If you live on this planet and are in your 30s or younger, I’m sure you’ve had someone mention Coheed and Cambria in your presence. This Child of the Fence (the title for dedicated Coheed fans) most likely were raving about them, insisting you check them out because of… well, about a thousand different reasons. One of the many great things about Coheed is they appeal to different people for different reasons, which just goes to show how multi-faceted, and multi-talented, of a group they are.
Now, they have eight albums out with a ninth on the way, and two supplementary but relevant projects under another name which we’ll get to at the end. If you were curious about the band, but didn’t really know where to start, then this guide is for you. In writing this, I’ll make some subtle references to the greater story that (almost) all of their music is about, but this is also intended to be a standalone feature focusing primarily on the music. For all the information on The Amory Wars, I implore you to check out the accompanying feature where fellow EIN writer Tyler, our resident Coheed lore expert, provides a comprehensive look at the lore.
Even though the band has this huge, overarching epic that they largely focus on, the plot, characters and material that makes up that greater story is all informed by Claudio Sanchez’s life during a given album’s writing process. What he experiences or what occupies his mind tends to end up as a theme, implicitly or explicitly, in The Amory Wars. Love songs are often between a couple characters in the plot, but have personal ties to Sanchez and so on. As story-driven as the music is, it still remains quite relatable in places which gives them an undeniable edge to fans and newcomers alike. So let’s dive into each Coheed album in order of release. I’ll touch on why the album is good in its own way highlighting specific moments and track, how it fits in the band’s whole discography, and what type of person or music fan might like said album.
Second Stage Turbine Blade (2002)
‘Good morning sunshine, awake when the sun hits the sky’
— ”Junesong Provision”
A legend is born, but it’s a rough birth. I will always appreciate this album for starting a band that I so dearly love, but the fact of the matter is Second Stage Turbine Blade shows a band trying to find their footing — and it shows. The production is rough and Claudio’s wonderful voice hasn’t fully come into play yet, but even still we see flashes of genuine brilliance and writing chops that foreshadow a potential that ends up being realized in great album after great album.
That said, “Time Consumer” and “Everything Evil” are immortal songs. The former has one of the most memorable riffs of their entire catalog, the latter is just one of the most stripped back and memorable period. “Everything Evil” is a standout, lyrically carrying out like the crime scene investigation segment of a Law & Order episode. There’s nothing else quite like it in all of Coheed’s eight albums.
We also get “Neverender” which is a grinding track whose name went on to title a couple of the band’s tours on which they play specific albums in full. Like many songs on Second Stage, it’s adept at telling a story, the lyrics reading almost like a movie script or a chapter to a novel.
What these and other songs on this album do make apparent from the start is that this story will be dramatic, gloomy, and forlorn to say the least. Themes of murder, sexual assault (please don’t read into the story of the track “Devil in Jersey City” if you’re triggered by this), a conspiracy that violently tore a family apart, and more all mark this album and much of The Amory Wars story. It’s not pretty, and this is something that’s probably unintentionally complemented by the crudeness of the band’s first full creative outing under the Coheed and Cambria name.
Second Stage has elements of post-hardcore and emo and as such would likely appeal to people who dabbled, or still do, in those genres. Coheed had yet to really instill their music with any prominent progressive elements, which makes this a more straightforward project than most. It’s one of my least favorite of their catalog, but since I still like a good amount of it, that just speaks to how solid and reliable the band is.
In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (2003)
In dealing with it, they’ll march for dawn… of will and worthy
The truth be told, the child was born’
— “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”
Aww, Coheed grew up! Kind of. In comparison to the amateurish vibe that permeates Second Stage for better or worse, this album shows an unparalleled amount of growth. Coheed really came into their own with this album. The progressive elements are abundant, the sound is cleaner, and the tone is darker (straight up edgy at times; ‘for them, I’d kill anything/Cut the throats of babies for them’, ‘die white girls!’, etc.). The story was also picking up steam with songs like the title track and “The Crowing”, fleshing out what Sanchez really had in mind when he started The Amory Wars, establishing scope, foreshadowing plot events, and making his characters just that: characters.
The barren, reverb-tinged riff that starts the title track out is one of the most memorable things in music to me. Having heard this record in my impressionable late teens, it’s something I won’t ever forget. Sanchez’s melodic singing of ‘man your battlestations’ in the hook is meme-worthy among the fanbase. “Three Evils (Embodied in Love and Shadow)” begins a long-standing Coheed tradition of pairing disturbing lyrics and thematic elements with sunny, upbeat instrumentation. There’s hints of it on Second Stage like with “Devil in Jersey City”, but there’s nothing quite like hearing Sanchez cheerily sing ‘pull the trigger and the nightmare stops’ while a bright, soaring riff splinters the mood in two for the first time. Get used to this if you get into Coheed, it happens a lot more.
For many, including me, “A Favor House Atlantic” was the entry point for the band. A single with a video that remember getting decent play on radio and music institutions like MTV at the time of release. After the shock of realizing that the person singing was indeed a guy, we couldn’t help but sing along to the infectious hook: ‘Good eye, sniper/Now I’ll shoot, you run’. I was in the throes of adolescence when this came out and as such I’ve always associated it with that time in my life. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, but I like to think this track still objectively holds up to today, a testament to Claudio’s songwriting.
“21:13” is the proggiest that Coheed has ever progged, then and now. I mean, a ten-minute song that has over five distinct measures, callbacks to melodies and established leitmotifs, and a title that unintentionally references one of the best progressive rock songs and albums of all time? Simply put, this was a hell of a way to end Silent Earth: 3. This album beings the use of grouping songs in suites, sections of an album all titled under one name and subtitled individually to denote songs that are thematically related. Here, it’s “The Camper Velourium” (though various official media for the album, including the original CD packaging and tie-in graphic novel, refer to this suite and the in-story ship it’s named after as ‘The Velourium Camper’).
