The first part of Co­heed’s new Amory Wars pen­ta­l­ogy looks into the lives of two lovers, their un­born son and what the fu­ture might hold for them all. Just your usual prog sci-fi love story then…

Prog - - Intro - Words: Dom Law­son Il­lus­tra­tion: Scott Balmer

It’s not hard to see how Co­heed And Cam­bria’s ca­reer might pan out from here. The strange thing about Clau­dio Sanchez’s pro­lific crew is how they have man­aged to at­tract two al­most en­tirely sep­a­rate au­di­ences. When the band first emerged with The Sec­ond Stage Tur­bine Blade in 2002, the word ‘prog’ was con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence from all but the most per­cep­tive re­views. As a re­sult, the first wave of ad­mir­ers came pri­mar­ily from the al­ter­na­tive rock and emo scenes. The prog world caught up fairly swiftly and now, as the New York­ers re­lease their ninth full-length al­bum, Co­heed And Cam­bria are more pop­u­lar than ever, with both au­di­ences in­tact and still grow­ing.

Lyri­cally, Co­heed And Cam­bria have been as proggy as they come from day one. The Un­heav­enly Crea­tures sees the band re­turn to Sanchez’s elab­o­rate and in­creas­ingly epic The Amory Wars comic book saga, af­ter briefly aban­don­ing it for 2015’s The Color Be­fore The Sun. This time we’re once again plunged into the Amory Wars world and the be­wil­der­ing, slightly un­fath­omable world of Heaven’s

Fence, the Supreme Tri-Mage and nu­mer­ous other char­ac­ters and sce­nar­ios that only the most de­voted fans will have fol­lowed closely.

For those who want the com­plete, im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence, a spe­cial edi­tion box set of the al­bum will boast an ex­clu­sive novella writ­ten by Sanchez and his wife Chon­dra Echert. For every­one else, turn­ing a blind eye to the front­man’s trade­mark den­sity of de­tail will by no means spoil the fun, be­cause with 15 tracks and 78 min­utes of mu­sic, The Un­heav­enly Crea­tures has more than enough sub­stance to keep us gripped.

As ever, the key to its al­lure lies al­most en­tirely in Sanchez’s unerring abil­ity to write in­ci­sive, bit­ter­sweet rock songs with gi­ant hooks and only oc­ca­sional de­tours into more ad­ven­tur­ous ter­ri­tory. Therein lies the only real down­side to this record: from a prog fan’s per­spec­tive, it’s hard not to wish that Co­heed would take a few more risks, in­dulge in a tan­gen­tial leap or two or be a lit­tle less be­holden to the big melodic fin­ish. Some­thing as gen­er­ously pro­por­tioned as seven-minute opener The Dark Sen­tencer ar­rives un­de­ni­ably blessed with twists and turns, but in terms of build­ing on the band’s sturdy canon and ex­pand­ing their sonic uni­verse, it barely strays from a blue­print that was es­tab­lished as far back as their sec­ond al­bum, In Keep­ing Se­crets Of Silent Earth: 3, some 15 years ago.

These days, Co­heed are much bet­ter at ex­press­ing and pac­ing their best ideas. Songs such as Love Pro­to­col (which con­firms be­yond doubt that Sanchez is a big fan of The Po­lice) and the dreamy Night-Time Walk­ers are ab­surdly ra­dio-friendly and pol­ished to within an inch of their lives, but with plenty of tex­tu­ral flour­ishes and del­i­cate em­bel­lish­ments adding bite to the over­rid­ing sweet­ness. Sim­i­larly, the clos­ing Lucky Stars uses sim­plic­ity as a dis­guise, strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween twinkly-eyed, folksy ac­ces­si­bil­ity and the low-key ec­cen­tric­ity that has un­der­pinned most of Co­heed’s finest mo­ments. It’s one of the finest songs Sanchez has ever writ­ten, with a cho­rus so over­whelm­ingly sweet that you may ex­pect to hear your own teeth clat­ter­ing onto the floor to the sound of Sanchez’s beau­ti­fully un­der­stated vo­cal.

We can de­mand com­plex prog epics as much as we like, but the truth is that it’s ba­si­cally im­pos­si­ble to main­tain any kind of crit­i­cal de­tach­ment when one of those ir­re­sistible cho­ruses erupts. Whether in the mid­dle of Queen Of The Dark’s un­easy sprawl or plas­tered all over the weirdly jaunty It Walks Among Us, when Co­heed hit cho­rus mode, the world in­stantly seems a bet­ter place. Sanchez seems to have tapped di­rectly into the univer­sal well­spring of all pos­i­tiv­ity, and even in the midst of darker mo­ments like the hazily men­ac­ing Black Sun­day, Co­heed’s mu­sic al­ways seems to be as­pir­ing, ul­ti­mately, to an up­lift­ing con­clu­sion. For that alone, they de­serve to be cher­ished.

The only real mis­fire here, The Pav­il­ion (A Long Way Back) starts as a dead spit for Tears For Fears’ Every­body Wants To Rule

The World be­fore mor­ph­ing into a slightly over­wrought chunk of af­fa­ble post-grunge, re­plete with melo­dra­matic strings. For all its am­bi­tion, it seems lazy and a tiny bit cyn­i­cal, par­tic­u­larly when placed next to the vastly more ab­sorb­ing likes of The Gut­ter: ef­fec­tively a minia­ture rock opera that pro­vides the al­bum’s most thrilling mo­ment of self-in­dul­gence. Maybe the band’s in­stinc­tive pop sen­si­bil­i­ties are non-ne­go­tiable at this point, but they re­ally are a tremen­dous prog rock band when they put their minds to it.

The Un­heav­enly Crea­tures is un­doubt­edly one of Co­heed And Cam­bria’s finest records. It’s just that they could al­most cer­tainly make an even bet­ter one. The saga con­tin­ues.

They’re a tremen­dous prog rock band when they put their minds to it.

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