If I were to add the surname Kilgannon to the end of the band Coheed and Cambria, would you know what I’m referencing? Kudos to you if you’re familiar with the lore, but unless you’re one among the fence, it’s likely that you’re only vaguely aware of the long form narrative that runs through nearly the entirety of the Coheed catalogue. With their upcoming record confirmed to not only be a continuation of this story, but the first of a pentalogy of records, now is as good a time as any to dip your toes into the cosmos of this grand space opera.
A quick primer before we dig in: predating the official inception of the Amory Wars proper, we were treated to The Bag.On.Line Adventures and The Amory Wars Sketchbook. The former being the original name and eventual mini prequel story (get used to hearing the word ‘prequel’ here) to the main event, and the latter acting as ‘comic zero’, describing the Keywork and Heaven’s Fence. It’s also worth noting that Claudio Sanchez’s style of writing is of a personal nature reworked into the form of a sci fi narrative, and as such, many plot elements and overarching ideas work on both a story and intimately emotive level. As he puts it, ‘I created the Amory Wars in 1988 to basically utilize it as a disguise for the emotions that I was creating in song‘ (source).
With that out of the way, let’s begin our dive into the series at the (current) earliest point in the saga.
The Afterman Ascension and Descension
While The Afterman double album is considered the earliest in the timeline, it is simultaneously both the most recent record to be released under the Amory Wars banner and a prequel that technically doesn’t take place in the overall saga, instead acting as more of a point for world building. The album itself shared a split release over 2011 and 2012, with the deluxe release containing a coffee-table book that details the concept song by song, edited by Claudio’s comic label, Evil Ink Comics. Much like the rest of his works, The Afterman would begin as a personal journey, ‘I just let myself be inspired by events in my life‘, before being molded conceptually and thematically (source). For a bit more of this part of the story in Claudio’s words, check out this track-by-track Billboard did back in 2012.
So just who is the Afterman, and what is this record adding to the overall universe? Well, before he took on this title he was known as Sirius Amory, a respected cosmonaut whose research was focused on something called the Keywork – the force that holds the 78 planets and seven stars of Heaven’s Fence together. Until Sirius’ intervention, this was seen simply as an energy source that supplied ‘nutrients’ to the planets. The Keywork itself plays a pivotal role in the saga, and this fleshes out exactly what it is and why the future events are so devastating.
His journey takes him, much to the disappointment and discouragement of his wife Meri, on a trip to study the energy at its source – a sure suicide mission. With the AI by the name of ‘All Mother’ in his suit monitoring and protecting Sirius, he takes the plunge into the source itself. It is here that he discovers that the Keywork is actually made up of the souls of the dead, ever bound to cycle while keeping their personalities and identities.
Through his interactions (or possession, depending on how you look at it), he relives the lives of a downtrodden boxer, a crazed art fanatic, a war criminal general, a kind and unfortunate woman, and finally, a defiant soldier. The final three spirits interact with each other and Sirius with malevolence and benevolence in turn, bringing him to the cusp of death and protecting him as he crosses over into the second plane of the Keywork: the Samaritaine. It is by the spirit of the kindly woman, Evagria, that he is able to leave the Keywork alive and safely make it to a nearby orbiting space station, a year and half later than expected.
Sirius’ release from the first spirit, Domino, results in an explosion that sees those on his home planet call the mission a fatal failure. This news is incredibly distressing for Meri, which leads her to an incident in a bar where she was drugged. From here she goes on to meet a police officer and effectively move on from the disaster.
Upon returning, Sirius is celebrated as a hero and struggles with the idea that sharing his not-insignificant findings might cause chaos and a potentially fundamental deconstruction of morals and how people viewed life and death. He reaches out to the angelic race of the Prise that protect those among Heaven’s Fence, who impress upon him that this information is meant for them and God alone, not to be shared. It is then when Sirius returns to Meri and, through a confrontation after an award ceremony, they end up in a car crash resulting in her and her unborn child’s death. After contemplating suicide and some time spent reflecting, he reconnects with the All Mother and a new ship in an attempt to re-enter the Keywork and help Meri move on to the Samaritaine.
The Afterman ends on this melancholic note, with his influence on the scientific communities of this universe leading to the seven stars being renamed the The Stars of Sirius. While these characters would not move on to the next arc of the story, the implications laid about the Keywork would play an important role in the events to come.
Year of the Black Rainbow
Prior to the release of The Afterman, we were treated to yet another prequel to the Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon story, focusing on the rise of the series[‘] villain and priming the future protagonists to be set in their places – that will make more sense a bit later. The album itself would be released in 2010 alongside a 352 page novel of the same name co-written by Claudio and Peter David.
