Formed way back in 1995, Coheed and Cambria have been steadily releasing their blend of experimental progressive rock, pop punk and post-hardcore to the masses, through the guise of a high concept sci-fi story called The Amory Wars. An ongoing narrative which runs through every single one of their albums to date and their sixth studio album, The Afterman: Ascension, is no different. But most importantly does this new album still give plausibility to this ongoing concept and does the whole idea alienate new fans?
The answer – yes. The Afterman: Ascension certainly has its grandiose moments and grooves that any blues musician would be proud of. If, however, you’re not invested in the band or the concept story, it is possible that newcomers may be somewhat intimidated. Don’t get me wrong, there are songs here, such as ‘Mothers of Men’ and ‘The Afterman’, that are incredibly accessible and catchy, but these are just filler in a mammoth meat sandwich. The album for example shines in the chapter breakdown entitled ‘Key Entity Extraction’.
The track ‘Domino The Destitute’ (also the first single release) starts the album in a huge way. Beginning with a riff which signifies the start of an oncoming storm, lead vocalist Claudio Sanchez rips into a vocal performance just as strong and unique as previous albums. This rises to a chorus of chants and twisted laughs, which compliment the bass and returning drummer Josh Eppard’s tight drum fills.
This section of the album continues in the same futuristic and twisted fashion with ‘Holly Wood the Cracked’ and ‘Vic the Butcher’. The former, starts with a bass line which sets the tone for the songs foundation – moody and a feel of slight paranoia. This picks up in the chorus, rising to a brilliant parallel to the verses. The latter continues in the same particular style, but begins to amp up the complexity and experimentation, ending in a ferocious reiterating from Sanchez of the line “Hang your secrets, hang ‘em up, hang ‘em up now” – a reference to the story arc but this can also be read in a different way from an uninitiated perspective.
The last track on the album, ‘Subtraction’, feels very much like a track which leaves the album open, which for casual listeners can be very frustrating, but of course, the musical ideology of Coheed is that of the concept album. They are telling a story and leaving an ambiguous ending is done for a reason.
What Coheed and Cambria have created in The Afterman: Ascension is a pre-cursor to the twinned follow-up, The Afterman: Descension (due out early next year). What Ascension feels like is the warm up to a potentially great album. If you’re an avid fan of Coheed you’ll have already listened to this countless times but if you are a newcomer this particular album may be a bad starting point in discovering what Coheed and Cambria are all about.