Sound — 8
Coheed And Cambria marches forward (or in this case looks to the past) with their Armory Wars saga and expands its musical palette with the fifth studio album Year of the Black Rainbow. While the trademark Coheed style is never jettisoned, there is certainly a more dynamic sound that was likely aided by the sleek production skills of Atticus Ross (Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction) and Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age). While there aren't any songs that are experimentally over-the-top, Year of the Black Rainbow shines with its creative use of textures and not surprisingly Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever's guitar-god sensibility.
As a prequel to the Armory Wars story, Year of the Black Rainbow is a strong offering within Coheed's sci-fi series. It also marks a turning point for Coheed's career with the studio debut of drummer Chris Pennie, whose skills are put to good use thanks to a good deal of up-tempo tracks. In many ways, the story is told even more effectually with the additions of layered, futuristic sound effects. Tracks like Guns of Summer and Here We Are Juggernaut integrate samples/keyboard sounds that seem fit for the science fiction genre. To those who are now afraid that Coheed has delved into electronic, don't worry. The guitars always overshadow any digital beats.
Year of the Black Rainbow is driven by a more cinematic approach than previous albums in the Armory Wars series. Rather than the record immediately jumping into a random radio single, it is kicked off by One, a dramatic, almost haunting interlude that revolves around a quiet piano line. It's relatively short and sweet, but if anything it sets a mood. The next track The Broken features Sanchez/Stever's riff mastery, rich harmonies, and a variety of layered instrumentation. While plenty of tracks are driven by guitar work, The Broken and Guns of Summer are highlights because the leads and chugging rhythms carry the song from beginning to end.
Upon hearing the ominous opening riff in This Shattered Symphony, you might believe that Sanchez and Stever are channeling their inner Tony Iommi but the thrill is short-lived. Like many of the album's songs, the focus is more upon the core songwriting and the melodies delivered via the Sanchez's vocals. For as many energetic tracks as there are on Year of the Black Rainbow, the mellow Pearl of the Stars one of the most memorable. An acoustic-based ballad in the vein of the Prize Fighter Inferno, it features a lower vocal style from Sanchez that makes him sound like a completely different person. Production-wise, the clean sound allows the skillful musicianship to come to the forefront.
Lyrics — 9
It's difficult not to be engaged by the lyrical content because there is a dialogue-rich approach to most of the tracks. In lieu of typical rhyme schemes are intriguing conversations and topics that stray far away from the typical love/sex/anger themes that dominate so much of the rock world. Whether it's When Skeletons Live (She wheezes out her dying wish; Come closer one more moment; one more kiss) or Here We Are Juggernaut (We were stupid; We got caught; Nothing matters anymore; So what? Here we are Juggernaut), there is an action-oriented aspect that paints a vivid portrait.
Overall Impression — 8
The main complaint with Year of the Black Rainbow is that there are a few songs that tease with fleeting riffs. Sanchez and Stever have such a keen sense of a perfect rock riff, and it wouldn't hurt to let the lead work shine a little more often. Many will argue that the base melody is more important in the long run, and Year of the Black Rainbow isn't short on catchy tunes. While there aren't any songs that carry the effect of Welcome Home, the album is still a solid and often complex work of rock.