The musical career of modern progressive rockers Coheed And Cambria has forever been intertwined with frontman Claudio Sanchez’s Amory Wars saga, which he has released in comic book form. And even though the epic storyline wrapped up with Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow, Sanchez and company created a prequel with their last album, Year Of The Black Rainbow. Now, The Afterman: Ascension—which spans intimate acoustic moments, distorted rock riffs and majestic anthems—takes place before the entire saga as we know it. But when guitarist Travis Stever spoke to the Aquarian, he stopped short of calling the album a prequel to the prequel.
“This is like an introduction to how everything was created in this fantasy universe,” explained Stever. “There are going to be a lot of answers for people who have questions, like where the hell did this Keywork come from? I think it’s the most accessible and understandable side of the concept now because it deals with love, loss, man’s constant questioning of the afterlife and what everything is all about. It’s beyond this science fiction concept, and as always the songs are dictated by real life experiences, first and foremost. I can see somebody listening to the newer material and connecting with it right off the bat and knowing what the songs are about. They may not realize that there is the concept behind it. I find that when most people find out there is a concept they are even more intrigued, which is really awesome. It’s like this extra perk.”
For those unfamiliar with Sanchez’s narrative, here’s the super short and simple breakdown: The Amory Wars takes place in the alternate universe of Heaven’s Fence, a grouping of 78 planets interconnected by beams of energy known as The Keywork. The first half of the saga pits Coheed And Cambria Kilgannon against fascistic Supreme Tri-Mage Wilhelm Ryan. The Kilgannon family holds the key to his downfall, and the second half of the story chronicles the exploits of their son, Claudio, who is destined to be the savior of Heaven’s Fence and the avenger of his parents’ untimely demise. (There’s way more to it than that, but we could write a whole feature just about the series.)
Coheed’s music has evolved over the years, and it has managed to attain an epic scope that befits such a huge saga. And Stever is right; one can enjoy their tunes without necessarily diving deep into the central lyrical concept. That observation echoes in a way the experience that Stever has had in the making of these albums. While Sanchez is a big comic book fan and creates them with his wife, Chondra Echert, Stever is not quite as involved in that world.
“Claudio’s got me into certain comics that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed,” revealed Stever. “Way before the tv show, he had turned me onto The Walking Dead and a lot of the classics. I’m there for it, but at the same time I don’t think I could ever be as into it as him. I think that’s what makes Amory Wars as interesting as it is. He’s been a fan of that kind of storytelling from the get go. He’s a guy that lives by it. It’s pretty intriguing for me to see that side of it.”
The main character of The Afterman is Sirius (pronounced Cyrus) Amory, who discovers The Keywork and learns what it is. His tale is the “story of a scientist/explorer who develops this suit that enables him to go into the unknown in the galaxy, to travel through space and time,” said Stever. “He ends up exactly where he wanted to explore, but things turn out to be very off-kilter. He deals with things he never expected to, such as Domino The Destitute— it’s an entity, a spirit. He starts to face all these spirits. There are quite a few on the album. Evagria is a spirit. Vic The Butcher is an entity.”
All of these spirits are floating around in a purgatory state. Once they latch onto the presence of Sirius Amory, they possess him, which allows him to see their life experiences. The spirits are trying to relive their past mistakes and correct them so they can move on to what they hope is the next plane or phase of existence. The recent video for “Domino The Destitute” tells the story of one of those spirit’s lives.
“You’re seeing it through Sirius Amory’s possessed eyes, and that’s what a lot of the songs are,” stated Stever. Through this tale of possession, themes of life after death come into play. “What’s going to happen, will I totally blackout when I die? Or is there some kind of afterlife? Even when they move onto that place it’s not like a heaven or what a lot of religions have made out to be. This is a completely different take on those kind of views, and that’s what I really like and respect about it because that’s something that I’ve always questioned and everybody does.”
The Afterman: Ascension—which not only deals with Sirius’ discovery of The Keywork that binds the worlds of Heaven’s Fence, but also with the death of his wife upon his return—is part of a two-album cycle to be concluded with The Afterman: Descension in February 2013. “It’s kind of like a sonic cliffhanger,” declared Stever. “It’s the same story continued, and I find a lot of Coheed fans love that stuff.”
The latest Coheed And Cambria platter had a different set of expectations that came along with creating it. Stever noted that while they have never experienced a lot of pressure while making albums, they went through tumultuous times over the course of the last year, with their bassist of 15 years, Mic Todd, departing to be replaced by Zach Cooper, and their former drummer Josh Eppard returning. The band members allowed themselves time to reflect on things, which in turn dictated where the album was going.
“I think that’s ultimately what Coheed has strived to do—we want to make an album where everything fits together but at the same time it’s like a sonic journey through everything that influences us. Story wise for Claudio, life dictated a little bit more of the story this time around. I think it’s a little more personal for him and for me as well because I was right there going through everything. I could speak for everybody that’s now part of this unit that not a minute goes by that any one of us is not thinking in a musical sense. We’re always very creative.”
The personnel shifts obviously left their mark on Coheed And Cambria. “We’ve been through changes before and had turmoil within the formula, but it’s also been years of the unit we were,” observed Stever. “Sometimes that goes unnoticed—it was a good five years that we were a set unit. Things really got thrown for a loop in the way they changed. Obviously now we know that it’s for the better, and to be honest we couldn’t be happier. Josh is the original foundation that the band was built on. The band we were the last few years was the band we needed to be, and I’m really proud of what we did. It’s another page in the story now, it’s the biggest chapter that the band will ever create. We’re the happiest we’ve been in a long time.”
The first half of Coheed And Cambria’s double album, The Afterman: Ascension is available now via Hundred Handed/Everything Evil. For more information, go to coheedandcambria.com.