Coheed And Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez has spent more than two decades building an ambitious mythology based around The Amory Wars saga, his series of interlocking comic books and novels that have provided the basis for eight of the band’s nine albums. Vaxis II: A Window On The Waking Mind sees these singular denizens of Nyack, New York picking up the story established on 2018’s Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creature.
Throughout their career, the band have had one foot in the world of alt-rock/emo, and another in the prog sphere. Vaxis: Act I and that album’s non-conceptual predecessor The Color Before The Sun dialled the grandiosity back in favour of a more straightforward approach. This time, the needle moves closer to the more ambitious approach of old, even if no one is going to confuse Coheed And Cambria for Gentle Giant.
Prior knowledge of the helium-voiced Sanchez’s over-arching narrative isn’t mandatory, though knowing the storyline undoubtedly adds another dimension. As is customary with C&C albums, brief opener The Embers Of Fire’s deceptively delicate initial bars bloom into a portentous, quasi-classical overture – all big orchestral synths, marching percussion and faux-choral refrains – which suitably sets up the by turns clipped guitars and enormous, soaring choruses of Beautiful Losers. In fact, there is a glut of chest-beating, expansive, yet irresistibly catchy choruses throughout the album – Comatose, Love Murder One and the super-charged urgent pop-rock of The Liar’s Club being prime examples.
Wider influences come into play on Bad Man, with its ultra-modern patina, forming an amalgam of electronic pop and rock that brings to mind the groundbreaking work of Simon Godfrey’s debut Shineback album. Tricksy prog metal tropes haven’t disappeared completely either as evidenced by the start/stop riffing, changes of dynamic and tempo, hefty drumming and guitar interplay across both Ladders Of Supremacy and Rise, Naianasha (Cut The Cord). The real shot of prog comes with the concluding track, a shapeshifting, multipart mini-epic that revisits many of the album’s many facets, from the gently lyrical to the crushingly heavy, from desperate sincerity to a high-kicking shuffle, before taking us back to where we started with an orchestral coda.
Vaxis II won’t convert the doubters – moments of the album are unashamedly slick and chart-friendly. But few modern rock bands are as inventive within that framework as Coheed And Cambria, and fewer still feel like they’re doing whatever the hell they want, irrespective of what anyone else thinks. And that’s the mark of a great band.