Coheed and Cambria's previous outing, 2015's Color Before the Sun, was a deeply personal outing based on Claudio Sanchez's life experience; the band's discography was based on the Amory Wars up to that point. With The Unheavenly Creatures, Sanchez resurrects and resumes the episodic quality of the sprawling prog metal sci-fi space opera. Virtually all the outings in the Amory Wars saga are noteworthy, but here Coheed and Cambria sound rejuvenated. Fans won't require a second invitation to delve into the narrative arc on The Unheavenly Creatures at their leisure, but it's important to note that this canny 78-minute offering provides the uninitiated with a musical introduction to Coheed's particular brand of magic.
After the sinister piano and spoken word "Prologue," the band's prog side comes straight to the fore on "The Dark Sentencer," complete with twin-guitar leads, an angular riff, and proto-military chanting, that moves straight into its knotty melody with Sanchez's eternally youthful voice soaring over the top of the band's raging attack. The title track offers a chiptune intro to a poppy melody that combines post-punk, indie rock, and metal with an anthemic dynamic. "Toys" is a riff-centric crash and burn that channels vintage Rush and Coheed's own In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. While "Black Sunday" delivers an exercise in chugging hard rock that erupts into volcanic prog metal, "Queen of the Dark" immediately follows with an atmospheric piano intro before exploding into urgent funereal metal buoyed by a string quartet (that features cellist Jane Scarpantoni), penned and arranged by Sanchez with German pianist and composer Karl Berger. While the indie rock leanings of "Love Protocol" may make veteran fans cock an eyebrow momentarily, it fits this song sequence like a leather glove with its irresistible hook. "Night-Time Walkers" uses chiptune synths and vocoders, yet its prog ambitions include gorgeously delivered backing vocals and squalling guitars. "Night-Time Walkers" employs keyboards with a snarling industrial swagger (think Year of the Black Rainbow). The main riff in "The Gutter" churns with fat tom-toms and kick drums underscoring every vamp, often in double time as the guitars play counter in straight time. "It Walks Among Us" initiates with dual leads and a harmonic synth to introduce a snarling hard rocker, and the pop-punk "Old Flames" references moments last heard on The Second Stage Turbine Blade. Throughout The Unheavenly Creatures, Coheed and Cambria incorporate structures, approaches, riffs, hooks, and progressions from their two-decade lifespan. These deliberately underscore and propel the album's sophisticated narrative. Despite all the self-referentiality, the music and story move ever forward. This return to the Amory Wars concept is welcome. Even the few seemingly out of place moments are deliberate diversions to reward longtime fans. That said, in an era of renewed appreciation for prog metal in general, this offering should draw legions of new listeners.