I was not ready.
I’ve been giddy for this album to be released since The Afterman: Ascension came out back in October. I’ve been hitting up YouTube at least once a day for the last two weeks to listen to their Conan performance of lead single, “Dark Side of Me.” I thought I knew what was coming.
I was wrong.
Coheed and Cambria have released their seventh (or, as the second part of a double album, is it six-part-two-th?) studio album, The Afterman: Descension. You might recall that I praised Ascension for showing some restraint. Descension reverses that trend with a vengeance. This is the grandest and most ambitious that Claudio and company have ever sounded.
Whereas C&C have always worn their influences on their collective sleeve, you would usually have to listen carefully to pick them out, the odd goo goo g’joob aside. Descension plays almost like a laundry list of shout-outs – the stranger, the better. The album leads off with a very Bowieesque track, “Pretelethal,” which is at once strange and mournful. That segues into the final Key Entity Extraction, “Sentry the Defiant,” a trademark C&C number. Next comes “The Hard Sell,” which brings the ’80s funk during the verses and explodes into the choruses. “Number City” is Nine Inch Nails mashed-up with disco, then adding some Phil Collins horns. All of C&C’s influences are on bold display here: Pink Floyd, The Beatles – you name it.
The masterstroke is that they take all of these disparate pieces and make them their own. On my first listen through, I was baffled by the sheer number and eclectic-ness of the bits and bobs I was hearing. By the second listen, I was wishing I had taken notes, because the songs were now simply sounding like Coheed and Cambria. All of the bizarre decisions made sense and fit into their oeuvre.
The Afterman: Descension is, as I mentioned, the second part of a double album and, as such, it wraps up the story of Sirius (still pronounced “Cyrus”) Amory. I’ve since done a bit of reading on what’s going on here, and it really adds some depth and poignancy to the proceedings. On Ascension, Amory was investigating the Keywork, a power source that turned out to be something of an afterlife, housing the souls of the dead (the “Key Entities”). Some of these entities (Domino the Destitute, Holly Wood the Cracked, and Vic the Butcher) possessed/attacked him, leaving him without a way home. One offered protection (Evagria the Faithful), shielding him from further attacks. Sirius and the All-Mother (his suit’s AI) were stranded in the Keywork, and Sirius mourned the fact that it appeared that he would never see his wife again.
Descension opens in this mourning. Sirius is then jettisoned towards home as Sentry the Defiant rescues him and assists in his escape. A brief conversation between Sirius and the All-Mother reveals that Sirius has been trapped for the better part of two years. Arriving home, nearly dead, Sirius finds that his wife, presuming him dead, has moved on and found love with another. He doesn’t take it well. As she is telling him the news, they are involved in a grisly automobile accident. He survives, she doesn’t. As the driver, he places the blame on himself. The album ends with Sirius headed back to the Keywork to find his wife’s soul and be/join with it. As my daughter (and fellow C&C fan) says, “This story is saaaaaad, Dad.” And it is. Taken as a whole, The Afterman is several sad stories of broken lives, told within the framework of a heartbreaking tale of love and selfishness and loss.
The tale is expertly told, though. The band is truly exceptional here, juggling the many schizophrenic pieces and never dropping one. The scope and ambition of this undertaking would crush a lesser band. Thankfully, rather than a Use Your Illusion, where there are a few highlights in amongst the wreckage of ego, we get The Wall, an epic work of musical and storytelling genius. There was a time where I doubted that Claudio would be able to continue this tale beyond the core Amory Wars Saga. Now, I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.
The only grey lining on my silver cloud is that there is most likely not another album following in another five months.