No Coheed And Cambria fan is a casual Coheed And Cambria fan. Since debuting in 2002, the New Yorkers have specialised in experimental rock music with an overarching sci-fi concept, which they’ve translated into graphic novels called The Amory Wars. In the process they’ve attracted the two most diehard subcultures that there are: prog aficionados and comic book geeks.
It helps that Coheed’s music is endlessly moreish, too. Sugar-sweet pop hooks, emo vocals, some post-hardcore pace and the odd big, burly metal riff have let the band eschew pigeonholing for 20-plus years. That leaves us with 10 genre-busting albums to review and rank. So, here’s the full Coheed canon in order of excellence.
10. The Color Before The Sun (2015)
While making this divisive disc, Coheed eschewed not just the Amory Wars storyline, but prog and post-hardcore in general. As a result, even though The Color Before The Sun is a more concise and happy-go-lucky alt-rock album, it sees the band lose focus. Lyrics like Here To Mars’ ‘It’s in the stars / And you’re my everything from here to Mars’ reek of turn-of-the-millennium lovelorn emo cliche. There’s some intensity in Atlas and The Audience, but that only makes such cuts as You Got Spirit, Kid sound even more saccharine.
9. The Second Stage Turbine Blade (2002)
On their debut album, The Second Stage Turbine Blade, Coheed’s soundscape feels close to being fully built. The prog rock scope and lyricism are there, with these songs starting the Amory Wars saga at its second chapter, for some reason. The post-hardcore guitars, pop hooks and more out-there segues are all present as well. However, in their inexperience, mastermind Claudio Sanchez and co. can’t knit all those genres together seamlessly yet. The rawer production also grubbies up what could have been some seriously shimmering choruses. It’s a promising start, just not quite fully formed.
8. Year Of The Black Rainbow (2010)
After Good Apollo… Volume Two ended the initial Amory Wars narrative, Coheed looped around to write the opening chapter that the saga never got. And it wasn’t just the story that took a backward step, either. Although Year Of The Black Rainbow presents some addictive post-hardcore in Here We Are Juggernaut and World Of Lines, it takes time to rediscover the glorious bombast of the preceding three albums. Thankfully, when In The Flame Of Error and The Black Rainbow do finally rocket to those heights, they’re magnificent.
7. Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures (2018)
After getting The Color Before The Sun out of their system, Coheed returned to darker, conceptual music in the most dramatic way. Vaxis I is 79 minutes of progressive metal that’s the first entry in a planned five-album series. Bloody hell. The gambit instantly pays dividends with The Dark Sentencer, which lures you back into Coheed’s cosmos with its escalating guitars and infectious Hey! Hey! Hey!’s. Toys, Black Sunday and The Gutter all rock as well, but stacking 15 heavy songs back-to-back during a near-feature-length run-time threatens anyone listening with content overload.
6. The Afterman: Descension (2013)
The first Amory Wars story arc was over, but Coheed still had a whole universe to explore. So, they wrote the Afterman double album about an astronaut traversing the depths of space. Moreover, they composed music that felt both tight and avant-garde. Second half Descension has The Hard Sell, a funky prog metal stomper, alongside the persistently memorable Dark Side Of Me and the trap-meets-acoustic-guitar weirdness of Iron Fist. It only falls below counterpart Ascension because of it getting just one song of that sublime five-parter, Key Entity Extraction.
5. The Afterman: Ascension (2012)
Ascension opens with a balls-out display of prog metal force then never gets any less compelling. First song proper Key Entity Extraction I: Domino The Destitute bashes the door down with the kind of grandeur that …Black Rainbow took most of an album to build to. Holly Wood The Cracked, Vic The Butcher and Evagria The Faithful later continue the same suite with ferocious intent. Meanwhile, Goodnight Fair Lady and Mothers Of Men display Coheed’s anthemic emo-pop softness at its best since the Good Apollo… days. An underrated gem.
4. Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV – Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (2005)
Yes, Good Apollo… Volume One contains Coheed’s biggest and, to many, best song in the form of Welcome Home. And, yes, even 18 years after that single became the band’s breakout moment, it’s still badass, that staggering riff evoking images of Led Zeppelin and Rage Against The Machine writing together during one gloriously cocaine-powered bender. However, Ten Speed…, The Summoning and a litany of prog-emo bangers make this an album laden with must-listens. At 75 minutes, it’s nearly as over-long as its title, but the myriad highs all soar to the stratosphere.
3. In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 (2003)
Coheed dodged what American music writers insist upon calling 'the sophomore slump' on their second album by writing some of their career-best songs. For eight minutes, the title track tucks and dives through everything that makes this band great, from proggy atmospherics to brilliantly overblown refrains and that whoa-along ending. Meanwhile, A Favor House Atlantic and Cuts Marked In The March Of Men are pop/post-hardcore triumphs that make In Keeping Secrets… a more-than-worthy major-label debut. Other entries, like the Camper Velourium trilogy, have slumped into obscurity but still fucking slay.
2. Vaxis – Act II: A Window Of The Waking Mind (2022)
This isn’t recency bias: Coheed’s latest rebels against the heaviness and self-indulgence of its predecessor with a series of distinct pop songs to become the band’s most eclectic and listenable work. A Disappearing Act is a dance-rock floorfiller, while Our Love invokes ambient music and The Liars Club bursts from bubbling electronica to scurrying post-hardcore with its howl of ‘Do you want me to lie?!’ Then, Ladders Of Supremacy, Rise Naianasha (Cut The Cord) and Window Of The Waking Mind bring the prog to craft a brilliantly grandiose finale.
1. Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV – Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow (2007)
In every way, Good Apollo… Volume Two captures Coheed at their peak. Coming off their breakthrough single Welcome Home, the band recorded with producers extraordinaire Nick Raskulinecz and Rick Rubin, while Taylor fucking Hawkins manned the drums. Such top-shelf talent required top-shelf writing – and it got it.
Every song throughout this album’s 59 minutes is catchy, yet each one’s unique. No World For Tomorrow boasts a fast-fingered heavy metal riff, before The Hound (Of Blood And Rank) ensnares with a synth-backed pop-punk singalong. The Running Free is galloping radio rock and Mother Superior slowly escalates from an acoustic guitar to grooving heaviness. Then, The End Complete becomes the band’s best multi-part suite, dancing through the pop, prog and symphonic genres. It’s not as talked-about as Coheed’s prior album or In Keeping Secrets…, but Good Apollo… Volume Two flaunts all this band’s skills without ever overstaying its welcome.