‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’: continues Coheed and Cambria’s sound, concept
For over 20 years now, Coheed and Cambria has been one of the gold standards in progressive rock. Since 1995, the band has been blending elements of prog rock and prog metal with the sounds of both punk and pop, all to tell one of the most ambitious concepts attempted in modern music.
The band is perhaps best known for its “Armory Wars” concept, a multi-album conceit that spans all but one of their records.
Their newest, “Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures” (which I will refer to exclusively as “The Unheavenly Creatures” for the rest of this article) is their return to the “Armory Wars” story after 2015’s concept-less “The Color Before the Sun.”
But we’re already coming up to my number one issue with “The Unheavenly Creatures,” and truly, the rest of Coheed and Cambria’s back catalog: the “concept” is incredibly oblique, being mostly explained in a series of comic books — and in this case, a novella that comes with the boxset — written by the band’s lead singer, Claudio Sanchez.
The albums’ concept is less akin to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” where the plot is plain to see, but instead more like all those Led Zeppelin songs that don’t make sense unless you’ve read “Lord of the Rings.”
Despite the ungainly full title of “The Unheavenly Creatures,” there’s really no obviously available story, unless you’re willing to do far more work than I am.
But with that gripe out of the way, “The Unheavenly Creatures” is a pretty effective prog rock record. While Coheed and Cambria hasn’t evolved too much sonically, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Instead, the album sounds like a window into how album rock sounded in the mid-2000s when it was at its best. It’s soaring, epic and theatrical, with instrumentation that manages to hint at the story that’s lying underneath even if the lyrics don’t pull it off.
Sweeping songs like “The Dark Sentencer” give way to almost pop-metal anthems like “Toys,” the chorus of which has been in my head for some time now. It’s a song that recalls power pop at its best, thanks to the continuing bombast of Sanchez’s voice.
In fact, the whole album is power pop at its best. Coheed and Cambria know how to bang out anthems, but they also manage to get emotional very effectively, especially toward the end of the record on tracks like “Old Flames” and “Lucky Stars.”
Instrumentally and vocally, “Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures” is a stirring record, one that seems to set up for … something in the band’s overarching concept. Unfortunately, though, the record does little to make the concept any less oblique. While I’m excited to hear Act II of “Vaxis,” I have legitimately no idea what will happen in it.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan
Album: ‘Vaxis - Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’
Artist: Coheed and Cambria
Best Track: ‘Toys’