Written by Alex Lopez
Coheed and Cambria have come a long way since their debut release, getting outside their comfort zone and maturing — and so has this writer. This piece reflects on ten years of memories and fandom following Coheed and Cambria's career.
October 14, 2015 marked the ten-year anniversary of the day I saw my favorite band live for the first time. On October 14, 2005, I took a train from my parents’ house in Martinez, CA to crowd into the sold-out Warfield Theatre in San Francisco to see Coheed and Cambria on their tour supporting their breakthrough album, Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Volume I: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness. I managed to buy my tickets shortly before they sold out, so I ended up in the second to last row of the upper balcony. Despite this distance, Coheed and Cambria managed to shrink the Warfield while they were on stage, bringing me front and center. Their stage presence was larger than life as they powered through a set from all three of their albums that had been out by then. They finished with a 20-minute bluesy jam session of “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut” before leaving the stage as the blade of a prop guillotine fell. Over the next decade, the band would become the soundtrack to my high school years, but they’ve managed to remain my favorite band ever since. Coheed and Cambria recently released their latest album, The Color Before The Sun. They’ve come a long way since Good Apollo, and they’ve definitely changed in the past ten years. But you know what? So have I.
I first got into Coheed on their second album, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, thanks to the title track. It was long and dramatic, the lyrics read like a darker version of a Star Wars battle, and the instrumentation sounded almost symphonic in nature, culminating in a climactic ending with a chorus of ”whoahs” that I couldn’t help but sing along with. The rest of the album effortlessly blended epic proto-metal with sugary, energetic pop-punk, while telling the story of frontman Claudio Sanchez’s science fiction saga, “The Amory Wars.” It made for one hell of a catchy, brainy, and unapologetically geeky ride. It was everything that I could have asked for as an awkward high school sophomore who wanted nothing more than to play as much guitar and video games as possible. While I did go back and listen to their debut, The Second Stage Turbine Blade, it was In Keeping Secrets, Good Apollo, and 2007’s, No World for Tomorrow that got the most play on my iPod. Learning to play those songs on guitar was so much fun, and no off-campus lunch during senior year would have been complete without getting in my car, throwing on a burned mix CD that had “Gravemakers and Gunslingers” along with songs by In Flames, Mastodon, and Children of Bodom, then barreling down I-680 at 90+ mph to race my friends to In N Out in San Ramon and still make it back to Concord in time for class to start (sorry, Mom). It’s no surprise, then, that these albums are still my favorites.
College was an unexpectedly low point in my fandom. They released Year of the Black Rainbow, an album that personally didn’t impact me as much as I had hoped. While it did have some good songs, I felt like the production team of Atticus Ross and Joe Barresi (known for their work with Nine Inch Nails and Tool, respectively) added a gloomy, digitally-rendered atmosphere that took away something from the magic of their earlier work. In addition, I was experimenting and broadening my musical horizons into other genres, so the band dropped off my radar for a little while. Luckily, they bounced back during my senior year with their double album, The Afterman: Ascension and Descension. The Afterman still featured some ambitious sci-fi epics in songs like “Domino the Destitute” and “Gravity’s Union,” but those albums also saw them experimenting with new sounds, such as the subtle Latin influence in “Evagria the Faithful” and the backing horns of “Number City.” The band’s music was progressing, but more naturally than in Year of the Black Rainbow. It was good to have this Coheed back.
It’s about 1:30 a.m. as I write this, and I’m listening to Coheed’s latest album, The Color Before The Sun, for the first time. Like many other Coheed fans, I was surprised and a little nervous when I heard that this one would not have an “Amory Wars” concept. However, as the album continues on, I can’t help but feel glad that Claudio gave the sci-fi a break in exchange for more personally-inspired lyrics. The same sweaty teenagers who packed into a sold-out Warfield Theater on October 14, 2005 have mostly finished school and started working since then. They have bills and student loans to pay. Some have gotten married and/or had kids by now. All of them have probably experienced at least some disappointment caused by their lives not going 100% according to plan. They’ve become grown-ups with grown-up problems. The curveballs that life throws force people to get out of their comfort zones, so maybe lyrics dealing with personal life experience is what both the band and the fans needed at this point.
The first three songs, “Island,” “Eraser,” and “Colors” use different song structures to paint a picture of Claudio’s identity crisis after moving to an apartment in Brooklyn from his country house in Upstate New York, where several of Coheed and Cambria’s most recent albums were written. “Young Love” expresses his disappointment upon discovering that the house’s renters had severely damaged it after turning it into an illegal marijuana growing operation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “Here to Mars” is a love song for his wife, while “Ghost” and “Atlas” deal with the anticipation and nervousness associated with the life that awaited him upon becoming a father for the first time. The lead single “You’ve Got Spirit, Kid,” has an even stronger impact in the context of the album as a whole by following the slow and understandably somber “Young Love” with a catchy, energetic rocker about putting your problems in perspective and realizing they’re not any bigger than those of the next person. It’s refreshing to hear that this band that was such an integral part of my growing up are normal people with problems just like me, or anyone else, and at this point in their career, that makes them more relatable than ever. The final two songs, “The Audience” and “Peace to the Mountain,” are two different songs with a similar message. They feel like an author’s note about dealing with gradual self-acceptance, which makes for a fine note on which to end the album.
Aging gracefully and continuing to release quality music well into one’s career seems to be a difficult feat for many bands, but for a fan, there’s a special feeling of connection when you look at how much a band has grown and you can feel like the band has grown along with you. Claudio Sanchez has mentioned in recent interviews that he’s not sure if the band will always continue “The Amory Wars.” If that ends up being the case, Coheed and Cambria will have proven that they can step outside their comfort zone and write great, straightforward rock songs. If they do decide to go back, however, songs like “Atlas” and “Here to Mars” (the two best songs on The Color Before The Sun, in my opinion,) have that passionate ambition that made them so appealing in the first place. In a way, The Color Before The Sun does feel like a concept album that could fit into their previous work. The difference is that Coheed and Cambria just decided to stay on Planet Earth this time around. This makes me think that they can continue to create great new music regardless of whether or not they decide to go back to outer space again.
And if they do, I’d be down for another trip.