Sound — 7
Coheed and Cambria has always been a rather special band to me. Discovered around the same time my nascent music tastes also discovered bands like Dream Theater and The Mars Volta, Coheed and Cambria always made sure my taste in music had one foot firmly planted in punk and pop music while still appreciating the merits of prog-rock. Their first two albums, "Second Stage Turbine Blade" and "In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3" were the albums that got me into power pop, all while containing brilliantly executed story lines in a sort of science-fiction/fantasy universe called "The Amory Wars." On their third album, the catchily-titled "Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: Through the Eyes of Madness," the band explored more overtly prog-rock territory. Since that album, the band's pop-rock sound has been taking a backseat, favouring atmospheres and riffs over concise song structures. However, earlier this year, guitarist and vocalist Claudio Sanchez announced the new album and posted a clip of a song named "Atlas," after his newborn son, performed on a solo acoustic guitar, as well as the fact that this album would not be a part of the "Amory Wars" saga. Instead, the lyrics would be more personal and it wouldn't be a concept album.
Of course, this had many of us skeptical about how the band could write outside of their multi-album story line, but right from the opening notes of "Island," the band sounds invigorated and fresh again, almost as if the break from the story was what Coheed and Cambria needed. Opening with a salvo of lead guitar, anthemic power chords and an almost Sigur Ros-esque angelic choir, the band's unique brand of pop-rock mixed with prog takes off with the band firing on all cylinders. The epic power-pop chorus has the same urgency that has been missing from the band since "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3." "Eraser" opens with a much more sinister-sounding, but subdued guitar riff and Claudio's nearly-whispered vocals, with some very contemporary sounding "oohs." The guitar solo adds to the song, as well. "Colors" is a very pretty-sounding track with a very prominent "quiet verse/loud chorus" dynamic. "Here to Mars" almost sounds like something 30 Seconds To Mars would make on a good day, with vaguely space-themed lyrics, gang-chanted vocals, atmospheric guitar leads along with some epic power chords, and Claudio shouting the bridge. "Ghost" has a more ambient sound with folky acoustic guitars and Claudio working his lower vocal range. It's a very short track that I feel could have been expanded more. "Atlas" has been reworked into a full band piece on this track and definitely carries the "prog" factor that the rest of the album doesn't really let out too often. With the vocal melodies and the start-stop arrangements in the verses, it definitely has one of the most epic sounds on the record. "Young Love" is another track with a strong guitar riff, and at times almost has a post-"Final Cut"-era Pink Floyd vibe to it. "You Got Spirit, Kid" was the first single and is strongly representative of the sound of the album, with its main guitar riff that easily recalls bands like The Cult and U2, and Coheed's trademark epic power-pop choruses. The music video is a bit of a riot as well, featuring the band getting back at some high-school bullies, with a bit of a hilarious twist at the end. At the beginning of "The Audience," I wasn't sure if I was still listening to the same band until Claudio started singing because of the almost doomy guitar tones. It was a bit jarring after the pop-rock of the single, but the tune itself is another epic "proggy" number. It's definitely one of the darkest numbers on the record, and one of the few that sounds like it'd fit on one of their more recent albums. "Peace to the Mountain" closes out the record with a folky stomp, before turning into an almost Beatles-esque brass section which closes out the song.
The production of the record is pretty average for the genre, sometimes it feels a bit brickwalled and overly layered, and a few of the songs would have benefitted from reducing some of the "colouring" guitar tracks and such, but it doesn't do much to detract from the album for me. The instrumental performances are pretty decent, as well. Travis Stever's and Claudio Sanchez's guitar playing is pretty straightforward on this record compared to some of their more recent output, largely eschewing solos and single-note riffs for more punk/power-pop power chords and reverb-drenched high melodies. Zach Cooper's bass plays mostly just a supporting role, locked in tightly with the guitars and bass drum, not really getting too many moments to shine on its own. Josh Eppard's drumming is also very tight and focused, and rarely gets overly flashy. It's clear this band was not intent on shredding their way through this record, mostly keeping a very subdued sound.
Lyrics — 7
I tend not to pay too much attention to lyrics in my music, and even though the band's biggest claim to fame might be their "Amory Wars" story line, the band decided to leave it behind on this record to focus on more personal topics. Certainly, the band had some interesting things to deal with during the writing and recording process, like Claudio Sanchez's home being turned into a marijuana grow-op by a family who rented their country home while Claudio and his wife were renting a New York apartment (probably an inspiration for the lines "When the fear's too big, our apartment's too small/Where's my life-saver when I'm screaming danger?"), and there have likely been other things to deal with like the birth of Claudio's son, Atlas Hendrix Sanchez. A lot of the lyrics on the record seem to deal with topics like inadequacy, love, fear, and sadness. Certainly, Claudio had a lot of negativity to release with this record.
Vocally, Claudio's performance on this record is pretty good. He uses many different aspects of his voice from the sinister near-whispers of "Eraser" to the soft, low singing of "Colors," to his usual pop-rock-inflected voice that obviously grew from the screamo/post-hardcore scene of the early 2000s. There are even brief moments of that screamo-style harsh vocal in "Here to Mars" which might seem a bit like a throwback to the band's earlier albums.
Overall Impression — 7
After some mixed results with their past few albums, trying new sounds, and sinking deeper into their story line, it somehow feels refreshing to hear this band break out of the mold a little and return to form with a much more pop-influenced record. In a way, it almost feels like this record is a bit of a return to form, though it might not resonate as well with those who were fans of the "Afterman" records over their early material. At times, the album almost gets generic, and you kind of wish for some attachment to the "Amory Wars" story line or some kind of guitar solo or something like that. But the album as a whole has many good, bright moments, and once in a while they still remind you that they're keen to continue pushing their own boundaries and write in many different moods. While this album is most certainly not their most creatively engaging, and it doesn't have the catchiest material of their entire career, it's still a very good release from the band, and the immediacy of the music certainly caught my attention better than any other release they've put out in the past few years.