An extremely satisfying—if a bit too familiar—conclusion to Coheed and Cambria's latest story arc.
After releasing the disappointingly stagnant final entry/first chapter (don’t ask) in their five-part “Amory Wars” saga, Year of the Black Rainbow, in 2009, many fans wondered what progressive rock/pop troupe Coheed and Cambria would do next. Considering that the group’s namesake comes from the story, it would seem out of place for them to release anything that wasn’t thematically connected to the same fictional universe. Last year, the group finally put rumors to rest when they announced their next project, The Afterman. Broken into two records, the narrative revolves around Dr. Sirius Amory and his relationship with the Keywork, the cluster of worlds in which the original storyline took place. With this declaration, singer/guitarist/mastermind Claudio Sanchez made one thing clear -- the tale of Coheed and Cambria (the characters) may have ended, but there’s still plenty more to explore within the mythology.
Last October, the group released the first part of the project, The Afterman: Ascension, and it received plenty of praise from critics and fans alike. Specifically, many listeners felt that the group displayed a level of melodic prowess, energetic musicianship, dynamic arrangements, and overall freshness that was missing on Year of the Black Rainbow (as well as No World for Tomorrow, to some extent). Needless to say, expectations were high for its follow-up, and now that it’s here, well, it doesn’t dissatisfy too much. Even though it feels too safe and formulaic at times, Descension nonetheless packs a catchy and complex punch.
The album picks up right after Ascension, as the lost souls of the Keywork prepare to break through Evagria and capture the Afterman, who would lose everything as a result. “Pretelethal” starts things off with your typical Coheed sound -- forceful guitar riffs complemented by equally bold percussion and emotionally charged melodies. Lyrics like “Who will repair this broken heart” are sung with a lot of pain. Following its predecessor’s defensive, forlorn quality is “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant", which introduces another character with multilayered musical offense. Sanchez nearly strains his voice as the instrumentation erupts around him, and the track ends by continuing the solemn narration from the previous record. Truthfully, while these songs contain the group’s trademark apocalyptic powerfulness, they fail to measure up to previous kickstarters like “Welcome Home", “No World for Tomorrow", and even Ascension’s brilliant “ Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute", which is disappointing.
The most invigorating, interesting, and unique track on The Afterman: Descension is almost inarguably "Number City". Its funky bass lines, disco-esque rhythms, stylized guitar playing, and surprising inclusion of horns makes it a substantially atypical track in the band’s discography (which isn’t to imply that it doesn’t sound like them at all; it definitely does). The track also features the LP’s most addicting chorus; in fact, it’s probably one of the group’s catchiest. Finally, its seamless segue into the violent “Gravity’s Union” is a masterful touch.
“Away We Go” and “Iron Fist” are essentially your standard Coheed and Cambria ballads; the former comes with poppy harmonies, while the latter features some of the band’s best acoustic guitar arpeggios. That being said, they’re too by-the-books; they’re serviceable enough, but they don’t really stand out. Album closer “2’s My Favorite 1” is fast paced and conclusive, exuding more pleasing falsetto harmonies and a ton of passion. Sanchez certainly plucks a few heartstrings when he sings the following poignant words: "No regrets. I embrace your defects to confess you were my every wish / I admit that I will never feel alone once I call you home." Also, the final moments reflect the opening moments of Ascension, which brings the concept full circle and serves as an effective finale.
Despite its flaws (namely, that some of it is too typical and superficial), The Afterman: Descension is still highly impressive. Although there’s an undeniable sense of sameness throughout (which could be said of all of their releases, but it feels especially transparent here), repeated listenings reveal enough appealing and impressive nuances to make the record very worthwhile. It doesn’t quite measure up to its immediate predecessor, but it’s not far off, and taken as a whole, The Afterman is easily one of the best things the group has ever done.