It appears that when Coheed and Cambria's Amory Wars saga was completed back in 2007, it didn't quite end. Or did it? First there was The Year of the Black Rainbow in 2010, an album reported to be a "prequel" to the Amory Wars recordings. Now, songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Claudio Sanchez offers The Afterman: Ascension, the first part of a double album whose main character is someone named Sirius Amory. Make of the name association what you will. Like every C&C recording, this one is detailed to the gills, musically, lyrically, sonically, and, of course, in product design. There are also some returns to the fold here. Co-producers Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner helmed the band's first three records, and drummer Josh Eppard, who played with the band from 2000-2006, is back. Musically, Coheed and Cambria have become far more accessible, while remaining adventurous as they experiment with various rock styles. Check the knotty, labyrinthine "Domino the Destitute." Travis Stever's guitar work is particularly elaborate, signaling numerous key, time, and riff changes throughout the tune's nearly eight-minute length. The band's heaviness takes a back seat to shimmering pop hooks on "The Afterman," with gorgeous orchestral strings arranged by Karl Berger even as its guitars, bass, and bass drum churn in the backdrop. They cop from middle-period U2 here, but move past them, too. "Goodnight, Fair Lady" unabashedly rips off Phil Lynott's songwriting style; Sanchez also apes his vocal phrasing. But that's just the beginning: the band also swipes Thin Lizzy's trademark twinned guitar leads. The track becomes a not so subtle tribute inside a concept record. That said, it's one of the set's best cuts. "Holly Wood the Cracked" brings the band's more aggressive and sinister side back to the fore, while "Vic the Butcher," nearly six minutes in duration, is a raging prog metal anthem. Sanchez even sheds his inner Geddy Lee in the process. "Evagria the Faithful" is one of several tracks to feature jazzman John Medeski's keyboards in a thoroughly prog rock context. The lilting "Subtraction" is among the most intimate songs Sanchez has written to date; his delicate multi-tracked vocals are colored by acoustic guitars, loops, and delicate female backing vocals. The Afterman: Ascension is so ambitious it's actually a bit of a mess, but with so much here that works, this small lapse in focus can easily be forgiven.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek