Still Not of This World
Coheed and Cambria don’t mind sprawl or, in the most flattering sense of the word, pretension: Pretension in the sense of aspiring to cohere their entire discography into a loose constellation of narratives, each a star in her own way shining in an imaginary galaxy, and then there’s just the music itself—adept and almost antsy instrumentally and prone to equal parts theater and wanderlust vocally. Singer-mastermind Claudio Sanchez and the boys embody a unique quantity in the industry, a modern-day prog rock band reared on super heroes, Star Wars and role-playing games. With The Afterman: Descension, the concluding installment to a two-part series begun in The Afterman: Ascension, Coheed and Cambria run the musical gamut with almost adolescent verve, bouncing from—and often even intertwining—their own iterations of triumphal metal, arena rock, power pop and skittering, 8-bit Nintendo music. And with little exception, it’s a damned fun ride.
In “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant”—because why not name it that?—a brief acoustic opening yields to a ground-pounding, straight-ahead riff in lockstep with the mammoth drums of Josh Eppard, who returns from his years-long recess since—hold on, let me catch my breath—Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, and it’s like the guy never left. A bare and jabbing verse is gauzed over with atmospheric noodles as vocalist Sanchez hurls catty shouts of recrimination—probably at some titanic cybernetic cyclops, because, after all, we’re talking Coheed here. The chorus busts out with woolly grunge toughness, but the singer’s trademarked highs, even pitched with righteous indignation, just sound underdog cute. The drums pummel with factory bombast as guitars squeal and churn like writhing, robotic eels.
Then things get almost comically funky in “The Hard Sell,” a stuttering, dare I say soulful, blend of ear-candy dynamism and curled-lip guitar heroics. The chorus soars like an interstellar drone strike, with Sanchez belting it like a pint-sized Dio as guitars drop with bunker-busting force. Spending much of its time clicked into a mid-tempo groove lavished with Sanchez’s own oohing backup vocals, the song’s bona fides are forever sealed with a downright guttural David Gilmour-style blues solo, which spits and fires like a molten foundry. Meanwhile, “Number City” pivots with New Wave angularity, awash with Mega Man arpeggios and, if you can imagine, Michael Jackson-approved horn stabs. The song’s chorus tweaks like a sweet and jazzy head-rush, brimming with a dizzying flurry of horns and harmonized guitars, eventually settling into a moonstruck vocal complete with finger snaps. Coheed and Cambria are in their own world.
Descension starts to cool its jets past “Iron Fist,” coasting the vessel into more shaded areas of romance and vulnerability. The song’s delicate acoustic line bounces with dandelion softness to Eppard’s lean, effective drumming as a chiptune computer aspirates in the background. Sanchez proceeds to curse his “goddamned iron fist,” which—despite being totally awesome—has a way of leading him like a runaway mastiff into the occasional “Hulk smash” rampage. Jazzy and emotive, the track’s athletic arpeggios are bolstered by shooting-star incidentals that whirl and fritter away, eventually giving in to a sweet-natured Brian May solo—which, in the end, serves well to define the unabashed weirdness and variety of Descension. I mean, where else can you hear such a fluid conflation of theater, valiant musicianship and wackadoo storytelling? Answer: Nowhere but Coheed, man. Nowhere but Coheed.