a story like me, can have some sense of what’s going on here. The Afterman: Ascension follows the tale of Sirius Amory who is the most celebrated astronomer/scientist in the alternate universe of Heaven’s Fence; a group of 78 planets that are held in place by an energy force known as The Keywork. He is credited with the discovery of The Keywork and the nine tracks follow him as he embarks on the first part of his journey to explore its energy. Gravitating back to reality for a moment, this is the quartet’s first album to feature Zach Cooper on bass and sees the return of drummer Josh Eppard who was last heard on 2005’s Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. Completed by second guitarist Travis Stever, this is the band’s sixth studio album and they show no sign of ending their mammoth career and equally mammoth tales just yet.
The haunting yet pleasant piano melody of ‘The Hollow’ opens the fantastical voyage in unsurprisingly cinematic grandeur. “All Mother, are you awake?” we hear Sirius trepidly ask what apparently is the consciousness within his space-suit, “You’ll stay with me won’t you?”, to which we hear the synthetic voice reply - “I’ll be there every step of the way” before he ventures into the The Keywork. A distorted and mysterious guitar melody brings us into the dark Raging Bull type story of first single ‘Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute’. Said to be inspired by previous bassist Mic Todd and his well-documented arrest in 2011 (leading to his removal from the band), the epic nearly eight minute rock-opera describes Domino, a champion boxer who gets tempted by everything sinful that comes with fame and fortune. And therefore driven by greed, he leaves his brother and follows the wrong path as we see his rise actually become his decline.
With a dramatic song comes a suitably dramatic video which was directed by Robert Schober (Mastodon’s ‘Curl Of The Burl’, My Chemical Romance’s ‘Na Na Na’). As the story unfolds so too does the track; from the opening guitar riff and menacing low vocals, the beat kicks in and aptly fits with the boxing training montage. As we reach the brief bridge, the tension builds and Claudio’s passionate words hit home as the chorus engulfs you – “I implore you, brother. Don’t walk away. Don’t walk away from me!” It’s the type of song that really starts to hit a nerve and imbed itself into your subconscious after several spins, especially when paired with the spectacular visuals. As cymbals crash, vocals soar and Domino’s demise begins, loud and condemning “Oh oh oh!” chants fill the air and the singer laughs maniacally before resulting in a climax to end all climaxes. All so far so very typically and brilliantly of Coheed.
After an aggressive and testosterone-filled start, the atmosphere becomes relaxed and delicate, as the soft sound of ‘The Afterman’ begins. March-like drumming and beautiful strings make up the romantic yet tragic ballad. In the story Sirius has left behind his wife and she is afraid for his safety. Although they’re still somehow connected though being far away from one another. “If he’s not here, then where?” the singer gently recites, in that familiar sensitive tone over and over. In reality Claudio took inspiration from an event in which he and his wife learnt of the sad passing of a friend and the subsequent grieving process. It’s a tender, charming and emotive track which closes with the sound of a heartbeat over the same plucked guitar melody from its opening. Moving onto ‘Mothers of Men’; it’s one of the most accessible songs I’ve heard from the masters of the concept album in a long while. Having a chorus that’s succinct and almost poppy in its delivery is a first. However it’s by no means watered down as its hard-rock exterior of pounding drums and buzzing bass is strong and dominating.
It’s followed by the easy-on-the-ear ‘Goodnight, Fair Lady’ which also took me aback at first. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I have a story to tell you of one's slow decline” the frontman slyly introduces in what sounds like could be a 70’s Broadway musical. As well as speaking of Sirius’ lonely wife entering a bar and befriending a man, it was apparently influenced by a night at a bar in which Claudio caught sight of a particularly creepy looking fellow. It was in that moment that he started to write a story from the perspective of the man in question, narrating his move on an unsuspecting female prey – “The drink turns over, the glass smashed. And with the kindness of my smarts, I replace your pleasure with a friend at the bottom”. Its bouncy and jovial mood is elevated by up-tempo piano trills, funky bass notes and handclap refrains over a classic rock band feel. It’s a pleasant surprise to hear something that harks back to the more carefree and happy-go-lucky Coheed and Cambria sound whilst still sounding more mature than their earlier work.
