Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Descension

Published on February 5th, 2013

New Jersey progressive rockers with the helium-piped frontman take a leap of faith with second installment of their sixth album. OUT NOW

Claudio Sanchez, head-honcho with New Jersey prog-metallers Coheed and Cambria, said he felt that their last release The Afterman: Ascension ended on somewhat of  a “sonic cliffhanger,” leaving listeners with baited breath in anticipation of the follow-up.

While this is up for debate – with the record receiving a rather luke-warm reception – it was always going to be interesting to see how the second part of this double concept album would follow on from the first.

So here we have The Afterman: Descension, the most recent addition to Coheed’s Amory Wars saga, in which we hear what comes of the legend’s namesake, Sirius Amory, as he returns from his expedition to the Keywork – an energy source that connects the solar system of Heaven’s Fence. Lost? So you should be.

Narrative aside, it starts in a way you would expect from a band that has spent six albums telling epic tales of distant galaxies over melodic metallic rock.

In obligatory prologue ‘Pretelethal’ Spanish guitars accompany Sanchez’s vocals at their most eerie and dischordant, before they make way for power chords and stomping drums.

The band have always prided themselves not on their opening tracks, but rather in hitting you off guard with song number two, and ‘Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant’ is no exception, using looming atmosphere in its verses to set up for a belting chorus.

So far, so Coheed.

For a band that is so often referred to as progressive or ‘prog’, C&C have created somewhat of a trademark sound – metallic riffs, big, melodic choruses, all centred around Sanchez’s signature vocal – rather than dallying in sonic experiments in a way that the label would suggest.

Though a couple of tracks do play it a little safe on Descension, Coheed have stretched themselves a little further here, and it’s during these times when they push themselves out of their comfort zone that they really shine. ‘The Hard Sell’ leads with a groovy bass riff and Santana-esque guitars, while ‘Number City’ is a psychedelic orgy of nu-rave, staccato rhythms and big band brass instrumentals in a fusion of sounds that truly earns them their ‘prog’ tag. ‘My Iron First’ is an upbeat acoustic jam and ‘Away We Go’ has a misty summer, Eighties powerpop vibe.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the more generic metal songs, it’s just that we’ve heard it all before, and know that Coheed can play it a lot bigger and a lot better.

Frequent interludes laced with android conversations and eerie electric piano progress the record’s narrative, in a step that will be lost on all but those who put in the hours to explore the esoteric world behind the songs (it is being released with a coffee table book and Sanchez has written several graphic novels on the saga). That said, it does add a touch of atmosphere to remind you there’s something a little more going on than initially meets the ear.

While Ascension seemed to offer little to the casual listener through its lack of hooks, Descension has enough twists and turns to keep even Coheed virgins interested.

Another criticism of Ascension was its length – at merely nine tracks it seemed to slip by a little too quickly – and the same could be said for Descension. Obviously, both are, in theory, only ‘half-albums’, and taken together they make up an exhausting 18-track marathon – far too much to consume in one session. But with notable filler material in both parts, would it not have been sensible to trim off the fat, consolidate the highlights and put out a cracking 15-track record? The cynics amongst us may point to maximizing profits, but for a band of Coheed’s humble stature, it would probably make little difference.

The double album is more a testament to Sanchez’s creativity, thirst for expression and long-lived passion for a concept that has seen him through 15-plus years and shows no sign of stopping.

In terms of those last 15 years and the five previous albums, The Afterman may be up there with the most ambitious, but is far from Coheed’s best work.

The Amory geeks will no doubt lap it up, always hungry for material, while the rest of us can dip in and out, with our thumbs resting close to the skip button.

6/10

Thanks to Liv at Cooperative Music