Sunday With George: Coheed and Cambria- The Afterman: Descension

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I had two introductions to Coheed and Cambria’s music— 3 years apart from each other.

My first introduction was in 2009. Partly by chance, “The Willing Well III: Apollo II: The Telling Truth,” made its presence known to me.

I was pretty much head over heels, though I didn’t do anything about it.

There have been a few instances in my life where something like this has happened. I’ll hear a song that I love so very much, and because it’s so great, I’m somewhat terrified to seek out anything else by that artist or band, lest it not be as good.

Over the year’s there’s been, “No Cigar,” by Millencolin, this particular version of, “Strong Persuader,” by Robert Cray, and “The Visitors” by Hamza El Din.

Coheed and Cambria seemed as though they’d be relegated to a similar fate, until I became friends with an outlaw from rural Wisconsin a couple of years later.

To be clear, my friend Jaid is not actually an outlaw, but he is big on, “raising hell” and “eat(ing) cornbread,” and a wonderful person. We went to college together, but we didn’t officially meet until we were both working on 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. He was driving delivery for Pizza Hut, and I was parking cars at a Mexican restaurant.

He’d become one of my best friends, and I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun as I did while living in Minneapolis had I not met him.

In any case, in addition to being friends, the two of us formed a very short-lived guitar duo, a few months before he moved down to New Orleans. One of our tunes is below, with him playing rhythm and me playing lead:

Before we got to recording our songs, we had a routine, that would involve us chilling on my screened-in porch, and listening to whatever songs he deemed worthy of our time that day.

Usually, he wouldn’t say anything before plugging his iPod in, but one day it was different.

As he made his way into the apartment, he said something to the effect of, “now, I want to play you this band today, but you’re gonna have to trust me.”

As I was on board with about 90% of what he played, I remember being alright with that, but I also kinda pestered him for more information, as he’d never offered a disclaimer before.

He eventually gave in, and said, “alright, it’s Coheed and Cambria.”

I recall moaning and groaning because of what I’d mentioned earlier about being afraid to listen to anything else by them, but I rolled with it.

He put on, “Time Consumer,” and something about music fundamentally changed for me, hearing it for the first time.

A likely assortment of my thoughts, in that moment:

– These lyrics don’t make any sense, but this dude can sing.

– There are DOG WHISTLE, S-Q-U-E-A-L-I-N-G pinch harmonics in here, and that’s all I care about in life.

– This is devastatingly beautiful.

– Is this kind of some emo shit?

– Is it okay for me to like, “scene,” music?

– Angsty high schoolers probably bump this out in Prior Lake.

– Fuck the Minneapolis suburbs.

– I have family and friends from the suburbs.

– I guess some of the suburbs are okay.

– This is really, really, good.

I wish I remember more about what we recorded that afternoon, but I don’t.

If you’re reading, Jaid, thanks for this, if I’ve never said so before.

I was going to write about, “The Second Stage Turbine Blade,” as a whole, but I’m going to talk about “The Afterman: Descension”, instead, because it’s the first album of theirs that came across my radar independent of anything else.

It features a number of my favorite songs by the band, and start-to-finish, it’s just a really strong statement by the band.

Off the rip, I’d like to make a disclaimer that I’m not really going to attempt to get into the band’s lyrics for the most part, nor will I talk about the ongoing “Armory Wars” story. I don’t understand it, and my one friends who’s followed it more closely than I, said it was essentially, a Christianity allegory.

The album kicks off in earnest, with its second song, “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant.”

It contains any number of Coheed hallmarks:

– Impassioned, alternately ferocious and crooning vocals from lead singer Claudio Sanchez.

– Acoustic guitar that manages to jump out from under a maelstrom of crunch.

– Drumming that has a hefty bit of swag for a, “metal,” band.

– A 4/4 time signature, that sounds mathier than that.

“The Hard Sell”, follows, and it’s a fine piece of music, but its guitar parts also doesn’t sound unlike, “Prayer,” by Disturbed in certain sections, so there’s that.

“Number City” is a much more upbeat offering, that personally brings to mind, a mix of Bruno Mars, and the music from the Casino stage of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

On the surface, that probably sounds bizarre at best, and unappetizing at worst, but it’s actually pretty magnificent. There are some really wonderful horns in mix, and a back-mixed Moog (?) towards the end that could ruin the song, but thankfully they don’t.

“Gravity’s Union” follows, and it’s the first of two masterpieces found on the album.

Like most of the music that Coheed makes, it’s an ear-candy song, best listened to with headphones. On the verge of going overboard in the early choruses, it never crosses that line.

Persistent, in its pummeling nature, the song is a death march towards the 3:49, and then, 5:03, which is likely the aural equivalent of someone literally having their nose slapped off.

One of the better beatdowns that the band has recorded, featuring chanted background vocals, searing Robert Fripp-worthy guitar leads, and a caustic, final gasp from Claudio as the song comes to a close.

Naturally, this segues into the lovely, “Away We Go.”

A sunny piece of music that sounds like a distant cousin to My Chemical Romance’s, “Summertime,” from three years earlier, it’s a pallet cleanser, and just a lot of fun.

“Iron Fist” follows, moving into even lighter territory, complete with electronic flourishes, fretless(?) bass, and glitchy effects. It’s fine, but I feel as though its only purpose is to lull listeners into a false sense of security, before they get flattened by the next song.

“Dark Side of me” is the album’s penultimate track, and second masterpiece.

It’s one of those rare pieces of music that is friendly enough to succeed on the radio, but also a damn fine piece of legit music, not unlike Miguel’s, “Coffee,” or, Deftones’, “Digital Bath.”

While masterful, it’s also a sorrowful piece of music. At low points in my effort to find balance in an artist’s life, I saw myself in the lyrics— throwing myself at my art, then throwing myself at the wrong woman, watching my relationship to one (or both) blow up, retreating back into my art, and then repeating the cycle.

It can come across as a bleak look at love to be sure, but there’s healing in it. A brutally honest look at what doesn’t work, I see it as challenging the listener to find better solutions, if they too are struggling.

Kindly, the album ends on a very true, and optimistic note with, “2’s my Favorite 1”, a really heartfelt profession of love and dedication.

The lyrics, at their best, are moving and true, almost poetic towards the end,

“Oh, this is her,

No regrets,

I embrace your defense,

Took the best,

You were my wish,

I admit that I will never feel,

No, I will never feel alone,

I stumbled in mighty tone,

Where the records spins around,

Please turn me over,

Find me into sleep,

Oh girl,

Please wait,

Bring me home”

In closing, I don’t know if I have anything really profound to say outside of the fact that this is the most personally endearing thing the band has done.

Re-visiting it with a nice breeze blowing through my window recalls wonderful friendships, the highlights of those summers in my mid-20s, and the joy that comes with realizing that I can put the album back into regular rotation.

Give it a shot, and hopefully, you’ll dig it too.

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