Running Down Past the Fence: A Quick Look at Coheed and Cambria

Photo by Colin Gordon via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Photo by Colin Gordon via Flickr
(CC BY-ND 2.0)

“Coheed and Cambria”. You say the name, and one of three things happens: You get this weird look from the person/people you are talking to, that one person (we all know one) says, “Oh my God, I love Welcome Home!” (and it’s the only song he/she knows), or you are greeted with an enthusiastic, wide-eyed response that leads to hours of conversation on the band, story, and music (this would be the sign you have met a Child of the Fence). For those that know and love the New York based progressive rock band, the past music is cherished and future albums are highly anticipated. This is my brief review of the music Coheed and Cambria has produced thus far.

The albums the band produces are known as concept albums, or albums that have lyrical and/or musical composition that are united by a theme or story. In Coheed and Cambria’s case, the albums all tell the story of lead singer Claudio Sanchez’s sci-fi comicbook series, “The Amory Wars.” When you hear a fan refer to his/herself as One Among the Fence or a Child of the Fence, this is a reference to “Heaven’s Fence”, which is the fictional galaxy in the story’s universe held together by interconnecting beams of energy known as the Keywork. Each song that Coheed and Cambria produces fits with the story told, which only deepens the impact and appreciation from loyal fans.

The story as a whole is brutal, tragic, fantastic, and even a bit deeper than it first appears. The first four albums (“The Second Stage Turbine Blade”, “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”, “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness”, “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume 2: No World for Tomorrow”) follow the story of “The Amory Wars” protagonists, Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon, and later their son, Claudio Kilgannon, and their quest to stop Supreme Tri-Mage Wilhelm Ryan (he’s a major dick) and his right hand man, Mayo Deftinwolf (he’s also a major dick). We learn that Ryan and Deftinwolf created a sinister plot to convince Coheed and Cambria to kill their children, and that they are not what they appear to be. Claudio was out with his girlfriend Newo Ikkin, so he missed an untimely death, yet he travels to another world in search of answers. Ambellina, a being called a Prise, is sent by her sisters to guard young Claudio, as they believe him to be a messiah that can stop the rule of Ryan, called The Crowing. Jesse, Coheed’s brother, continues his martyred wife’s cause by taking up arms against the tyrant. Later, the narrative steps outside our heroes’ quest to show that it is all a work of someone known as The Writing Writer, as he is living out events through his story. He has delusions of conversations with his bicycle, named Ten Speed, about his prior unfaithful lover. In the end, the story leads up to the last confrontation of Jesse’s Rebel forces and Deftinwolf’s Red Army, and the emergence of Claudio as The Crowing. The last three albums tell the story of what happens beforehand: Wilhelm Ryan’s rise to power and the creation of Coheed, Cambria, and Jesse are explored in the “Year of the Black Rainbow”, as is the creation of the Monstar virus that Coheed and Cambria carry. The investigation of the Keywork by cosmonaut Sirius Amory (for which “The Amory Wars” is named) and his findings and later return to his home planet of Valencine are presented in the “The Afterman: Ascension” and “The Afterman: Descension”.

A fan's Keywork tattoo Photo by Frederico Builes via Flickr CC BY 2.0

A fan’s Keywork tattoo
Photo by Frederico Builes via Flickr
CC BY 2.0

Musically, each of the seven albums are diverse and at the same time, familiar for any Coheed and Cambria fan. “The Second Stage Turbine Blade” has been labeled a post-hardcore sound, with songs like “Time Consumer” and “Hearshot Kid Disaster”. “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” featured songs like “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Blood Red Summer” that harkened to the punk-pop genre (in a totally addictive and good way), and also darker, stirring songs such as “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”. (Seriously, listen to that all the way to the end and tell me the subtle growling at the end chorus paired with the prior use of the choir doesn’t give you chills.) “Good Apollo Volumes 1 and 2” took a more progressive rock form than the previous albums, and produced the popular “Welcome Home” everyone knows from Rock Band, and in the second album a rousing “battle call” in “No World for Tomorrow”. “Year of the Black Rainbow” is, among COTF, one of the most debated albums. Many love it, many hate it. The running joke is that no matter your stance, it is because it is “so atmospheric”. And it is. The music is not quiet as fast nor heavy as the previous albums, but the sound catches me anyway. There is the rueful love song “Pearl of the Stars”, and “The Broken” which feels like an anthem for just that. The last two albums, “The Afterman: Ascension and Descension” boasted a range of sound, from the painful emotional impact of “Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria the Faithful” and “Gravity’s Union”, to the deviously fun “Key Entity Extraction II: Hollywood the Cracked” and “Goodnight, Fair Lady”, to the jazzy, upbeat “Number City”. While some people may think these albums are all over the spectrum, looking into progressive rock, it actually fits quiet well. Like the greats before them, Coheed and Cambria pull off experimenting with genres and blending them in a way that makes one unable to see the song played any other way, instead of something sloppy and out of place. Adding to the music, which is already beloved for it’s complexity and ability to make it’s fans feel a range of emotions, there are what the fan base has endearingly dubbed “Claudio-isms”, which refer to specific inflections, certain ways lyrics are pronounced by lead singer Claudio Sanchez when sung, and the numerous “woah-oh-oh-oh’s” found through the albums. From the story, to the composition, to the unique vocals, Coheed and Cambria is a band that any music lover does not want to miss out on.