Welcome to Part Two of our comprehensive guide to the music of Coheed and Cambria! Last time, we went through the first four seminal albums of the band’s career, today I’ll finish off the catalog along with some extras like looking forward to their new album, Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures, and a relevant side-project. If you came here first, please be sure to take a look at Part One first as there’s a lot of great stuff there, and if you really want to nerd out with us, you can take a look at our two-part discussion of The Amory Wars lore that drives nearly all of Coheed‘s music coming out very soon!
Without further ado, let’s get back to it by discussing a bit of an oddball album in their discography.
Year of the Black Rainbow (2010)
‘Meddling eyes that judge mistakes
What awful things they say
When backs are turned and no one’s looking’
— “This Shattered Symphony”
For a while, this was the black sheep of the band’s catalog. The first prequel album to the story, it has a firm belonging, especially when you consider the concessions and changes made to the music in order to make it possible. Songs like “Guns of Summer” and “Here We Are Juggernaut” are bold and energetic, but shrouded in a fog of darkness. Actually, much of this album is like that. It’s a weird dynamic that’s not captured on any other album quite like it is here.
“Pearl of the Stars” is wildly emotional, and my favorite Coheed ballad ever. The hook is poetic, as if written for someone that Claudio has known for years and years. It feels so personal, like looking at a diary entry not meant for public consumption, or a letter not meant to be sent. It’s moments like this that make middling songs like “Made Out of Nothing (All That I Am)” and “In the Flame of Error” tolerable. It’s not that those are bad songs, but they are woefully average when compared to the breadth of the Coheed catalog.
This is arguably the most experimental Coheed have been on an album, but it’s also one of their most accessible if you’ll allow the potential contradiction. New choices made by Claudio and the band mixing with shorter tracks that adhere to a more conventional structure equals Year of the Black Rainbow. “Far” flirts with industrial rock by incorporating a more mechanical rhythm tone, the intro track “One” hums and creaks with ambiance, and album closer “The Black Rainbow” is a whirlpool of noise and decay that culminates in a grating wall of noise that gets progressively louder before abruptly cutting off. It almost sounds like something The Mars Volta would attempt, but there’s a lot more structure here than either of that band’s frontmen would ever allow.
This album is for people looking for a lot of melody and atmosphere in the music. Sanchez set out with producers Atticus Ross (Nine Inch Nails) and Joe Barresi (also an engineer and mixer who has worked with bands like Fu Manchu, Tomahawk, and Parkway Drive) to make an album more along these lines, and it’s largely a success in that regard. The noisy, post-rock-esque use of reverb makes for a grittier sound that wasn’t really done until this point in the band’s career, or really ever since. A diamond in the rough and also telling of Coheed’s willingness to do whatever they want to see a vision through, fan expectations be damned.
The Afterman (2012-2013)
‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen
I have a story to tell you of one slow decline’
— “Goodnight, Fair Lady”
Much of The Amory Wars is like Star Wars, focusing on a handful of characters to tell an epic story of war, internal struggle, and prophecy all within a science-fiction setting. Sticking with that analogy, The Afterman (made up of two albums, Ascension which came out in 2012 and Descension in 2013) is a prequel to the main story focusing mainly on one person. It’s the Solo: A Star Wars Story of the catalog. It’s also a return to form for the band. Songs are progressive, have some bite to them, and the story is soul-crushingly sad; vintage Coheed.
“Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute” is probably my favorite single ever aside from “Welcome Home” and it’s easy to see why because they share a lot of the same DNA. Like “Welcome Home”, “Domino the Destitute” has a sound that’s larger than life, utilizing haunting melodies and huge vocal techniques to create an epic scope in which to tell the story of a boxer destined for the big time before falling in with the wrong crowd and meeting a tragic end. Domino isn’t The Afterman or the focus of the album, just to be clear. For an explanation, I again would direct you to our discussion and analysis of The Amory Wars lore.
“Number City” continues Coheed’s off-putting tradition of making songs that are thematically distressing or sad and making the accompanying music upbeat. This song is one of their catchiest and dynamic ever. You can hear drum machines, a well-utilized brass section, glitchy synths and much more in the song’s average runtime. Sanchez changes up his vocals no less than three notable times. Not bad for a song about people knocking at death’s door while in a hospital.
