Coheed And Cambria – The Unheavenly Creatures album review

New York’s prog sci-fi visionaries Coheed And Cambria return to the warfront with The Unheavenly Creatures

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The Unheavenly Creatures

1. Prologue
2. The Dark Sentencer
3. Unheavenly Creatures
4. Toys
5. Black Sunday
6. Queen Of The Dark
7. True Ugly
8. Love Protocol
9. The Pavilion (A Long Way Back)
10. Night-Time Walkers
11. The Gutter
12. All On Fire
13. It Walks Among Us
14. Old Flames
15. Lucky Stars

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There was an audible murmur of surprise and discontent from Coheed And Cambria fans when it was revealed that 2015’s The Color Before The Sun album was to be their first stepping away from the Amory Wars concept that the band had been developing since their formation in 1995. They really shouldn’t have worried. With the band sounding revitalised by the fresh approach, they turned in their strongest collection of songs, at the very least, since 2005’s Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One…, and arguably of their career.

But there was never any suggestion that Coheed And Cambria wouldn’t return to the Amory Wars, and they have confirmed that The Unheavenly Creatures is a continuation of the story. This time, from what we can deduce, the story centres around two lovers’ – the title’s aforementioned unheavenly creatures – journey through the burnt-out remains of planet Earth, now being run by an elite society who have turned it into a prison planet. Classic Coheed, in other words. Fans of the band’s more proggy soundscapes will also doubtless be pleased that the return of the narrative structure has led to some of the more complex elements of Coheed’s sound reappearing. The near-six-minute The Gutter has a full-blown Rush-style freak-out in the middle, and the album opens – after a long, booming spoken-word intro – with the soaring epic majesty and pomposity of The Dark Sentencer, which clocks in at more than seven and a half minutes. 

It’s clear that Coheed And Cambria are more than happy to be back on comfortable ground. That being said, one of this band’s greatest gifts is their ability to coax all kinds of memorable hooklines and melodies out of, and amongst, their dense, sprawling sci-fi prog. And when The Unheavenly Creatures soars it’s hard to imagine there is another band that can marry these two elements quite so perfectly. The title track is reminiscent of a weathered version of the lovesick Feathers from No World For Tomorrow with extra 8-bit bleeps thrown in for good measure. It’s dirtier but still a potential anthem of the future, and the gang chant and military drum tattoo that accompany frontman Claudio Sanchez’s breathless waltz of a vocal at the close of Black Sunday is a moment of breathtaking quality whatever your taste in music.

Although it would be disingenuous to suggest that there aren’t lulls for the casual fan towards the end of an album of 15 tracks – of which most rarely dip below the five-minute mark – this does feel like a successful return to a more progressive sound for a band who were obviously at something of a crossroads in their career a few years back. But it’s telling that the finest moment on the record is the one-two punch of Love Protocol and The Pavilion (A Long Way Back). Both would have fit fairly comfortably on The Color Before The Sun, the former trading lo-fi guitar ticks for a skyscraper power ballad chorus while the latter is a driving, hard rock banger full of chunky riffs and lush orchestration.

Ultimately the success of The Unheavenly Creatures will depend on your own personal preference on Coheed And Cambria’s back catalogue, but whatever your poison, there’s plenty of evidence of their undoubted quality on show here.