Coheed and Cambria return to their past

By Chris Trubac

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Rock giant Coheed and Cambria has been a major player in the international progressive rock scene for over a decade. Led by frontman and face-melting guitarist Claudio Sanchez, the group is a powerhouse of talent. Telling an epic science fiction story through their poetic, often morbid lyrics, Coheed is a progressive rock classic.

The band’s new album, “The Afterman: Ascension,” is part one of a two-part series. Part two, entitled “The Afterman: Descension” is scheduled for release in the early months of 2013.

“Ascension” is a decent display of the powerful riff rocking that made Coheed and Cambria a worldwide success. The record draws heavily off of elements employed on previous Coheed releases like “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.”

After “Year of the Black Rainbow,” a release that left many fans disappointed due to a departure from Coheed’s classic sound, many will undoubtedly welcome the new album’s return to familiarity.

Those looking for new elements that refine Coheed’s epic brand of songwriting, however, may be disappointed. The familiarity that many fans are likely to praise also makes “Ascension” sadly indistinguishable from earlier Coheed releases.

The first song on “Ascension,” called “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute,” takes a typical approach to progressive rock songwriting. Hitting hard and building up for nearly eight minutes, “Key Entity Extraction I” is a prime example of Coheed’s signature style.

The tone of the album quickly changes with “The Afterman,” a track that feels more like a ballad. A melodic guitar part swimming in delay carries Sanchez’s soft, airy vocals over a symphonic soundscape. The result is reminiscent of Tom Delonge’s Angels & Airwaves, although the composition is more complex than anything Delonge is likely to dream up.

Unique compositions like “The Afterman” give “Ascension” some freshness and help to distinguish the album from previous Coheed releases. Unfortunately, these moments of originality on the record are few and far between.

“Mothers of Men” is powerful and catchy, but does nothing to help Coheed break new ground. “Goodnight Fair Lady” is much the same way, taking a poppy approach almost identical to that on past singles like “Blood Red Summer” and “The Suffering.” “Goodnight Fair Lady” would be impressive if only it were not composed of recycled sounds.

The strongest highlight of the album is “Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood.” The track brings a welcome departure from the homogeneously melodic sound that dominates the bulk of “Ascension.”

With discordant, grunge-soaked guitar and bass parts, the verses of “Holly Wood” feel like a battle between Nirvana and Marilyn Manson. The composition is beautifully dynamic, suspending discord as Sanchez sings “she’s a few cards short of a full deck, the joker in the game.” The music and lyrics work flawlessly together, complementing each other’s brutal insanity.

The heaviness of “Holly Wood” continues to a lesser extent through “Key Entity Extraction Part III: Vic the Butcher.” A manic, fast-paced track with post-hardcore leanings, “Vic the Butcher” is another dose of classic Coheed.

The album dies down slowly, fading out like a choking ember. “Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria the Faithful” is a relatively soft track that winds down from the fury of “Holly Wood” and “Vic the Butcher.” The album ends with a sobering acoustic ballad called “Subtraction.”

“The Afterman: Ascension” is impressive when judged strictly on its own merits. Unfortunately, the band’s failure to separate “Ascension” from other Coheed records is an undeniable pitfall. Despite this shortcoming, many fans will welcome an update to a colossal sound that is tried and true.

Chris Trubac can be reached at [email protected]