What were you expecting, a metal review? Too bad. Coheed time. Back in 2005, the New York boys of Coheed and Cambria were immensely influential in my formative years as a rabid consumer of music. Though only a metal band in the loosest sense of the genre, the band’s emotionally explosive and instrumentally nuanced brand of progressive alt-rock undoubtedly laid the foundation for my formal induction into metal fandom only a year later. For better or for worse, they also ignited my critical spirit; the waning quality of C&C‘s post-Good Apollo Vol. I output forced me to examine music with an unbiased ear, and helped turn me into the cynical shithead you see before you today. While almost all of Coheed‘s output of the past decade has come in varying degrees of good,1 The Unheavenly Creatures is the first in over a decade to be truly great, and the first in as many years to be a legitimate year-end list contender.
As Coheed and Cambria‘s ninth LP, Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures2 is something of a late-career triumph. It sees the band returning to their five-years-dormant sci-fi concept with renewed, youthful vigor, but what makes Creatures a truly standout release are the subtle intricacies of each track’s instrumentation. Just as with Coheed‘s best albums, songs are packed with dense sub-layers of sprawling lead riffs, smart harmonies and melodic flourishes that make for immensely rewarding listening experiences for headphone users. Meanwhile, towering, endlessly catchy refrains ensure an utterly addictive record, even when simply taken at face value. This marriage of micro detail and macro excess has been sorely missing from the band’s records for a long time, and breathes new life into an aging act.
C&C’s bolstered compositional initiative could not have asked for a better spread of tracks with which to spread its legs. In similar fashion to Coheed’s pair of Afterman records, Creatures is borderline experimental in its willingness to explore every corner of the band’s back catalog and beyond. While nothing here is quite as “out there” as The Afterman: Descension’s quirky “Number City,” there are plenty of surprises. The doomy, dreamlike, Boris-esque intro to “Toys” and the crushing, spellbinding atmosphere of “Queen of the Dark” showcase the band at their heaviest. Elsewhere, the unexpected tonal shifts brought by the monumentally cathartic climaxes of “Black Sunday” and “The Gutter” make for some of the most engaging songwriting decisions Coheed has ever penned.
The Unheavenly Creatures is an absolute mammoth of a record at nearly eighty minutes, and while part of me desires to extract a cut or two from its tracklist, there are truly no tracks I could nix without also losing at least a couple of fantastic moments. This is a pure gravitational force of melodic and instrumentally engaging hard rock, wrapped up in what may just be Coheed and Cambria’s most progressive compositions to date and anchored by Claudio Sanchez’s most dynamic work of the band’s recent output. For longtime fans, this record is nothing short of a revelation; for open-minded metal fans who are second guessing their decision to never give Coheed the time of day, it might even make for an excellent jumping off point.
Tracks to Check Out: “The Dark Sentencer,” “Queen of the Dark,” “Love Protocol,” and “The Gutter”