“Gravity’s Union” is one of the most powerful songs the band has ever written. It’s urgent and affecting, especially if you know the story behind the song. I always, no exaggeration, get chills when the song kicks into its third distinct part with Sanchez yelling out ‘caged, locked in perpetual motion’. Conversely, musical potency can be found in many of The Afterman’s lower tempo offerings like “Dark Side of Me” and “Iron Fist”. The latter of the two is a regretful, reflective, and dejected pouring of one’s heart. The chorus of ‘goddamn this cursed iron fist when I lost control’ is affecting with its melancholy delivery. The marching drumline that bisects the song helps usher in the ending of the album, even though there’s still two tracks remaining. Descension is a fitting name for the second half of The Afterman, both thematically and for the mood as it puts all of its weight into the comedown from the plot’s climax. The dénouement of “2’s My Favorite 1” is bittersweet, yet again continuing Coheed’s love for tonally contradicting lyrics and music.
The Afterman, both halves, should appeal to people that want a standalone digestible experience that’s dynamic, impressive in scale, dark and depressive in tone with little recourse. Its weight is subtle, but digging deeper reveals an elephantine endeavor that’s one of my favorite Coheed offerings ever. It’s also quite progressive! The opening guitar and bass riff of “Goodnight, Fair Lady” screams out Rush to me and their sense of flow and writing has hardly ever been better. This is Coheed back on top of their game.
The Color Before the Sun (2015)
‘I’m just a big dud, foolish from the start
I make a wrong move, and the world just falls apart’
Ah yes, the true black sheep of the band’s catalog. A divisive album if there ever was one, The Color Before the Sun is to date the only project that deviated from The Amory Wars story and universe. When Sanchez announced the band’s intention to take a break from the story, fans were understandably nervous. Seeing as this turned out to be their most accessible, poppy, radio friendly endeavor, it’s largely written off by a lot of fans. I’ll concede it’s my least favorite Coheed album, but there’s still a lot of great moments here and I think the hate it gets is a little overblown. Let’s try to look at this objectively.
“The Audience” is a Coheed song through and through. Heavy and distorted guitars, larger-than-life vocals from Sanchez, and a foreboding mood. Sure, it’s not in the Amory Wars canon, but the tenets are still here. Ironically, or perhaps not, the song is about criticism and how Sanchez has used The Amory Wars concept to absorb more of the criticism the band’s music received, and how he takes both the positive and negative feedback for it from fans.
It must have been cathartic for Sanchez to write songs like “Atlas”, which is about his yet-unborn son, whose name provided the title of the track. Sanchez’s penchant for sappy, emotive songs gets a little turned on its head with this track, it being really upbeat and sunny for a change. The song’s hook displays the newfound affection that a father has for his son:
‘So sleep tight, little Atlas
’Cause when your daddy goes off, just you know
That you’re the weight of his anchor
The love that is guiding him home’
Indeed, more so than any other album, The Color Before the Sun is deeply personal for Sanchez. You always get glimpses into what was going on in his life via the lyrical themes and tones he would write into Coheed’s music – and therefore the greater story – with past albums, but never this explicitly. This was the window into Claudio Sanchez, the man with a life and a family, who just happens to front one of the most important contemporary bands in modern rock.
This album is for people looking for down-to-earth music. More sonically akin to contemporaries like Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy who also still push on for their legions of fans, though with that ‘Coheed edge’. This might be the best entry point for people that only indulge in mainstream music and radio hits. Despite what some scorned fans may say, this album did not abandon the tenants of their music. You get catchy singles with singable hooks like “You Got Spirit, Kid” and “Island”, you get acoustic ballads like “Ghost”, a solid love song in “Here to Mars”, and most importantly, you get a more personal, reflective look into the people behind the music. Still worth your time, but not necessarily a must-listen for the already initiated.
Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures (2018)
‘Know now there is no time. Space, between the Well and unknowing, our story starts there. Well into our future, yet far beyond our past. In a romance between a pair of Unheavenly Creatures’
— prologue to “The Dark Sentencer”
As of this writing, I haven’t heard Vaxis, and I doubt many people have, so this is all speculation based on the released singles. This album apparently starts a new pentalogy (!!!) which lays the groundwork for years and years of more content and music from the band. They rocked my world by releasing “The Dark Sentencer” on June 1 of this year. It’s ten minutes long (including the prologue that precedes it) and confirms the return to The Amory Wars story the band has spent nearly two decades working on.
The prologue is a spoken word, delivered in-character by Vaxis, who at this time remains cloaked in mystery aside from the fact that they are the crux of this new saga in the canon. The song itself is a comforting return to progressive Coheed. The lyrics are character driven, the instrumentation is clean and dynamic, its movements and composition sitting somewhere between material on The Afterman and No World for Tomorrow. In other words, this is the best Coheed track I’ve heard in years. It seems like the band is doubling down on the space opera aspects of how they tell their stories and how the music is structured.
“Unheavenly Creatures”, the album’s second single, shows that they are still intent on writing good singles to attract a wider audience. The chiptune and synthesizer elements on this song are something I wouldn’t ever really expect in a Coheed song, so it also shows that they also still want to surprise listeners as well. Compared to “The Dark Sentencer”, this song is a lot more tame and has a more digestible structure, which is fine! The band’s music is always an ebb-and-flow between progressive epics and melodic, radio-friendly singles with earworm choruses. “The Gutter” is a sweetly aggressive track that sits between the two previous singles where Claudio brings back screamed vocals!
With each reveal and single dropped, Vaxis looks better and better. I can’t wait to hear more!
The Prize Fighter Inferno
Named after a character deep in The Amory Wars canon, this is Sanchez’s spin-off solo side project where he’s basically allowed to do whatever he wants. Listen to one song and the differences between Coheed and this band would far outnumber the similarities. Often, Claudio’s voice is the only discernible element that links the two projects.
This music is adorned with much more electronics – keyboards, synths, samplers, ‘random recording devices’ as said by Sanchez himself in the project’s debut album’s liner notes – and a palatable folk spirit than Coheed has ever had. The band’s only full-length, My Brother’s Blood Machine (a reference to the lyrics of Coheed song “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”), is a mishmash of styles, textures, tones, and flavors. One minute, you’re serenaded by an alternate universe folk song from times long gone with “The Fight of Moses Early & Sir Arthur McCloud”, the next you’re dancing to the tune of tinny, cerebral rhythms that sound like Michael Jackson distilled through bedroom production with “The Margretville Dance”. It’s a trip to say the least.
This project’s music is only tangentially related to Coheed and The Amory Wars. Focusing on Jesse, also known as Inferno, Coheed Kilgannon’s brother, it’s a much different approach that’s much more rustic and experimental for it to fly under the Coheed banner. All the same, it’s an eclectic endeavor and one worth embarking on yourself if you have a penchant for electronic and folk music as it’s primarily an amalgamation of those two broad genres.
Most recently, The Prize Fighter Inferno released an EP in 2012 called Half Measures. It’s certainly a lot more full-bodied than the project’s debut LP, but retains the spirit of previous work. More conventional elements and ‘Coheed-isms’ work their way into this EP. The writing is cleaner and more streamlined as well as the production, but the music still retains its glitchiness and freeform composition, like Claudio truly is utilizing whatever he can get his hands on to the best of his ability. Really, it comes off more like something made out of desperation, as if Sanchez was truly creatively stranded without his electric guitar and much of his normal production equipment, having to make do with hand-me-downs and other things dredged up from someone else’s basement. No real complaints here, as this is how we got that sick-ass harmonica solo on “Pistol Pete Matty”.
And that’s it! On a quick personal note, Coheed’s music has helped me through turbulent times over the span of half of my life. For many people, it’s synonymous with security and belonging. It has properties that can be hard to describe for fans, which is part of why their fanbase is so dedicated and rabid. You may not find the same magic in it as a lot of us, but it’s my hope that these features on the band at least make you curious and help you find your way through their work. Maybe the music will speak to you as it has for so many others including me. A handful of us here at Everything is Noise love this band and what they do, and as they look forward onto their next project, so shall we, the Children of the Fence.