This week’s Fixation: Coheed and Cambria’s The Afterman: Ascension/Descension.
Before I can do an even remotely decent job of talking to you about this album, you first have to understand that Coheed and Cambria are about way more than just the music that they play. Their first 5 albums make up a story called The Amory Wars, a sprawling science fiction tale created by Claudio Sanchez (lead singer/guitarist/frontman) which takes place in a world known as Heaven’s Fence. Though the narrative is conveyed primarily through the lyrics of Coheed’s songs, the story is so cohesive that it has spawned several comic books, one full length novel, and an upcoming live-action film.
I would very much love to tell you about the story in great detail, but this, unfortunately, is neither the time nor the place. Suffice to say that it is a fairly standard sci-fi plot — a young man’s family is murdered by a supremely powerful evil dictator and the hero must harness the powers he never knew he had in order to get his revenge and save the galaxy — with heaps of original and really fucking cool aspects that are not at all “standard science fiction”. This deep and detailed story (in which even minor characters have well-developed backgrounds) is conveyed to you via fast-paced and unique alternative-progressive rock.
Calling Coheed and Cambria an “alt-prog rock” band probably doesn’t give you any idea of what they sound like, but they are very difficult to put into a genre as they really don’t sound like anyone else. I’ve seen them play midday at Warped Tour, opened for by Circa Survive, and play a stadium show in between Trivium and Slipknot, and I can tell you they really don’t sound like any of the bands that they play with. Although their music is original and interesting, it is Claudio Sanchez’s voice that makes them so unique. Able to switch seamlessly between crooning and screaming, and possessing the ability to sound one minute like a giggling child and the next minute like a demon from hell, Claudio’s vocal talents are just about impossible to categorize.
Ascension and Descension, Coheed’s 6th and 7th albums, are the two parts (released 4 months apart) of the double album The Afterman. This double album, more of a precursor to The Amory Wars than another part of the saga, tells the story of Sirius Amory’s (after whom The Amory Wars is named) discovery of The Keywork, the system of energy that holds together the 78 worlds of Heaven’s Fence. Although the people of Heaven’s Fence knew that The Keywork existed, it was Sirius who discovered the true nature of the force that makes it up: the energy of The Keywork is composed of the souls of the dead.
Sirius discovers this truth by piloting a ship out into space and making physical contact with the energy of The Keywork. When he touches this energy he is possessed by the souls of people who have died. During these possessions, Sirius experiences the lives these souls once lived. These experiences make up several tracks on the double album: “Key Entity Extractions I-V”.
Each of these Key Entity Extractions reflects the soul of the person whose life Sirius is experiencing. The first three — “Domino the Destitute”, “Holly Wood the Cracked”, and “Vic the Butcher” — are intense, dirty, frightful songs chock full of wailing, both of the musical and lyrical variety. The three people whose stories are told in the songs were morally bankrupt and vicious in life, and in death their souls try their utmost to destroy Sirius.
The first few times I listened to this album I didn’t find these songs, particularly “Holly Wood” and “Vic”, pleasant to listen to. However, upon learning the details of the story I realized that the point is not a pleasant listening experience, it is to feel what Sirius felt as these damned souls attempted to tear him apart. And while it took me several listens to get behind “Holly Wood” and “Vic”, “Domino the Destitute” is just a bangin’ song.
If The Afterman were composed of nothing but twisted, vicious songs like the first three Key Entity Extractions I probably wouldn’t be all that into it, so thank Claudio that this is not the case. Key Entity Extractions IV and V, while still upbeat and hard rocking, have a distinctly powerful and benevolent feel, as the people whose stories they tell — Evagria the Faithful and Sentry the Defiant — were noble, just, and good in life, and in death their souls struggle to save Sirius from the tortures of Domino, Holly, and Vic.
Mixed in with all of these fast-paced, hard rocking songs are sweet, feel-good tunes like “Away We Go”, and “2’s My Favorite 1”, as well as quiet, mournful, beautiful songs like “Subtraction” and, my personal favorite song of the entire double album, the title track “The Afterman”.
I could go on and on about how much I like Coheed and Cambria (named, by the way, after two of the main characters of The Amory Wars), how fascinating I find the story, and how much I wish more bands had a narrative track running through their music the way that Coheed does. However I think I’ve taken up quite enough of your time. Thanks for sticking with me everyone, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.