Review: Coheed and Cambria – ‘The Afterman: The Ascension’

One of the best prog-rock/rock records of 2012 has arrived.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson


Coheed And Cambria

The Afterman: The Ascension

Hundred Handed/Everything Evil Records

Coheed And Cambria have always been an interesting spectacle. Filled with band line up drama, which included one arrest for armed robbery, as well as a focus on prog-rock and science fiction subject matter, Coheed did their own thing. They toured, they made records, the dipped their toe into the world of mainstream success with the song “A Favor House Atlantic”, but they remained just outside any genre tag. Coheed And Cambria were the smart and artistic kid in school who nobody could figure out so they were just left alone.

After two years Coheed has stepped back onto the scene with a two-part concept opus. This month we get The Afterman: Ascension followed in February with The Afterman: The Decension. For those who are aware of Coheed And Cambria’s running, thematic journey based on the comic book series The Armory Wars, get ready for the adventures of Sirius Armory as he explores the energy source holding together the Keywork. What’s the Keywork? Well, those are the 78 worlds in which the Armory Wars take place and Sirius Armory discovers they are actually the afterlife of departed souls.  Coheed And Cambria isn’t kidding, they are conceptual prog-rock that would make Yes, Rush or Emerson, Lake And Palmer stand up and applaud.

Think what you want about the band, love or hate Coheed And Cambria as you feel you need to, but make no mistake, The Afterman: Ascension is a great record, it could be the band’s best record to date. Coheed have stepped up their songwriting, loosened their death grip on overbearing prog-rock and even entered into the world of ballads. This album is groovy, haunting, beautiful, and complicated. The triumphant ideals of man’s spirituality are fused with the softness of love and soul searching. The Afterman: Ascension needs to be heard as one piece of music. There are killer songs happening on this album, but to get the full effect the listener must invest in the entirety of the album.

“The Hollow”, which intros the record, is devastating. The quiet piano and tense guitar, play out to create something truly ethereal and haunting. When the saturated voices of a mother and son conversation come i, “The Hollow” becomes not just haunting, but fascinatingly creepy. Cue the big Iron Maiden riff intro for “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute”. It’s more than Iron Maiden, it’s like Maiden playing the Michael Myers Halloween theme. When “Key Entity I” opens up it does so with typical Coheed And Cambria prog-rock stutter beat and matching guitar line. Smartly, the band holds those easy prog influences at bay. The song never loses the catchiness and the chorus soars by taking those prog elements and mixing them with a pop sensibility. Bookended by prog and Iron Maiden, the middle of “Key Entity Part I” is total Pink Floyd. When you listen, think “In The Flesh” and the comparison will makes sense.

The title track is something I refer to as Plush, that is, a solid combination of The Police and Rush. The structure of the song is Farewell To Kings era Rush but the actual music has an avant pop polish like that of early Police records. “Goodnight, Fair Lady” is a real gut check. It uses more of those pop ideals but mixes in what the spine of what Coheed have always done and then, in some way, dabbles in the world of Thin Lizzy. How these guys squeezed the emotive groove rock of Thin Lizzy into their sci-fi space opus is beyond me, I’m just happy they did it.

Returning to the “Key Entity Extraction” series, part two is a full on aggression burst with a crunchy guitar line and a pummeling rhythm section. Not metal, but definitely the hard rock jam on the record.  “Key Entity Extraction III: Vic The Butcher” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I defy anyone not to love this post-rock guitar riff or the intensity of the vocals. When the chorus for “Key Entity Extraction III” comes in, it will have you kicking things over while you jump around your room.

“The Key Extraction IV: Evagria The Faithful” is a misstep for the album. The rest of the record is so organic but this song feels forced, as if the band needed to have a tune jammed with multiple parts all fighting to be the leader. It’s more of a mess than eclectic. Coheed saves themselves with the final tune “Subtraction”. Using minimalist guitar sounds, as well as bells and chimes, Coheed end their album with a song of tragedy that is lush and gorgeous. It’s the perfect end to and album that is constantly surprising.

Are there issues with The Afterman: Ascension? Yes, a few. Outside of  the boring “Key Entity Extraction IV”, the album can seem long-winded and at times pretentious. It’s also an album that lives or dies by the vocals. If you are not into what Claudio Sanchez does, getting into this album becomes more difficult. While the music is interesting and catchy, the soul of the project is Sanchez’s vocals. That’s a lot of pressure for somebody with the unusual singing style Sanchez has. True it’s worked for band’s like Rush and YOB, but it could be a hindrance here.

While not a perfect album, The Afterman: Ascension is one of the best prog-rock/rock records to come out this year. Coheed And Cambria are unafraid to do what they want to do. They are unaffected by trends, cliques or musical movements. That alone is reason to applaud them. When they can back it up with kick ass jams, then we all have to show them the respect the deserve.