Formed out of the ashes of several other projects (such as Toxic Parents, Beautiful Loser, and Shabütie) roughly twenty years ago, New York quartet Coheed and Cambria fuse styles like progressive rock, post-hardcore, pop, and folk into relentlessly catchy and complex amalgams. Their trademark blend apocalyptic guitar riffs, frantic percussion, contagious hooks, and theatrical vocals have cemented the band as one of the most thrilling, reliable, ambitious, and idiosyncratic acts of its era.
Of course, a major reason why so many fans are drawn to the quartet’s discography is the Amory Wars storyline, an overarching sci-fi saga that links each of Coheed and Cambria’s previous seven LPs (in fact, the group is named after two if its central characters). With it, mastermind Claudio Sanchez had crafted a masterful epic, with arguably its most beloved entry, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Considering that this device has been such an integral part of what Coheed and Cambria is, few listeners would ever expect the foursome to abandon it, if only momentarily.
However, that’s exactly what he’s done on the newest collection, The Color Before the Sun. An attempt to demonstrate his ability to “[expose] his raw feelings, narrated from his own perspective” rather than through the façade of a fictional character (like the protagonist of The Amory Wars, Claudio Kilgannon) the record nevertheless packs both the themes (such as love, fear, responsibility, and destiny) and sonic tapestries diehard devotees have come to expect. This is both a blessing and a curse, though; despite its disconnection from the aforementioned gimmick, The Color Before the Sun sounds like an emblematic Coheed and Cambria record, so it’s simultaneous quite enjoyable and familiar.
Although it’s not an aural blockbuster like “Welcome Home,” “No World for Tomorrow,” or “Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute”, “Island” is still a killer way to start the album. It begins with a simple yet enticing guitar pattern, which gives way to a straightforward rock arrangement while angelic harmonies whisper, “Get off the island” repeatedly. From there, Sanchez delivers sleek, anthemic melodies over biting riffs and restrained yet dynamic syncopation. Like many of the band’s best material, “Island” is persistently engaging and exciting, forcing its way into your head and never fully leaving.
Another highlight is “Colors,” which follows an accustomed Coheed and Cambria blueprint: stilted verses and muted notes giving way to lovely, expansive choruses. Its central hook—“And when the world comes crashing down / Don’t make a move, don’t make a sound / Just watch it fall, watch it come down / Feel it as it goes / Does it feel good to let go?”— certainly evokes the sentiments of previous Amory Wars’ catastrophe, yet its freeing vibe makes it feel fresh anyway. Likewise, “Ghost” feels like a stripped-down sibling to “Pearl of the Stars,” as Sanchez sings in his softer and lower register over acoustic guitar fingerpicking and ethereal sound effects. Nonetheless, it’s effectively emotional and haunting, with an earnest and delicate beauty in both its lyrics and music.
Without a doubt, “You Got Spirit, Kid” is one of the most upbeat and fun songs Coheed and Cambria has ever done. In a way, it recalls the directness evident on In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, yet it’s more colorful and poppy (and better produced, of course), with background cheering suggesting a preppy ‘80s teen movie vibe. Afterward, “The Audience” is a total change of pace, as it’s easily the full-length’s most sinister and bombastic track (complete with its proggiest guitar riff). Sanchez’s token antagonistic, ominous tone permeates the piece, which provides subtle meta-commentary on both the Amory Wars and Coheed and Cambria’s fanbase. (Take, for example, lyrics like “This is my audience / Forever and together, burning star. Cut from the same disease . . .” and “This is the story of a boy who lost his way . . . his courage lost . . .”). Although it’s familiar, it’s still awesome.
The Color Before the Sun concludes in typical fashion too, as “Peace to the Mountain” begins gently and evolves with hypnotic momentum into a catchy explosion of poetic thoughts and luscious orchestration. The band has always had a knack for plucking listeners’ heartstrings by combining sincere sentiments and gorgeous arrangements, and the final moments of this one, during which layered chants of “Peace to the mountain, girl / I’m gonna go” are matched by swelling strings, horns, and stampeding percussion, exemplify this perfectly. It’s awe-inspiring.
Despite its strengths, some of The Color Before the Sun inarguably sounds a bit run-of-the-mill and unmotivated. For instance, “Eraser” is your standard aggressive rocker, and it fails to standout in any way (well, other than the striking similarity its chorus shares with that of “Made out of Nothing”). Later on, “Here to Mars,” in addition to sounding like “Here We Are Juggernaut,” is a bit too clichéd lyrically. It’s a decent track overall, but it doesn’t surprise, and Sanchez has undoubtedly written stronger ballads (such as “Wake Up,” “Pearl of the Stars,” and especially “The Light & The Glass”).
It may sound silly to fault an album for not doing what it was never meant to do, but the lack of an epic scope and a more seamless sequence (although several of the songs have intriguing transitions) surely makes The Color Before the Sun feel less significant and magnificent than many of its predecessors. That, coupled with the aforementioned familiarity, results in a slightly underwhelming statement overall; however, the album does reveal its charms with repeatedly listens, and there are certainly many standout moments scattered throughout. All in all, The Color Before the Sun doesn’t come close to matching Coheed and Cambria’s greatest achievements, but it’s a very worthwhile journey in its own right, and most fans will still find plenty to adore.