Settling for easy descriptions never gets a writer very far. That goes for describing an act as sounding like another act, or insisting a group’s specific genre should sound a certain way. On their latest album, Coheed and Cambria make it tempting, especially for anyone who makes the mistake of reading the PR one-sheet before listening to the album (Mental note: just tear up the press kit next time.)
The thing is this: if you were going to work in a genre to possibly score points, why would you choose progressive rock, a genre most critics view with jaded derision (insert Boba Fett vs. Sauron in a cage-match snipes here)? Now there are some moments on Year of the Black Rainbow that do flirt with a latent proggishness, not the least of which is the overarching storyline that connects the albums, entitled The Amory Wars. This album acts as a prequel to the events cataloged in their previous albums but, to be honest, the songs really aren’t so thematically specific that you would be able to trace a story through it. There are moments of rhythmic and guitar flash, but mostly, the instrumentation is straightforward and the chord progressions are often strictly of the pop variety.
So yes, this album really is the most emo-leaning of the band’s output, which may not be something they’d want to fully embrace, but there it is. And in fact, the album’s not all that bad. It’s not the most memorable thing I’ve heard in awhile, but while it’s playing there are positives to be found. “Pearl of the Stars” is one of two stand-out tracks, not only because it is the rare ballad among the screeching chuggery but because it actually lives up to the braggadocio of the press release. Lead singer Claudio Sanchez is allowed a few lines without the upper register dual-harmony vocal thing and, like a lot of really good prog, the song sounds like it is building to something climactic. The other standout song is “Far,” which is a straight-up emo-inflected pop song with a cool, clanking rhythm and a nice series of hooks.
In the overall picture, though, one has to ask why it was necessary to lump all this in as part of some kind of larger story, when it would have served all involved better to have just let the album speak for itself. Are all the songs memorable, every guitar line killer, and every lyric devastatingly incisive? No, and by hinting that they are in some grandiose prog-nirvana fashion, only disappointment could follow. What really is there is an occasionally interesting, but just as often merely adequate, rock album with the assumption of a libretto. It will be interesting to see how fans react to it, whether they see it as being a step forward in whatever they deem the band to be, or whether they see it as losing ground. Either way, I’m half-heartedly on the positive side with it — this is not an album that sends me running for off-switches and Tylenol, nor is it mountains coming out of the sky and standing there. It’s an emo-rock album with a little more ambition than the usual guylined tropes, and that on its own shouldn’t be such a bad thing.