Coheed & Cambria
Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
The other day my daughter and I were killing some time before picking up some schwarma for dinner, so we popped into the local CD store (called non-ironically, "The Compact Disc Store" a hold over form when it was a boutique for the things when they were new) a place that has everything for everyone: a resident cat for her to chase around, a rumored full size washer and dryer in the back for the use of the employees, making it the ultimate slacker dream job and pretty much the most extensive selection in the area. As I was rounding her up, I spied a stack of Coheed and Cambria shirts that the staff was giving away, so me being the cheap bastard I am, couldn't turn it down. And lame as I am, I wore it the next day. That evening I had an interview to do for another of these writing concerns and time to kill before a show later, and on my sojourn around the coffee shops and whatnot in between no less than 3 random dudes came by me and went "COHEEEEEEED!" to me in acknowledgement for my apparently astute taste. I feared their collective retribution if I had told them I'd never actually heard the band before, so I high tailed off to Barnes and Noble and used their preview-o-matic to see what exactly I was promoting on my free shirt. Was it a Christian band? A white supremacist cult? Canadians?
The answer was even more strange: They are a whole cottage industry consisting of graphic novels and an implausibly awesome progressive emo band, revolving around an epic tale of two gods, Coheed and Cambria, that die in their first album The Second Stage Turbine Blade and their son, whose narration takes sonic form in singer Claudio Sanchez's shocking falsetto (my wife walked though and said "That woman kinda sounds like Ashlee Simpson"). I at first feared them trying to be the new Pink Floyd, but as I made it through Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, I realized that they were maybe the new Rush, or even more appropriately, the new Styx. In a good way, I swear. I won't even try to dissect the mythology as it progresses through Good Apollo as one rather excited guy did at the bar that night upon spying the giant "IV" on my shirt attempted to do. Instead I'll give you a hearty COHEEEEEEEEED and work through the play by play of sheer awesomeness.
It opens with the string and piano etude "Keeping The Blade" sounding for all the world like a better version of the they-are - finally-having-sex music in a Merchant Ivory production, segueing perfectly in the acoustic number "Always and Never" which is half 80's hair metal tender moment, half Zeppelin low key workout and all beautiful. Sanchez adopts a whispered delivery here that does not prepare you adequately for his Geddy Lee squeal from Valhalla amidst the power chords and unabashed solos of "Welcome Home." I was cleaning the house while listening to this for the first time, and honestly had to resist the urge to play air guitar on my Swiffer. It has that epic sweep, that cocksure Rosetta-Stone-carver swagger to it that you can't find anymore. "Ten Speed (of God's Blood and Burial)" has a choir of Sanchezes interlacing over a more prog version of their post Rush rock splendour. Already I can see why this inspires the degree of worship it does. This shit rules, in the ancient sense. He has the presence of a Robert Plant while the guitarist Travis Stever provides the kinds of wizardry that can get the most jaded among us reliving our best tennis-racket-as-axe moments. They do the prog thing perfectly, never trading in the song for complexity's sake. In fact, in doing research for this, there appears to be much dismay about them abandoning their emo roots and moving to a major label, but fuck a bunch of that. No emo band worth their salty tears will even own up to being emo, and let some of Big Music's gold be spent on something awesome instead of insipid for a change.
"Crossing the Flame" and "Apollo I: The Writing Writer" traverse some of the same interplanetary battlefields as the previous track, to arrive at a mellower number "One Upon Your Dead Body." Personally, the mellower numbers are the ones that remind me of Styx's power rock moments, and actually make the album tick. Sure, I know you are thinking the unfortunate "Mr Roboto" when I mention Styx, but don't forget about the day when Dennis DeYoung ruled every skating rink and Trans Am with unstoppable songs like "Come Sail Away." You might laugh at it while your friends are around, but experience it in private, and you cannot deny its ruling-ness. Don't even try.
Then there are sweet numbers like "Wake Up" that will take you back to that slow dance at that school dance with that certain girl when you kissed in the gym and all was perfect for a glorious glowing moment. Power tracks "The Suffering" (which clues me in to the emo history of the band) and complex rocker "The Lying Lies and Dirty Secrets of Miss Erica Carter" and an oddball track "Mother May I" (that reminds me of the Police in their post-ska/pre-shit new wave rock heyday) save this from being a slow jam mush fest.
So these guys have done all the poses at this part: the ballads, the full on rockers, the arty numbers, the only thing left is the Magnum Fucking Opus In Four Parts. Its a beautiful moment in rock taxonomy to have "Willing Well: I - IV" on an album that is part IV, volume 1 of some larger pentology of mythic scope. Part I "Fuel For the Feeding End" kicks in the door after some synth noodling, while II "Fear Through The Eyes of Madness" curiously and successfully sashays in a swinging beat like old school Rush songs used to. "Apollo II: The Telling Truth" twists and turns around some punchy drum work and lyrical acrobatics to bring us to part IV "The Final Cut" One cannot but help think this a self-depricating title, bearing the same name as the last Pink Floyd album worth listening to, but whatever. Its a refreshing slow miasma of an endless cosmic riff after the steadily brisk pace of the bulk of the album.
What can I say? I think I tend to agree with the legions of people that felt the need to come up to a total stranger and extol the virtues of Coheed and Cambria to me the other night. They eschew just about all the indie rock trappings, and even the current ones of metal and create something complex and beautiful and immediate and timeless. The stuff is so unabashedly Rush and Styx power rock that you cannot justify this in any hipster construct. It embodies almost everything that you as an indie rock fan have fought tirelessly and rightfully against, and yet this thing will get its tendrils around you like some sort of day-glo octopus on an obscure Hipgnosis-designed album cover and squeeze a resounding "COHEEEEEED" out of you to all that will hear it.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com