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HomeTechTell Review: The Afterman: Ascension by Coheed and Cambria

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New releases from favorite bands of mine generally fill me with musicsquee.  Coheed and Cambria is one of those bands.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with their music, Coheed and Cambria are, in essence, a concept band.  All of their albums tell the continuing story of the Amory Wars, which (spoiler alert!), technically, concluded two albums ago.  For the last two albums, ringleader/songwriter/singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez has cast the timeline backwards, telling prequel stories.  If you were to think that this “sticking to one fictional universe” thing is pretentious, you certainly wouldn’t be alone.

However, to fans, this pretention lends itself to some very grandiose, epic music.  Their albums are filled with long, multi-faceted… well, epics.  The concept is big and the music is big and even the quiet moments lend to this grand air of a long, detailed story.  The musicianship and songwriting are always first-rate, being led, as I said, by frontman Claudio Sanchez and second guitarist, Travis Stever.  The rhythm section has changed multiple times.  Not quite to the point of a Spinal Tap, but quite a bit.  The Afterman: Ascension sees the return of former drummer, Josh Eppard, and new bassist, Zach Cooper.

This album is by far the shortest of the band’s studio releases and, to me, it benefits from being scaled back.  While I unabashedly love this band with all of its pomp and grandeur, this release feels more personal.  Previous releases had epic ground to cover, bouncing back and forth between multiple characters with vastly different personalities and motivations.  Here, the story focuses on (mostly) Sirius (pronounced “Cyrus,” for some reason) Amory and his interactions with something or someone called “The All-Mother.”

I feel like I need to break aside at this point and make a confession: Though I keep referring to this grand, overarching story, I have no idea what it’s about.  I can tell that songs are sung from the points of view of different characters, etc., but I really don’t know what the whole story is. See, the music doesn’t contain all of the pieces, either, which may be part of the reason I’m lost.  Sanchez has released accompanying comics, coffee table books, and maybe even other media meant to fill in the story.  I don’t have any of this material.  And I don’t even care, really, because the music is so stinking good.

This album does feel a little less epic, though.  Certainly, some of the songs are huge in scope, as one would expect, but the overall tone of the album feels just a little less, and it absolutely benefits from it.  I felt that the previous album, Year of the Black Rainbow, tried just a bit too hard to “outdo” the previous albums, and it collapsed under its own weight.

I picked up the iTunes release of this one because it had bonus tracks.  One, “Homecoming,” is labelled as a bonus track, and fits very nicely as the album closer (even though it isn’t, really).  The other two tracks are demo versions of two of the album tracks, and are just Claudio (and, perhaps, Travis) and an acoustic guitar.  All of the drums are missing and very little production is used.  The tracks stand as testimony to the strength of the songwriting, sounding amazing without all of the “big-ness” added in.

This album is the first part of that other pretentious-music trope: the double-album.  The Afterman: Descension is to be released in February, 2013.  I can’t wait.

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