I feel before I start this review, I should probably give my background to going into this double album first, as I feel it might give a lot of context to it. I've been a long time fan of Coheed and Cambria, but after their rather lacking album "Year of the black rainbow", I hadn't listened to any of their work for quite some time. After me and my girlfriend broke up about 3 months ago, I decided to give them another listen, when I happened upon this real return to form for them. Also I am no music aficionado, and this is also my first review, so it might be a little clunky.
So, as I had already stated, after 2009's rather disappointing installment to their discography, Claudio Sanchez, the lead singer and main visionary of the bad, stated that he'd be doing a double album, and would be pouring a tonne of effort into it. I will admit I did scoff at this at first. I mean, how many bands have said this before and have released mediocre work or worse? (I'm looking at you Metallica). However, I should have had more faith in him. After a grueling 3 and a bit year wait, not only does the album completely deliver musically, spanning a number of different genres, but also emotionally, dealing with such topics as love, loss, insanity, forgiveness, murder, even attempted date-rape, there's quite a lot in this eclectic album. It also comes with a different beautiful work of art for every song, each hand painted by the artist Nathan Spoor. While I would post a few of them in the review, I'm afraid I don't know how to, so go look them up, they're definitely worth the search.
So the album starts off with a purely instrumental song, simply entitled "the hollow". Well, to say it's a purely instrumental song would be lying, as it's here we get our first indication of what the story will be about. As the eerie yet soothing melody plays in the background, we hear the voices of our main characters "Cyrus" and "Allmother", being a spacefairing scientist and a ship computer respectively. While this might feel unusual to many new listeners of the band, this is quite run of the mill for vets, since almost all of their work has been concept albums, I was simply waiting to see what it would be this time. The song itself, while calm, isn't very long, or even that interesting. It's simply there to set up the atmosphere, which it does do admirably.
It's on the next song that we actually get to feel the weight and punch of what Coheed are going to be bringing to the table. We also get to see how...bizarre their song titles get these days. Called "Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute", it follows a flashback of sorts, with the titular character Domino on his rise and fall of his boxing career, achieved through spirit possession of Cyrus (Yes, it's going to be one of those stories). The song, while being the longest on the double album, never actually seems to stand still, constantly swaying to and fro in melodies and riffs, even at one point going to a live introduction and commentary of the fight that brought his downfall. It really does feel like the song is alive, with it's constant shifts of pace and energy. When Coheed said the were going to show us they were returning to form, it was definitely a good idea to put this song up early.
But next we have "The Afterman", and while after the energy of Domino we were definitely needing a change of pace, I personally feel this goes a little too far in that direction. After a bit of research you find that the inspiration of this song is from the death of one of Chondra Sanchez's (Claudios wife) friends, and you can certainly feel it. It's got think somber tone to it, and a haunting main riff. While I personally am not a fan however I would not say it's a bad song, with it's calm, at times almost hypnotic lyrics and gentle tempo, I can definitely understand why a lot of the albums fans place this as their favorite.
Now that we've reached the definite mid-section of ascension, this is where the true test comes. For plenty of albums this is a barren wasteland, with nothing but filler, saving their gems for the start and end, the memorable parts of the album. However it is here that Coheed seem to shine. Starting with "Mothers of Men", we get a slew of really solid songs. However it is also here that if you've not got the accompanying coffee table book, the story will almost certainly lose you. As for Mothers of Men, if you've heard much of their work before, there aren't a huge number of surprises in it, but does actually come with a little gift in the voice of Chondra, who really does add a level of...almost mysticism in the chorus, and the song just keeps on building until it reaches it's peak, where even now I can hear the words "So why do I give?" ringing in my ears. Also the song gets a few bonus points for having "Between the dapper villain in the Sunday serial" as a lyric.
And then we come to what is lyrically the most deceptive song in the album. "Goodnight, Fair Lady" is by far the most jazzy of ascension, and even at first listen sounds like a love song, albeit a little odd one. However if you listen carefully, you can tell it's actually about a sexual predator. Musically, it's got as much energy and passion that's becoming the trademark of this album, with sweeping piano accompaniment, and the guitars almost trying their best to sound like wind instruments, it's certainly an interesting beast, but one that I feel the album would most definitely be less for the removal of.
No sooner does fair lady end, than we have another sudden change in genre. This time to what I can only describe as "emo-metal", but before you start groaning, "Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked" keeps itself flowing and powerful enough to never be a choir, no small part to Claudios' delightful to hear maniacal laughs in the distance, or the bands backing harmony of voices. Interestingly enough, this song was actually inspired by a genuine stalker Claudio had, who humorously removed all her YouTube videos just as he was about to report her (I saw them myself before they were gone. They were...weird). The song however, in-spite of it's genre, or maybe even because of it and the contrast with the other songs, is a definite blast.
Quite fittingly, the next song rolls in to the sounds of marching, and quickly reveals it's colours as another metal song. "Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher" is a hard hitting song filled with anger. While this is a song I enjoy, I have to concede that this is probably one of the weaker songs of the album, as apart for one late in the song breakdown, it does very little that is genuinely interesting. Not a boring song, but not far off either.
And now after the low point we reach what is in my eyes the high-point of the album. "Key Entity Extraction IV: Evagria the Faithful" starts off with an opening riff that honestly, I have no idea how to describe it. It's an ethereal mix of so many non-distinct instruments that it'll either leave you confused, or entranced. It then breaks off into it's mournful, yet almost upbeat chorus. As with Domino, this song flicks between a few paces, constantly keeping itself, and the listener, on it's toes. But it also brings in the best of Mothers and Men as well, with the crescendo still being quite audible for me on writing. Certainly a chimera of a song, due to it's unusualness it's awfully hard to review, but I cannot recommend it more.
And finally we have the albums outro song. Just as we were brought in on a hauntingly calm song, we leave on the ballad "Subtraction". Soft, sweet, and just a tad mournful, we end on a silent beauty that leaves up captivated, but wanting more. So much more. If I have a criticism of it, it's that it's short for the albums standard, but that stops it from overstaying it's welcome. It's just feels as if the album is teasing us by ending so quietly.
As I have said, the album leaves us wanting more, and thankfully it does deliver more in it's next half, Descension. However, with repeated listens, Ascension continues to please, and even reveals little secrets within itself to constantly make us want to re-listen. While not a masterpiece, it hits damn near close, with even it's "bad" songs being good by other bands and albums standards.
I give it an 8/10, and a definite recommendation to any fan of rock of any forms, and even would give it a recommendation to anyone who isn't. It's so varied that you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.
If people enjoyed this review, I'll also review descension.