The saga continues…and continues. Seeking to fill in the gaps in their long-running band persona storyline, concept prog rockers Coheed and Cambria this week released The Afterman: Descension, the “part 2” to The Afterman: Ascension released last year.
Let’s face it: creating a concept band around a fictional narrative can get complicated. First of all, the longer the story behind the band moves forward, new fans have to invest an increasing amount of time and energy catching up with the story line, rather than just enjoying the music itself. Second…stories eventually need resolution—an ending. A story can only go so far before it needs to start wrapping up; otherwise, you don’t really have a story—you have a soap opera. The longer you keep trying to milk the narrative, the greater the risk of losing your audience (or at least capping it off).
All this to say, consider the fact that Coheed and Cambria have been doing this for twelve years. Granted, they’ve gone out of their way to make sure fans are following the story (a sci-fi saga called The Armory Wars, written by front man Claudio Sanchez), and have even developed graphic novels to accompany the progression. It’s a great concept which is reportedly even going to become a full-length movie, and the fact that C&C have been able to carry it this long says something about their longevity. But no matter how interesting the story, or how interesting the music (which both are), eventually you’ll stop reaching people if you outlast their interest. And while The Afterman: Descension certainly meets the musical standards of their earlier work, I can’t help but wonder if the band itself is at their tipping point.
So let’s forget the story line for a moment, and just focus on the music. It’s good. Really good. Progressive rock is an interesting genre because of its complex rhythms and chord changes, but even on a prog rock album the songs can start running together. That’s not the case with The Afterman: Descension. By keeping a wide dynamic range (as opposed to keeping all the amps turned to 11), and by varying the styles a bit, Coheed and Cambria have created an album that (musically speaking, at least) can easily hold your attention from beginning to end. The opening track “Pretelethal” sets the tone, building slowly from soft and ethereal to loud and epic, and moments of reflection are tastefully sprinkled among the louder passages. There’s even a song in there that could pass for indie-rock (“Number City”). Taking this album simply on its own, it’s great rock music, period. It’s just that the songs are designed to draw the listener into the story—and with a twelve-year progression now, that may be too long of a journey for some to take.
The upshot is that we’re looking at a fantastic rock band that has made a terrific rock record. In my view, nothing derogatory can be said about Coheed and Cambria’s collective talent or creativity, nor about the quality of their new album. The potential downfall here is the vehicle itself—a story line that has now lasted more than a decade. If you’re just getting started with Coheed and Cambria, you’ll find The Afterman: Descension to be a great listen. If listening makes you want to know more…just be prepared to do your homework.