‘Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood The Cracked’ on the flipside is dark, gritty and sinister. Distorted and possessed vocals swathe the moody track and aside from one lighter major-chord filled bridge (“She’s a few cards short of a full deck; a joker in the game”), remains menacing and crazed; perfectly expressing the singer’s account of a scary online stalker that the song is conceptually based on. ‘Key Entity Extraction III: Vic The Butcher’ is another slightly more aggressive and powerful number. Angry retorts of “Hang your secrets, hang em' up, hang em' up now!” are repeated in the choruses and a glorious guitar solo increases the heat in this brilliantly demonic track. “One eighty four, lets burn it down!” refers to the number of the room in which the singer was staying in New York at the time of writing. A drunken argument one night almost escalated into something more violent, hence the fury felt here and the immature schoolboy playground type taunts heard at one point.
In this world within The Keywork, the track talks about Sirius who has become intertwined with the war monger type entity known as Vic. He starts unwillingly re-living terrible crimes that Vic committed in the past which are now haunting him. The terrible butcher gets put on trial and rather than facing it, decides to kill himself and burn down the building, number 184 with his wife. It turns out that there is a nursery in the bottom of the building and Sirius finds himself trying to break free from Vic’s subconscious, and extinguishing the flames to save people. That’s when we’re introduced to the entity Evagria who steps in to help.
“Caution. Unidentified entity approaching” the All Mother warns after doing a round check of his vital signs which are failing from being under Vic’s control. And so ‘Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria The Faithful’ tells the tale of Evagria who was a woman who contracted a rare bone disease which eventually killed her. However, her faith was so strong that she knew that everything was going to be fine, and that strength, beauty and positivity resulted in her becoming one of the entities within The Keywork that Sirius encounters.
The affectionate entity pulls him out of Vic’s hold and keeps him safe from the darker forces around - “And from the other side she'll save me, her courage, strength and heart beyond...” I have fallen in love in particular with this song as its shades of light and dark work hand in hand and flutter to and fro seamlessly. It has a softer once again melodious rock template and with the addition of a clavinet (electro-mechanical piano) in places, there’s another air of 70’s prog-rock and even funk. There’s moments of clarity in the memorable and touching choruses -“Goodbye forever, my darling, whether I was everything you thought I'd be or not, I was a bad man, oh, to stop you girl from loving me” Claudio recites, possibly from Sirius’ eyes in the realisation of possibly not making it back alive. It flits from having a dark and slightly ominous air into something optimistic and radiant, influenced by the unwavering faith of Evagria.
Ending this nine-track collection is the simplistic balladry of ‘Subtraction’. Acoustic guitar notes and distorted electronic blips and pulses fill the track which was originally written for Claudio’s folktronica solo side project, The Prize Fighter Inferno. As he was writing it, he felt that it was more suited to the concept of The Afterman. Drawing on a parallel situation with him having to leave his wife and family a lot, Sirius’ wife knew he was going to The Keywork and she accepted it was what he needed to do even though it ultimately could kill him. Towards the end a thumping heartbeat-like rhythm interrupts the single note guitar picking and angelic vocal harmonies before bowing out; a subtle and slightly unnerving end to the first part of this double concept release, as we are left with Sirius pondering the thought of losing his wife and being lost forever.
As intimidating as giving a dyslexic a copy of War and Peace, the origin story of The Afterman is ironically one of the most relatable and accessible albums from Coheed and Cambria. Well, the first half to the story at least, as it’ll be several months before we hear the concluding part, Descension and find out what happens to Sirius and the descent of his life as he returns to the planet side. With an evidently more relaxed method to writing and their strongest line-up yet, this new lease of life has resulted in one of the strongest albums in their huge concept-driven arsenal. “This is without a doubt, the most honest record I’ve ever written” Claudio quoted recently, and drawing more from his own life experiences has meant that Coheed and Cambria have more heart in their music than I’ve heard in a long time. Poignant, exciting, emotional and imaginitive; the saga continues to grow in strength and highlight the band as simply this generation's greatest musical storytellers.
The Afterman: Ascension is out now
Worth Listening To...
- Domino The Destitute
- The Afterman
- Mothers Of Men
- Vic The Butcher
- Evagria The Faithful