The second half of Coheed and Cambria’s Afterman story is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Cast Away, and all massive rock.
Released Feb. 5th on Everything Evil Records
When I reviewed The Afterman: Ascension last December, I admitted to not understanding anything that was going on in the story. In trying to give its sequel a fair shake, I read a few synopses of what’s going on with these 2 albums. It seems the Afterman storyline is a prequel to Coheed and Cambria’s Amory Wars saga, its events taking place sometime before those of 2010’s Year of the Black Rainbow, which itself was a prequel to the main story laid out over the previous 4 records. To put it another way:
- Year of the Black Rainbow : The Amory Wars :: The Hobbit : The Lord of the Rings
- The Afterman : The Amory Wars :: The Silmarillion : The Lord of the Rings
The Afterman describes the exploits of Sirius Amory, an astronaut who sets out to investigate the Keywork, a mysterious energy source which holds together and sustains the 78 planets comprising the fictional universe of Heaven’s Fence. The Keywork is the major plot driver of The Amory Wars story that plays out over the course of C&C’s first 5 albums, as a number of characters vie for control of it. In The Afterman albums we’re going back to well before that, following Sirius’ quest to examine the Keywork despite the protestations of his wife, Miri.
In Ascension, Sirius enters the Keywork with the assistance of a computer intelligence, the All Mother, and discovers that it contains the souls of all who have died in Heaven’s Fence. He is possessed by the souls of several characters who refer to him as “The Afterman”, and relives their experiences in the 4 tracks titled “Key Entity Extraction”. The first 3—Domino the Destitute, Holly Wood the Cracked, and Vic the Butcher—are malicious, causing the destruction of Sirius’ ship and nearly killing him. He’s saved by a fourth entity, Evagria the Faithful, but slips further and further into the Keywork while everyone back home, including Meri, presumes he’s dead.
Descension picks up with Sirius ready to accept death (“Pretelethal”), but he’s saved by a fifth entity, Sentry, the nemesis of Vic the Butcher (“Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant”). Vic and Sentry do battle until Sirius helps Sentry to transcend to a plane of enlightenment. This leaves Sirius open to attack by many vicious entities trying to invade his body and mind (“The Hard Sell”). Evagria saves Sirius and helps him exit the Keywork, and he recovers on a space station where he learns that over 500 days have passed while he was inside the energy nexus (“Number City”). He can’t tell the world what he’s experienced, for fear of causing mass hysteria. To make matters worse, Miri’s moved on, and when she drops the news on Sirius while they’re driving that she’s pregnant by her new lover, he’s so distraught that he crashes the car (“Gravity’s Union”). Sirius survives, but Meri and the baby die and her soul joins the Keywork (“Away We Go”). Sirius is filled with regret and contemplates suicide (“Iron Fist” / “Dark Side of Me”), but instead journeys back to the Keywork with the intention of finding Meri’s soul and helping her cross over to the plane of enlightenment (“2’s My Favorite 1”).
Now we’ve got the basic plot, but how does it sound? Pretty damn good, actually. “Pretelethal” alternates between acoustic plucking and C&C’s familiar proggy metal. “Sentry the Defiant” is the track most akin to the band’s previous highlights, big and powerful with an epic sense that suits the complex story it’s tied to. “The Hard Sell” is a bit more classic rock with a Pink Floyd vibe; it soundtracks the part of the story where numerous malevolent souls try to possess Sirius, and parallels this to the wheelings and dealings of the music industry, undoubtedly influenced by C&C’s major label experience: “There’s only one of me / And too many of you fighting over nothing / Oh, there’s never enough cool for everyone / And before you know it you’re selling out to be in”. “Number City” is the most experimental track on the album, lacing the prog with ’80s pop elements like synthesizers and a horn section. Both “Gravity’s Union” and “Dark Side of Me” remind us why Coheed and Cambria were lumped in with the “emo” tag back in their Second Stage Turbine Blade days. “Away We Go” is a big ’70s-style arena rock number, while “Iron Fist” is a tragic, acoustic-driven ballad. “2’s My Favorite 1” is a massive, Rush-influenced love song that ends the album on a musical and conceptual high note.
Descension comes off as a tighter album than its predecessor (tighter than most of Coheed’s albums, actually), and the band’s technical prowess for their brand of prog rock makes it accessible even to those who aren’t interested in the sci-fi epic it soundtracks. I didn’t pay it much mind initially, as my ears were tuned toward other things at the time and I was quickly on to the next round of new releases, but now I’m glad I gave it a few more spins while researching the story and mulling it over for this review.