Music Reviews
The Afterman: Descension

Coheed and Cambria The Afterman: Descension

(Everything Evil / Hundred Handed Inc.) Rating - 3/10

Alright, I’m going to completely skip the pleasantries and just get right at this. As a longtime fan of Coheed & Cambria, I really, really hated The Afterman: Ascension. In fact, if you ask me (which if you’re still reading this, you sort of are) the band has been in a tailspin decline since the muddled, over-thought Year Of The Black Rainbow. Yet here I find myself once again at Jack’s Music Shoppe in Redbank, NJ forking over my hard earned $11.99 for an album that I know will let me down. Hell, I bought the last album here too, not to mention my $60 purchase of the deluxe box set version of YOTBR from the band’s website (complete with poorly written Sci-Fi novel!). The cashier, Billy, hands me my change and receipt as I silently mourn the cash I’ve just jettisoned out into the ether of Neilson SoundScan. Yeah, I’ve been through the wringer with this band, yet here I am walking out of the store with this record as my sole purchase.

Why? Why do I compulsively cycle through the same process if I already know the results will be phenomenally less than lackluster? I can only equate this to a similar feeling I had while waiting in line for Revenge Of The Sith. I had already sat through two miserable prequels, and there I was, the first person to hand over my tiny allowance and stand in line for another shit show. I remember repeating to myself over and over again, “As long as it has space wizards with light-swords and laser blasters, I’m satisfied.” As much as I tried to live within that mantra and believe in my own nonsense, I never fully shook the feeling that I had just wasted precious time on something that only further separated myself from the initial child-like wonder I had for those movies.

In a sense, lead singer and principle songwriter Claudio Sanchez is the George Lucas of my adolescent musical taste. Sanchez managed to weave intricate tales of galactic crisis, not at all dissimilar from those of the Lucas movies, with technical guitar noodling and angst ridden lyrics that could so easily appeal to my 13 year-old self. These stories not only ended with the lead-characters saving the universe, but voluntarily destroying it afterwards -- what could possibly be more attractive to an overweight, junior high school nerd? Even better, every album seemed to mark a large step forward for the band’s progressive pop-punk sound -- meshing tight production with vibrant instrumental hooks. I was, and apparently still am, hopelessly addicted to Coheed & Cambria.

Now a days my relationship with this band is more-so based around my boundless nostalgia for my early to mid teenage years. However, as much as I’d like to listen to their new albums and recapture those feelings, it’s simply not possible. Not only do I realize that this is a completely inaccessible place frozen within the confines of a particular time, but I also recognize this as an incredibly destructive tendency that can only serve to withhold the band from further development. Unfortunately, this is the precise pitfall that the band currently finds themselves in. 

That being said, Coheed’s massive, cult fan base has sort of asked for this -- demanding nothing more than a “return to form,” usually entailing some sort of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3 part II. For a moment, imagine if this was the case with any other band. Imagine if Radiohead repeatedly made the same Pablo Honey to the nagging applause of a large contingent of short-minded fanboys, never quite allowing themselves to experiment with a Kid A sound. That’s not to compare Radiohead and Coheed & Cambria as similar bands, or even to suggest the band should make an album similar to Kid A, but it’s a given that the best bands go through a long, possibly never-ending development process.

By playing it safe and giving the fans exactly what they want, Coheed & Cambria have successfully delivered two of the most predictable, mundane albums I’ve ever heard. Both Away We Go and 2‘s My Favorite 1 sound like different variations on the same light, airy pop of Feathers, the hit-single off of No World For Tomorrow. On Dark Side Of Me, we again find the band exploring familiar territory -- their take on a power ballad, not far from the dramatic chorus of Here We Are Juggernaut or the cascading build of Mother Superior. While I’ll admit that this is definitely an improvement since last album, both of those songs are still leaps and bounds better than this one. I also can’t help but see the irony in Sanchez’s lyrics on The Hard Sell. You’re selling out to be in!, he sings ad nauseam, almost as if he was really rebelling against some sort of monolithic industry presence, when in fact, the band is now on their own indie label. However, in a sense, he’s doing exactly that -- giving into some eschewed expectation of homogenized, “classic” Coheed songwriting for a quick cash-in on fans’ nostalgia. 

The album’s one and only highlight, Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry The Defiant sounds suspiciously similar to No World For Tomorrow -- if not in its seemingly borrowed riffs, at very least in overall presentation. Nonetheless, its still a decent enough song.... that is until the robot voices begin to chime in. Yes, the robot voices are back once again to eliminate any infinitesimal sense of ambiguity and further clarify that this is in fact a concept album. While I do feel the over-arching story-line that fuels Coheed & Cambria has become a bit dry in recent years, I really don’t find its presence to be totally offensive. However, the plethora of beep-boops and droid-speak that inhabit this album and its predecessor need to make a swift exit from the band’s sound if I’m ever to take them seriously again.

I think everyone hits a point with their favorite bands where they find it increasingly difficult to both musically and lyrically relate to whatever they’re trying to do. Rush fans have the their entire ‘80s catalogue, Beatles fans have the abundance of middle-aged McCartney albums, and for all we know some Coheed & Cambria fans will have whatever follows The Afterman. It may not sound like it, but I truly treasure everything this band has ever done. However, at some point you have got to just accept the situation for what it is and embrace those few essential albums with a heartwarming sense of gratitude. In Sanchez’s own words on Sentry The Defiant, Please accept this as my resignation, It's time to go.