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Coheed And Cambria: The Afterman: Ascension

Part one of the band’s sprawling, two-disc concept album harks back to their early days.

As in so many things, Mark Twain was right when he said (while quoting Lord Byron) that truth is stranger than fiction. No matter how fantastical Coheed And Cambria singer Claudio Sanchez makes his ongoing story of The Amory Wars, it would be difficult to top the surreal turn that his band has taken in the past few years.

Last spring, C&C bassist Michael Todd walked into a pharmacy and handed over a note saying that he had a bomb in his possession and if they didn’t give him prescription painkillers then he, they and the painkillers would be blown sky high. He was tailed by the cops, and arrested back at the venue as the band waited to sound-check for that night’s show. He is now awaiting trial for armed robbery.

For their part, the band retreated, re-hired original drummer Josh Eppard, who left the band in 2006 due to his ongoing battle with drugs, opted out of their record deal and went back to what they did before The Amory Wars went worldwide; made music for themselves.

Time in isolation’s obviously suited them: this volume, The Afterman: Ascension, will be followed early next year by The Afterman: Descension, while the story of The Amory Wars has been optioned as a film by Mark Walhberg’s production company. Although, which intractable facet of that story will finally make it to the big screen remains to be seen, as it’s easy to get lost in its impenetrable sprawl.

For this album, the band launched with a short film that could have featured as a trailer for the Halo games. Afterman harks back to the band’s earlier records, bearing a lightness of touch those familiar with their first two albums will happily embrace. Case in point, Goodnight Fair Lady sounds like 70s Thin Lizzy with a title by Sondheim. Mothers Of Men is another built in the classic rock mode, but it’s the skeleton of the album – the songs prefaced ‘Key Entity Extraction I through IV’ – where the band truly dazzles.

Especially good is the epically built I Domino The Destitute and IV Evagria The Faithful, the former with hints of Iron Maiden’s bombast, the latter, more experimental and free form with splashes of piano and percussion, but both part of Coheed & Cambria’s enduring, arcing appeal.

Whether this leaves us at the edge, or indeed at the heart, of the void remains a mystery that only Claudio Sanchez and the forthcoming Descension and can solve. What a long, strange trip it promises to be.