When a band announces that their next album will come in two parts, it would normally make me groan with despair that they’d gone too arty farty and were beginning to disappear up their own behinds. System of a Down had a go with Mesmerize and Hypnotize, the former being a great success, the later a lackluster follow up. Green Day are going the whole hog with a trilogy, the first of which ¡Uno! was recently released to generally favourable reviews, however we will need to wait to see if the trilogy was worthwhile or just a huge PR stunt.
Now when that band is Coheed and Cambria, one of the most creative, inspiring and imaginative of the last decade, I sit up and take real notice and eagerly await the result, and so here we have the opening salvo, The Afterman: Ascension. The big question is, is Ascension the beginning of a masterpiece or should I have feared the worst after all?
Well as a double album set goes I can’t say for sure until we get part two, but the good news is that Ascension is an extremely worthwhile addition to the Coheed and Cambria catalogue, even if it is a little short clocking in at only 39 minutes long. As per all previous releases it ties into the mythology of The Amory Wars, but is an early prequel focusing on Sirius Amory and his discovery of the energy of the Keywork. This is largely irrelevant unless you’re a fan of the story mind you, so feel free to cast it aside while you listen, however I feel there’s a lot of spirit of a prequel in the music.
Opening with a short character/instrumental piece that riffs on the time skip motif refrain used in the early albums, it quickly gives way to one of the monsters of the album, “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute“. An absolute beast of a track, this is exactly what I’ve come to love about Coheed and Cambria blending marvellous vocal, great musicianship and audio theatrics into one perfectly formed whole. It feels to me a lot like No World For Tomorrow era Coheed and is very welcome in my book as I consider that album one of the best.
Following tracks “The Afterman” and “Mothers of Men” are both decent tracks with a familiarity about them without sounding like retreads, but then comes “Goodnight, Fair Lady”. I’m wondering if Claudio Sanchez forgot everything he’s ever written in the past or if this is an extremely clever deliberate thematic nod to the previous releases or future of the story depending on your perspective, as it sounds like the offspring of “Once Upon Your Dead Body” and “The Suffering” from Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV. It’s a very good tune, but that’s probably mostly down to it sounding so much like two other very good tunes.
The following three tracks continue the “Key Entity Extraction” series that began with “Domino the Destitute”, focusing on three more characters; “Holly Wood the Cracked”, a decent if unremarkable song, “Vic the Butcher” which is also genetically similar to previous albums with a few small parts that reminded me of “The Broken” from Year of the Black Rainbow. The title again makes me wonder about the prequel nature considering its similarity to “Al the Killer” from Silent Earth 3′s “The Camper Velourium” suite. Finally we have “Evagria the Faithful”, the second longest song on the album. It’s a good track with the by now familiar elaborate musicality and matching vocal.
Closing the album is “Subtraction”, and odd tune that sounds glockenspiel like increasing in intensity toward the end and wrapping up the album rather well. As much as I enjoyed listening to The Afterman: Ascension, each time I reached the end of the album I was always left wanting more. What I don’t quite understand is if you’re going to produce a double album, why release a volume that’s effectively the same length as half an album? It’s left me feeling a little bit short changed. I also feel 3-4 mins is far too short for the average Coheed song outside of the catalogue tracks that have been released as singles or are good for radio airplay.
I should be clear though in stating that I’m in no way disappointed by the music on offer. Ascension is a hugely entertaining album albeit a brief one, and I’m considerably more eager to hear Descension than I am miffed that part one is so short. I sincerely hope that the finale of the prequel will live up to its older twin, though I’m sure we’re in safe hands considering the prestige of the back catalogue plus the fact we’ve already heard an acoustic rendition of the climax of the “Key Entity Extraction” series, “Sentry The Defiant” which you can see below as a teaser.