The beginning of the Year of the Black Rainbow is dense with new, highly important characters and ideas. Arguably the most important of these characters, and the one which the story centers around, is Dr. Leonard Hohenberger, a human scientist who specializes in the field of IRO robot creation (psst, that’s important). Second to this is the novel’s – and series’ – villain, Wilhelm Ryan, one of the twelve magi who rule over the planets of Heaven’s Fence. We are also introduced to the series’ titular characters’ – the two Kilgannons – as well as Inferno, Deftinwolf, the House Atlantic, and the Grail Arbor (all will be explained in due time).
After a brief moment with the KBI on a mission, we are swept head first into the politics of the twelve magi. Ryan, discontent with his equal position in the hierarchy, begins to threaten the others on the council. His play in “The Gurash Example” leads to the mage wars, in which Ryan begins to hostilely take control of the other magi’s sectors.
We then cut back to the Hohenbergers with Leonard’s son Joseph going to an anti mage war rally. His wife Pearl is working on a genetically altered dragonfly before the two parents frustratedly chase after their child in the city. Chaos ensues at the rally, and Joseph dies painfully, with Pearl blaming Leonard for letting him go. This incident results in Ryan finishing off his final opposition, declaring himself The Supreme Tri Mage, and holding a victory parade in Amity Prime. An ebony band with smokey blank tendrils appears in the sky, and it is taken as both God’s approval and disapproval of Ryan’s actions. This band would be known as ‘The Black Rainbow’.
While visiting his son’s gravestone, the angelic Prise meet the scientist and tell him that he is the one who has been chosen stand up to Ryan, and that he will need to create three beings to do so. With a ‘creative spark’ and some Prise DNA, he begins the process of artificially creating the KBI. He creates Inferno first, a clone of himself, followed by Coheed – the Beast – and Cambria – the Knowledge. Inferno is designated to be the one who will lead, with Coheed being outfitted for combat (with arm spikes, cannons, and all manner of comic book-like things), and Cambria with psychokinetic abilities.
In short: after some training, we are thrust into the aftermath of the opening mission in the novel. This outright defiance ignites the spark of a resistance, and Ryan begins to view these mysterious attackers as something that requires his attention. His retaliation is to kidnap Pearl and hold her hostage in a glass prison over a yawning chasm. Ryan’s demands are that Leonard surrenders the Coheed and Cambria IRObots and begin work on the Monstar virus, one that could break the bonds of the Keywork and begin Armageddon, if he wants to see his wife again. He agrees, hiding Inferno on the Grail Arbor.
After a desperate trip into insanity from Pearl and an epiphany Leonard has watching his wife’s dragonfly experiment kill a black bird, he uses the failsafe ‘Camille’ to shut down Coheed and Cambria’s consciousness as they begin to understand their love of each other. He creates the virus, instilling it into the unconscious couple before giving it to an enraged Ryan. Upon his return he works on a cure and instills it in a fourth artificial being, a child by the name of Josephine.
Pearl is released and manipulated to attack and kill her husband, with her actions leaving him unconscious. Her unstable mental state leads her to follow the wandering dragonfly before shooting Leonard, and, after reaching her son’s grave following the insect, she falls off a cliff in an attempt to catch it. Leonard, having awoken, sees what happened and vows to make things right. He attempts to kill Deftinwolf (who up until this point had been carrying out many of Ryan’s actions personally), resulting in his public murder. Inferno learns of this and returns to see Josephine in an iso chamber with a video message. He learns of the Monstar virus, that the cure must incubate until Josephine’s 23rd birthday, and that he must rescue Coheed and Cambria.
A battle aboard the House Atlantic ensues, in which the couple is awoken, the Beast and Deftinwolf struggle, and Knowledge delves into Ryan’s subconscious Black Rainbow. Her love of Coheed saves her from the brink of being lost, and eventually their battle results in the House Atlantic beginning to crumble. The monolith that symbolized Ryan and his tyrannical rule implodes, while KBI escape. In one final act of defiance, Inferno puts the couple to sleep and wipes their memories, setting them up as an ordinary couple to take care of Josephine in secret until the antidote is ready.
So where does this leave us? We have been introduced to our future antagonist Wilhelm Ryan, preemptively learned some secrets to the Keywork that have yet to take their true meaning, and our titular characters, Coheed and Cambria, are happily living a lie with an Armageddon-level virus in their blood and a child carrying an incomplete antidote. This sets us up for the events of the band’s debut record and the Amory Wars story in earnest.
Come back for part two when we discuss the events of Second Stage Turbine Blade, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3, and Claudio’s foray into the world of comics. Till next time!