Photo Courtesy of Alexandra Gavillet
Coheed and Cambria have returned with their 10th record – their ninth album within the ongoing saga inside of The Amory Wars universe – following up their 2018 record Vaxis I: The Unheavenly Creatures with Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind, out Friday, June 24, via Roadrunner Records.
Vaxis II is a wondrous, musical open world dreamscape that follows, as the album synopsis describes, “a couple on the run from tyrannical forces and their mysterious new addition.” This collection is replete with what makes Coheed and Cambria unique and what has set them apart from their contemporaries. Progressive rock journeys, catchy jams, and sprawling synth-laden melodic soul searching revelations. We examine ourselves through the eyes of the characters, and by proxy, frontman and writer, Claudio Sanchez.
The album begins as a familiar melody saunters into our lives like an old flame, triggering memories before releasing us into the unknown. The use of orchestral instruments is not new to Coheed and Cambria (as heard in Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness), however – this time around – some incredible thought and careful arrangement have resulted in an immersive sonic tapestry, calculated by a divine, non-fortuitous understanding of how the story should be told – right down to the instruments chosen to communicate the breadth of this universe and its inhabitants.
“The Embers of Fire” builds into a triumphant waltz that exhales into the open air in the vibrant “Beautiful Losers.” It is hard to not feel a charge as Sanchez bellows, “When life feels like zero, beautiful losers / You’re my hero.” The song is an encouraging call to arms directed to all of the underdogs – to the outcasts that people counted out, but are about to change the world.
In an interview with Juxtapoz, Claudio Sanchez elaborated,
“One of the incarnations of Coheed and Cambria before Coheed, was a band Travis and I were in, and we named it after the Leonard Cohen book and poem, ‘Beautiful Losers.’ […] it has this life as a tribute to that success [of the band], but also the obstacles that are now in front of what I consider the underdogs of Creature and Sister against the five houses.”
The collection continues with “Comatose,” the latest single the band released ahead of the full album. Fans of Coheed’s bouncier, pop-driven songs will enjoy this track and it has enough of hard rock in drummer Josh Eppard’s grooves and footwork to get the crowd singing along to this one when they tour this summer.
“Shoulders” is definitely catchy and has been a radio hit ever since its release last summer. Up until this album cycle, you’d be hard pressed to hear any Coheed and Cambria on terrestrial radio. They’re one of those bands with a (huge) loyal underground fanbase that has, and continues to find, success by doing things differently. It has taken 20 years for the rest of the world to catch up and it is a beautiful thing to witness. Getting into the car and turning on WMMR to hear “Shoulders” come on is still a lovely surprise for this child of the fence. Recognition isn’t always necessary for success or validation, but it is such a wonderful thing to see those that deserve it, get their due.
“A Disappearing Act” is like an 80s pop dance jam done only the way Coheed and Cambria can do a song that gets you moving. Sanchez’s use of synth is of no surprise to those familiar with his more lo-fi tunes found in his side project, The Prize Fighter Inferno. The two worlds of sound weaving into one another throughout this album compliment each other so well and appropriately, notably in “Love Murder One” and the heart-wrenching, emotional “Blood,” with a guitar cadence and mood reminiscent of “The Afterman.” What resulted from this amalgam of textures can feel like a departure from Coheed’s past favorites, but this is “2022 Coheed and Cambria.” Hard, progressive rock, with a dash of Stranger Things and Star Wars overture.
The sensibilities within the craft of songwriting evolve with time, experience, and the inspiration to communicate a story in an effective way. The intuition of each one of the members finds its way through to the listener, fitting like a well-worn catchers mitt. And to think, they’re only two albums into this story arc!
“The Liars Club” welcomes us back into familiar territory and what Coheed does effortlessly: envelopes us with a bold singalong before driving us into mystery and danger.
“Bad Man” provides some nasty, gritty riffs and a touch of Collins-esque drum breaks. Sanchez’s vocals rotate between soaring falsetto proclamations and the attitude of Isaac Hayes (“When you need a bad man, a bad / Momma, watch your mouth”). Travis Stever’s guitar work in this song is raw, organic and calls back the emotions I felt listening to “Gravemakers and Gunslingers” from 2007’s No World For Tomorrow.
“Our Love” is the palate cleanser, a song that captures the sentiments of love and an unshakable bond in the face of adversity, where Sanchez promises, “I’ll be your guide when you wanna get lost / I’ll be the sword at your side, at all costs.” In this world, sometimes we need to feel reassured and to know that someone has our back. This song, like so many of the overtly heartfelt tracks in their catalog, drives home an underlying message. In the story, it will be surely revealed. In life, this feels like a reminder to value and celebrate the ones we love.
The final trio of songs is where we really start to see that the story is about to take off into something spectacular and will lead us into what is to follow in Vaxis III.
“Ladders of Supremacy” is painted with tones that hearken back to “Domino the Destitute,” from Afterman: Ascension, with an opening that reveals the group’s ability to conjure a diabolical dilemma perfectly with instrumentation and dynamic alone, before Sanchez even utters a note. The track is dark and triumphant, and I hope it finds its way into their live setlist.
Zach Cooper’s bass lines in “Ladders of Supremacy” are understated in some parts, but then he jumps out at the listener with some incredible accents that hit the ears with such gusto and unpredictability. It’s easy to get lost in the guitars and lyrics. Cooper caught me off guard in amazing ways. He isn’t one to overdo it, so when he does take us down a deeper path, it’s a welcome occurrence to hear his part shine through, taking us into the following “Rise, Naianasha (Cut The Cord),” seamlessly.
At last, we arrive at the titular track – a bombastic, exploratory epic that sprawls and shifts for over eight minutes (8:38, to be exact). The track carries the listener through several movements that could very well be found in an eclectic Broadway show in a Star Wars-themed funhouse locked away in the cosmos of Sanchez’s mind. Like a vocal chameleon, he changes from character to character, revealing an incredible range. It almost reminds me of the way I used to play with action figures, coming up with scenarios and voices for characters as I sat by myself as an only child in my room – very much in the same way I watch my son engage with his imagination today. In “Window of the Waking Mind,” we witness and marvel at the gift of never having to surrender an ever growing imagination and it comes to life in such a glorious way. The expression and quality of the orchestral sendoff closes this chapter perfectly and sets the tone for what is on the horizon for the characters. The classic feeling of “leave them wanting more.”
While there will always be loyalty to their earlier work, Vaxis II is certainly a contender as one of their best albums to date. Coheed and Cambria’s continued rise will pave the way for them to achieve the impossible and inspire those that are introduced to the rich and diverse catalog they have to their name.
Coheed and Cambria consistently display what they are capable of, going above and beyond even their own previous expectations. They’ve been around for two decades, but they still work just as hard and are as hungry, if not more, than a lot of new acts out there today.
There is a lot of chatter for this album being an “Album of the Year” hit, and rightfully so. There is no stopping them and they deserve every bit of success for continuously not resting on their laurels, year after year, album after album. Watch and learn.
Catch Coheed and Cambria on their Window of the Waking Mind Tour, with Alkaline Trio, and Mothica this summer and stream or buy Vaxis II: Window of the Waking Mind digitally and in stores Friday, June 24.