Coheed and Cambria’s ambitious epics can leave even band members scratching their heads
Despite an upgrade from indie label Equal Vision to the Incredible Hulk-size Columbia Records, Coheed and Cambria — probably the strangest band of the new century (well, besides Captured! By Robots) — hasn’t wasted any time trying to churn out more emo-tastic singles like “A Favor House Atlantic” that marred its last album. If anything, their latest (warning: take a deep breath), Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star, just gets weirder.
|Coheed and Cambria: The strangest band of the new century?|
This prog-rock opera is the newest volume in a multi-media, science-fiction storyline conjured by high-pitched vocalist-guitarist Claudio Sanchez that began with Coheed’s debut, The Second Stage Turbine Blade (2002), and continued with In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (2003). Good Apollo, while only the band’s third full-length studio release, is actually Chapter 4 in a five-part epic that also includes a comic-book series and graphic novel. A fifth chapter will soon follow, wrapping up the series before — a la George “I Should’ve Quit While I Was Ahead” Lucas — skipping back to the beginning for a prequel-style first chapter.
It’s the sort of cerebral mind-fuck that made the early-’70s otherworldly musings of David Bowie and Yes so memorable, but splashed across a canvas far more grandiose than any of the prog-rockers of that revolutionary era. Coheed’s other guitarist, Travis Stever, who has been recording with Sanchez off and on since the early ’90s, laughs when asked if there was ever any concern about forming a band built on comic books and a meta-fictional soundscape that — let’s be honest — freaks out a lot of people.
“Of course there was doubt,” he says. “But that’s all Claudio. I’m sure there’ve been times when he’s been, ‘Wow, this is really far-fetched and I don’t know how this is going to go,’ and I’ve heard him say it. Therefore, since we’re all in this together as well, we’ve all thought that.”
Stever is quick to point out that he has no interest in comic books. Bring up the comic convention his involvement in Coheed recently led him to attend and he utters a cautious, “There were definitely some interesting people there.” The convoluted storyline Sanchez has conjured holds little interest for him, either. “As it turns out, if you’re really into rock, but you’re not into any sci-fi or fantasy kind of shit, then you can really dig the music,” he insists. “Since the lyrics deal with a lot of things for Claudio personally, loosely, somebody else could take it and relate it to their personal life. At the same time, if it’s the kid that’s really into the sci-fi and fantasy part of it, then there they have something to dive deeper into.”
Problem is, the “sci-fi and fantasy part of it” is pretty much, like, all of it. In a sense, Stever is right: The intricately orchestrated rock his band produces does actually kick a helluva lot of ass. But it only kicks ass because the story Coheed is telling has, in a bizarre twist of events that forces a philosophical debate on the nature of art, actually created the band. While Second Stage Turbine Blade is about Coheed Gilgannon and his wife Cambria, and Silent Earth is about their only surviving child, Claudio, exacting a bloody revenge for the death of his family, Good Apollo is a personal affair for Sanchez, as he found himself no longer able to escape the gravitational pull of the world he had created.
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“What happens is that the writer steps into the story and you see everything from the writer’s perspective and how the story begins to take over his life,” Stever explains. “Coheed and Cambria in the story are two characters that this writer had to come up with, as well as the Claudio character who is a different Claudio — not the real Claudio. In the graphic novel that comes with this album, the Claudio that’s in the story begins to become the Claudio that is the writer.”
Did you get all that, sport? Take a minute, it’s OK.
Sanchez’s dark exploration of his own creative impulses and the artist’s symbiotic relationship with his creations adds much-needed ballast to Coheed’s multi-platform story arc. Even Sanchez’s falsetto — prog-rock icons like Rush’s Geddy Lee have nothing on him — got in the way last time out with Sanchez actually pulling off a pretty admirable Cyndi Lauper on “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Blood Red Summer.” The emo histrionics have been tamped down, the hard rock turned up, and Sanchez establishes himself as totally spaced out. If five out of 10 people like Coheed and Cambria, two don’t know why, one just likes Sanchez’s crazy hair, and the other two maybe, just maybe, get the genius behind what he does. Maybe.
Someone who doesn’t seem to? Travis Stever. He strikes you as one of the two who don’t know why they like Coheed and Cambria. One wonders what will happen to him after the first chapter of Sanchez’s epic is finally released.
“I don’t think we have that quite planned yet,” he admits. “It’s up in the air, so we’ll see what happens.”
Sanchez will see what happens. Stever will probably still be scratching his head.
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