There’s an ambitious new album full of grandiose, apocalyptic visions performed by talented rock musicians who also employ electronic trickery to ultimately craft elaborate adventures in theatrical melodrama. And this time it ain’t Muse. It is in fact American prog rockers, Coheed & Cambria with their sixth studio record.

The Afterman: Ascension is the first of a double album (the second, Descension, is due out in February) and this is the latest instalment in the group’s science fiction series, The Amory Wars. The latter is an epic, sci-fi fantasy set in an alternate universe where a tyrannical dictator reigns with an iron fist. Here, our lead character is Sirius Amory, a much-lauded astronomer and scientist who discovers a unique energy force that binds together 78 planets from this strange world.

The lyrics – just like the music – are full of depth and breadth as the band forces us to stop and think because through this saga we will learn about how having different priorities can cause the important things in life to slip from your grasp. It’s a significant and mature theme, one influenced at least in part by events that have occurred in frontman, Claudio Sanchez’s life. This ultimately makes it feel like a very detailed and human experience that has been effectively realised because it grapples with the full complexities of human emotions.

The Ascension also sees a change to the band’s line-up as drummer, Josh Eppard has returned to the fold (he had previously left the group in 2005) and there is also the addition of new bass player, Zach Cooper. This change to the grouping means the band sounds fresh and as if they are itching to move forward, experimenting but not shunning the old. This is especially apparent with the inclusion of more ballads and electronics than on their previous works and this additional layer of variety adds extra spice to an already polished-set from an accomplished and experimental group.

‘The Hollow’ includes some ambient piano music to help set the stage. It is eerie and works at being a tad unsettling while also staying rooted to a future time period. Single, ‘Domino The Destitute’ follows with guitars that tease with an exotic flavour before they bite and create a more typical hard-rock sound, as the boys invite us into a dark world that seems like the antithesis of utopia.

The title track is full of the kind of melodic guitarwork that fans will recognise from their previous efforts but with enough punch and added goodness to keep things interesting. On ‘Mothers Of Men’ one of the group’s influences, Pink Floyd, immediately springs to mind as Sanchez sings about: “Another cog in the wheel”, sure it ain’t a brick but it’s still as heavy.

Some prog metal continues into ‘Holly Wood The Cracked’ while ‘Vic The Butcher’ is all urgency, angst and powerful moments that combine to form a blinding fury. It’s a very different feel to the softer and more redemptive tale in ‘Evagria The Faithful’. The latter has a relaxed vibe that carries forward into the electronic-like pop of ‘Subtraction’, which subsequently closes with some ebbs and flows from what is essentially a computer game soundtrack.

The Afterman:Ascension feels like half the story is told and cut off at that crucial moment where you know a plot twist is inevitable and you’re hanging by the edge of your seat. It is a complex and dark beast that is expansive, energetic and multi-faceted. It’s another fine instalment from these prog rock powerhouses who are also confident enough to mix things up by seguing off into pop and punk rock territories. So let us all pause and reflect as we await the make-or-break second act.

Originally published on 5 November 2012 at the following website:

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