COHEED AND CAMBRIA
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…
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.