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Coheed and Cambria’s new LP, this month’s ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures‘, really is a much-welcomed return towards the group’s sci-fi concept of The Amory Wars; a massive narrative chronologically following on from 2007’s ‘Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow‘. It’s also a solid return to form as many hardcore fans were perhaps disappointed with Coheed’s previous album, 2015’s ‘The Color Before the Sun‘, as it strayed away from their established progressive rock sound towards alt-rock. Yet Coheed’s latest effort shows that the band haven’t quite forgotten their roots, as they experiment and mature what was displayed on ‘The Color Before The Sun‘ with some of their catchiest, most anthemic songs yet.
The album begins with the opening combination of ‘Prologue‘ and ‘The Dark Sentencer‘. If anyone was worried that Coheed would never write another prog epic again, then ‘The Dark Sentencer‘ will convince any and all naysayers that the band has, in fact, still got it. What more is there to say regarding ‘The Dark Sentencer‘ other than it’s the token epic for this album, just as ‘Sentry the Defiant‘, ‘Welcome Home‘, or ‘IKSoSE:3 were for their own respective albums. But it still works! Unfortunately, right after ‘The Dark Sentencer‘, the titular track reveals that Coheed are also simultaneously continuing their experimentation with lighter, pop-rock sounds. While the album’s namesake cut is still the weakest track on offer, it’s a simple, catchy tune that’s sure to bring in new fans with its bouncy soundscapes; satisfying the ‘Pop-heed’ song requirement seen on every one of their albums.
‘The Unheavenly Creatures‘ is a long listen; the band’s lengthiest to date. Many of these songs are longer than five minutes and being that there are fifteen songs overall, it’s over 70-minutes by the time the record’s end arrives. Prior to hearing the album and seeing the tracklisting and runtime, I assumed there’d at least several prog epics or a few weirder prog-rock moments thrown in, but I, unfortunately, had my hopes far too high. The problem with this lengthy runtime is that too many of these songs suffer from being much longer than they have any right to be, growing quite repetitive as a result. Most of the tracks are also very predictable as the songs are just straightforward Coheed tunes; clearly driven by Claudio Sanchez’s infectious vocals rather than fully allowing the instrumentalists to also take the reins. An instrumental-vocal balance that was nailed better on earlier records.
Although, Claudio really makes up for this simpler songwriting nature by at times showing off what I feel are his catchiest, most impressive vocal performances of his whole career. This is evident on the likes of ‘True Ugly‘, ‘Love Protocol‘, and ‘The Gutter‘. While he sadly does not reveal his weirder side – with maybe the exception of his vocals on ‘True Ugly‘ – he strives to create some of the hookiest choruses the band has ever written. And that part cannot be understated. Most of the lead guitar riffs and guitar patterns are also quite reminiscent of parts found on ‘The Color Before the Sun‘, except they’re much more refined and powerful in the context of these particular songs. While the guitar work overall may be slightly less complex than previous material too, this is still proof you don’t have to write overly complex pieces in order for the music itself to be effective.
For me, ‘True Ugly‘ and ‘The Gutter‘ are easily – easily – the two highlights of the record. ‘True Ugly‘ is one of the record’s rare moments that shows that weirder, more eccentric prog side Coheed has become well-known for, while also getting their melodies stuck right inside your skull. Unlike most songs on this album, guitarist Travis Stever guides this track with his more prominent lead work, all as Claudio provides his high-register soaring vocals in combination with nice yet uncanny background vocals. ‘The Gutter‘ was a really unexpected turn for the record (well, for me, anyway). Namely as the band basically turn into Queen momentarily halfway through the piece, but it’s such a wonderful surprise. Honestly, it shouldn’t have been released as a single, as that meant early ruining a great left turn surprise bolted onto what is a solid yet still very predictable album.
There’s a lot of good songs to be found on ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’, sure, yet most of them pale in comparison compared to Coheed and Cambria’s backlog. Even so, this new albeit lengthy album is still enjoyable with some diversity among the songs, despite some tracks having more flavour than others. ‘The Unheavenly Creatures’ shows that Coheed are more than capable of finding a balance between their anthemic writing styles (see: ‘The Color Before the Sun’) and their more prog rock-oriented approach. Coheed definitely hasn’t forgotten where they came from, as they mature and start stepping in the right direction with ‘The Unheavenly Creatures’.
2. The Dark Sentencer
3. Unheavenly Creatures
5. Black Sunday
6. Queen of the Dark
7. True Ugly
8. Love Protocol
9. The Pavilion (A Long Way Back)
10. Night-Time Walkers
11. The Gutter
12. All On Fire
13. It Walks Among Us
14. Old Flames
15. Lucky Stars
‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’ is out now!