Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures [Album Review]

Coheed and Cambria are perhaps the most proggy that prog bands can be. How much more prog does it get? None more prog. With their ninth album, Coheed bring us the first of the planned five part Vaxis chapter. On their previous album, the band took a step away from their mammoth concept of The Amory Wars, a comic series penned by frontman and mastermind, Claudio Sanchez, following the characters Coheed and Cambria.

 

The preceding record, The Colour Before the Sun was something of an experiment for the quartet, and payed off greatly being the best album they had written since their classic – deep breath – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume I: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness. It’s almost a shame then that the New Yorkers have fallen back into this safety net. Regardless of the fact that it is part of what made them such an exciting proposition in their early years, they had become a band that could stray into new territories and explore bigger ideas. The Amory Wars’ storyline is as vast and unconquerable as 1940s Russia. Though the tale is not essential knowledge for enjoyment of the band, it could serve as a barrier to entry for new listeners. Its convoluted and esoteric nature – unless you’re willing to shell out for the graphic novels – leads to albums being, on occasion, overwritten. This fact certainly applies to Unheavenly Creatures.

 

The album clocks in at  a whopping 79 minutes and only one song falls beneath the five minute mark. It’s a release in desperate need of some fat-trimming. The album starts strong enough; the first single The Dark Sentencer, is a wonderfully dark and rocky journey setting the scene that is to unfold. In fact, it remains engaging for the majority of its running time. Toys and Love Protocol stand out in quality, and the string section on The Pavilion (A Long Way Back), lifts the song from merely pop-prog to an enrapturing piece. The whole album sounds fantastic.

 

Claudio Sanchez knows how to write captivating vocal melodies. His voice may be off putting to many listeners, as may his lilting delivery, but given a chance and your time he really shines. You’ll find yourself humming along by the end of most songs, although lyrically it doesn’t contain anything especially memorable. The same can be said of the guitar work: Claudio and Travis Stever both play proficiently, but there are next to no riffs that stick out as real belters. The rhythm section of drummer Josh Eppard, and bassist Zach Cooper, give it their all, but with a dearth of inspiring material, they barely  rise above being functional.

 

The album drags in its final third from Night Walkers onwards, and by finale, Lucky Stars, becomes as sickly saccharine as an artery full of treacle. If this cinematic story were put to film, it would be a modern day Disney release; an emotional journey, yes, but lacking in real substance. Long-time fans and devotees of the band will have a brilliant time with this album, especially those who know The Amory Wars’ story inside out. For the  more casual listener, it’s Coheed by numbers. Moments of brilliance dragged down by overwriting and a reluctance to say no.

 

Words by Sam Sleight

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