This album is for you riff-heavy progressive music fans. If you like Rush, Pink Floyd, or The Dear Hunter, you will likely find something to enjoy here. As Coheed sought to become their own unique thing, they pulled away from the post-punk and emo institutions that were becoming established mainstream acts by making their sound a lot different from their first offering. Again, I really don’t have anything against Second Stage, but Silent Earth: 3 really established much of what made this band so untouchable to their fans. This album’s importance can never be overstated, in terms of my own personal opinions, the band’s catalog, or modern progressive music in general.
Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005)
‘The fiction will see the real
The answer will question still’
— “The Willing Well I: Fuel for the Feeding End”
If there’s one word to describe this album relative to the rest, it’s ‘more’. I’m willing to bet that Sanchez moved forward from Silent Earth: 3 with that in mind; bring more to the table. More instrumentation, more elements, more melody, more songs, more intensity. More. From the first track’s string interpretation of the ‘passage of time’ motif that appears throughout the band’s entire catalog, to the final folky notes of the hidden track “Bron-Y-Aur”, Good Apollo, Volume One is a journey. It’s also the band’s most successful commercial album yet! And they probably have one song to thank for that…
“Welcome Home” is a monolith, both in the context of Coheed’s work and outside of it. The radio edit doesn’t do it justice as it trims much of the song and ruins the natural flow and tension of it. It’s a firebrand of a track that starts with a deceptively calm acoustic guitar passage before flying into an aural assault of melodic, squealing riffing with Claudio using his trademark Epiphone double-neck guitar. The gang vocals at the end are simply haunting and something that makes the song so memorable for fans.
We also get “The Willing Well” suite which is a magnificently progressive entity. Here, the band really unchains themselves and plays all the riffs, moving from measure to measure in unconventional ways, throwing caution to the wind and entrenching themselves in the art of weird rock. While cryptic lyrics paint macabre pictures like a Gothic painting, arpeggiated guitar riffs welcome you in like bait in a venus fly trap’s maw.
The only criticism I can give this album, and please allow it also serve as a warning to the uninitiated, is the concentration of violent, misogynistic language in some of the songs. It’s not overly graphic, but this will still likely be a problem for a lot of people sensitive to slurs and descriptions of violence against women. Sanchez admittedly wrote much of this album during a very personally troubling time in his life, and has since steered well clear of this type of language in recent albums, but it is a valid critique nonetheless and not an excuse. Tread lightly if you’re sensitive to this kind of content.
Like Silent Earth: 3 before it, Good Apollo, Volume One is made for prog nerds. The story takes key turns, the music develops even further than it did on their previous album, and it was kept fun and upbeat without sacrificing the emotional weight and tone they had previously established. This is one album that’s highly regarded within the band’s catalog, and with good reason.
Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow (2007)
‘Bye bye world, or will our hopes still hold on?’
— “No World for Tomorrow”
Breaking with tradition in working with producers Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner, this album shows it. No World for Tomorrow has a polished sound that only a legendary producer like Rick Rubin could conjure, and it just so happens that’s exactly who helped in the production of this album along with Nick Raskulinecz (who has also produced for greats like Rush, Alice in Chains, and Trivium). It also marked the first lineup change for the band with Josh Eppard taking leave for a couple albums. Taylor Hawkins fills in on drums for this album, but he mostly re-recorded drum parts that Chris Pennie (The Dillinger Escape Plan) wrote for the band when he briefly joined the band after Eppard’s departure. In spite of the personnel turbulence, this album has some of my favorite drumming, though I say that with absolutely no offense intended toward Eppard.
The title track declares the story’s — and the music’s — urgency immediately. It’s not a particularly pummeling or fast track, but it’s epic and powerful nonetheless. This tone becomes the theme for much of the album as character arcs are completed and some loose ends are tied up. This is, as of this writing, the chronological end of The Amory Wars story as we currently know and understand it. As such, a sense of finality marks a lot of the tracks.
Even tonal detours like “Feathers” and “Mother Superior” carry hints of this. The former track was an album single and it sounds tailormade to be. It has a catchy chorus accented by a rhythm section that has some flair. The latter song is the album’s ballad and one of my favorite ones in the Coheed mythos. It’s foreboding and a little more complex than the typical ballad by the band. Sanchez’s voice is also delightfully varied here, crooning for the intimate verses and belting out those high notes for the hooks.
“Gravemakers & Gunslingers” is a feisty, runaway truck of a song. It’s arguably the band’s most ‘metal’ song with searing guitar solos, commanding vocals, and story built on sweet revenge. It’s like a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, culminating in a Wild West-esque shootout. “The End Complete” suite that ends the album is all over the place, expressing dynamics that are nearly unmatched on any other album. My favorite is the third track in the suite, subtitled “The End Complete”. Climactic and eerie, it depicts the final battle between hero and villain, culminating in the end of the universe.
This album is for people who like their music clean, sonically speaking. The production and mix makes No World For Tomorrow is one of Coheed’s smoothest endeavors; every instrument is crystal clear, the vocals are front and center. It’s not terribly progressive, especially when compared to their last two offerings, but it still pleases with its dynamics and variation in instrumentation. My only gripe with this album is the track “The Fall of House Atlantic”. By name alone, it sounds like it should have been one of the most epic tracks in the band’s catalog, but nope. It’s a minute-long interlude track that only provides an introduction to the suite of this album.
This isn’t the end. We’re only through four of the band’s albums, and we’re not even to the weirder stuff yet. Be sure to check out Part Two of this feature where we’ll finish off Coheed‘s catalog, talk about all the oddities the back half has to offer, look at an important side-project, and speculate a bit on future of their music!