Sunday, 6 December 2015

Coheed and Cambria's 'The Color Before the Sun' - Album Review

New York's premier progressive rock export Coheed and Cambria are back with their eighth album: The Color Before the Sun. Since I first got into the band in about 2008, they have become one of my favourite modern prog bands, as their mix of alternative rock with chunks of metal and pop make for a great blend and a sound that is definitely their own. During the back end of 2012 and the early part of 2013, the band released the two The Afterman albums (the second of which, Descension, I reviewed here); and this pair has since become my favourite work from Coheed and Cambria's impressive discography. It is probably their most accessible material yet, but lost none of the progressive element that made them stand out to start with. There was a certain restrained virtuosity to those albums, and that made them special. When looking at it after the two wonderful The Afterman albums, The Color Before the Sun seems a little odd in comparison. Firstly, this is the first album from the band not to be based around 'The Amory Wars' storyline, something which frontman, guitarist, and main songwriter Claudio Sanchez has been writing for many years. In all honesty, the previous albums' concepts never really bothered me. I found them extremely difficult to follow (I think you need to read his comics to fully understand what is going on), and what bits I have been able to decipher make it sound like a bit of a rip-off of Star Wars. That being said, the fact that I never made any effort to follow the albums' storylines never once dampened my enjoyment of the band's music. The concepts were always secondary to the quality of the songwriting, and it seems to act as a bit of a bonus for superfans to enjoy and discuss. The Color Before the Sun seems to be based more about Sanchez's own personal life, and comes across quite autobiographical in places. Secondly, The Color Before the Sun really ramps up the pop element of the band's sound. While the progressive feeling is still there, and repeated listens reveal more of it, this was clearly written to be extremely accessible. While this is no bad thing, I do feel that this album is missing something that previous Coheed and Cambria albums had. The lack of an epic Sci-Fi storyline probably negated the need for such epic-sounding songs, and given the more humble subject matter the music does work well; I suppose I just miss the epics of old! That being said, I do enjoy The Color Before the Sun quite a bit, and it does reveal it's beauty over multiple sittings - and there are plenty of nods to previous albums' styles to satisfy the fans who sit with it.

Opening with the sound of a train, Island gets the album underway in true Coheed and Cambria style. A bouncy clean guitar pattern forms the basis of the song, while a tough chord progression backs up it, giving the song some real bite. Zach Cooper's bass guitar dances and pounds around throughout the verses, and gives the song some real rhythm, as Sanchez's high vocals are as infectious as ever. A great chorus is the focal point of the song though, and sees the use of plenty of highly melodic vocal lines. I really like the more atmospheric section that comes part-way through the song, where subtle keyboards dominate as Sanchez's distant vocals howl around the speakers. This is a great, upbeat piece of rock music that is sure to make a great concert opener on the band's current tour. Eraser starts out with a dry-sounding riff that sounds like something from 2010's Year of the Black Rainbow, and this heavier vibe continues throughout the song, despite some really cheesy wordless vocal sections - which are a staple of the band's classic sound. This is a simple song, built around big punky power chords, but there are some strange guitar sounds used throughout, and the odd tortured lead cuts through to also evoke the spirit of that 2010 release. There is also a guitar solo, presumably from lead guitarist Travis Stever, that is slightly strange and atypical for the band. After two rockers, Colors opens out in much sparser fashion with some delicately picked guitar lines and some very distant, almost whispered vocals. Josh Eppard's ringing ride cymbal adds a percussive rhythm to the gentle music, and his big drum fill leads into the sweeping chorus that sees effects-drenched lead guitar mix in well with Sanchez's voice as he belts the lyrics out in a rather downbeat but effective fashion. Coheed and Cambria have always been quite good at these ballad-type songs, and this one is no different. It has a good atmospheric quality to it, which evokes The Afterman albums somewhat, and the closing piano motif is beautiful. In contrast, Here to Mars opens with a very spiky riff and bass guitar combination that evokes the band's 2002 debut album The Second Stage Turbine Blade. This is a very typical Coheed and Cambria rocker, that has that slight emo feel of their earlier work, and some excellent playful vocals from Sanchez that sits over that excellent guitar and bass combination. A soaring, melodramatic chorus is the highlight though, and the wall-of-sound approach from the production only makes it more powerful. A few bursts of almost harsh vocals also evokes the band's early days. The short Ghost actually sounds like a long-lost Simon & Garfunkel song, as acoustic guitar and staccato vocals with gentle harmonies fill the speakers. It is a nice mid-album rest, and is something a little different from the band.

This leads nicely into the big rocker Atlas which sounds a little like something from 2003's In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, with a slightly claustrophobic sound and multiple styles clashing together to make something that is more than the sum of it's parts. The guitars are quite abrasive here, backed up by some excellent pulsing bass from Cooper. Sanchez also has more grit in his vocal delivery here, as the big dual guitar riffs link up well between his lines. This is the song on the album that most resembles the band's classic sound, as heavier sections mix well with quieter ones to give that progressive feel. This is one of the songs that reveals it's power over many listens, as you need to get into the ever-changing mindset of the song to fully appreciate it. Young Love is sandwiched between two great songs, so never really gets the chance to establish it's own identity. The hollow drum sound and rumbling bass guitar dominates here, as a slightly off-key guitar pattern floats above the fuzzy rhythm section. The song just never really takes off, instead it just feels a little like a drawn-out interlude. Hearing single You Got Spirit, Kid soon banishes all thought of Young Love though, as the big ringing guitar intro soon leads into a extremely melodic verse with some really tight drumming and big guitar chords. The song's chorus is one of the album's best too, with a great guitar arpeggio that forms the basis of it, while Sanchez's powerful vocals almost spit the vocals out with some venom. This is probably one of the catchiest songs the band have ever written, so I am not surprised they decided to shoot a video for it and release it as a single. I imagine this will be part of the band's live sets for years to come. The album's final two songs are lengthier pieces, and The Audience is the first of them. It is quite a slow, rhythmic piece, with rolling drum work and some deliberate guitar riffs that have quite an old-school feel to them. I some respects this is quite a doomy song, as it never really picks up the pace, and works well to create a slightly creepy atmosphere with Sanchez's strange vocals and the crawling guitar riffs. In comparison, closing number Peace to the Mountain is a much mellower affair. Clean guitars and vocals dominate the song, while a shuffle-type drum beat rears it's head every so often to create something of a chorus. The song works well as an outro, and feels much more optimistic and upbeat after the doomier previous number. At it's heart, this a very simple song really, and that sums up the mood of the majority of the rest of this album, which is certainly more stripped-back than previous albums from the band. Overall, The Color Before the Sun is another good album from the band, even if it does lack some of the spark of previous works. It is album the band had to make after spending so long with one sprawling concept, and could be a sign of the band's future direction.

The album was released on 16th October 2015 via Everything Evil Records/300 Entertainment. Below is the band's promotional video for You Got Spirit, Kid.

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