Most bands consider it an achievement to sustain a narrative concept over a single album; Coheed and Cambria have done that across an entire career. Furthermore, the recordings overflow into attendant comics and books. 2018's Vaxis 1: Unheavenly Creatures debuted a new five-part arc in the Amory Wars saga. Sprawling across nearly 80 minutes, it began the story of new characters Nia ("Sister Spider") and Nostrand ("Creature"), incarcerated within the prison planet known as the Dark Sentencer by the shadowy Five Houses of the Star Supremacy empire. They valiantly struggle to secure the safety of their unborn son, Vaxis, who even in vitro is a guiding presence to his parents. The more economical Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind finds Nia and Nostrand years later, on the run from their tyrannical overlords with Vaxis; he is locked inside his own mind and may have autism.
The beauty in much of Coheed and Cambria's work, especially during the last decade, is that whether or not one follows the Amory Wars concept is immaterial. For all their intricate storytelling and consummate musical skills, the band remain surprisingly accessible. These 13 episodic songs are uncommonly brief and tight. They careen across emotionally wrought prog, indie rock, punk, post-punk, and more. As is customary throughout the saga, brief opener "The Embers of Fire" and the closing title track share a leitmotif from the final track of its predecessor. "Beautiful Losers" and the more keyboard-driven "The Liars Club" cousin later on, soar as anthemic midtempo pop-punk ballads. "Comatose" is charging, hook-laden prog that careens and chugs with an infectious melody. First single "Shoulders" initiates a powerful sequence of five songs. It's an exercise in spiky, metallic prog with a monstrous riff, zigzagging synths, disco handclaps, and an instantly memorable, unshakeable chorus. "A Disappearing Act" follows with a Gothic dance club-cum-industrial vibe that intersects Rammstein and Daft Punk. "Love Murder One" offers an irresistible melodic frame under a powerful guitar/bass vamp that claim it for fist-pumping arena rock. "Blood" is a gorgeous, theatrically resonant ballad with a heartbreakingly beautiful lyric. "The Liars Club" juxtaposes electric guitar and analog synths in overdriven pop-punk with a killer bridge. Emerging from that sequence, "Bad Man" is classic, hard-edged, swaggering Coheed and Cambria, incorporating the influences of Nine Inch Nails and Tears for Fears. The final three cuts -- the atmospheric ballad "Our Love," the prog-drenched pop of "Rise, Naianasha (Cut the Cord)," and "Window of the Waking Mind" -- close the set with a cinematic, suite-like journey rife with labyrinthine twists, turns, genre shifts, and sudden episodic transitions that surpass even Dream Theater's most successful attempts at the same. Ultimately, Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind is stellar; it offers fresh, wildly creative terrain to mine as the Amory Wars saga continues growing.