Veritas Est Rock: Lost in the burning star, or whatever

Paul Karner

It was back in 2002 that Coheed and Cambria released their first major-label record, the second part to their tentative pentalogy of sci-fi based concept albums based on two mythical characters after which the band is named. It was a nice shtick and it certainly has earned them a remarkable fan base and serious mainstream recognition throughout the past three years. Front man Claudio Sanchez has written a series of graphic novels from which the albums draw their material. Coheed and Cambria just released their third album entitled “Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness.” The frivolously titled album is part one of the conclusion to the story. Following George Lucas’ marketing strategy the band will sum up the pentalogy with the story’s introduction.
There is so much being said about these ambitious prog-rockers, yet it is surprising how it rarely gets around to the music. When the dust settles from the post-apocalyptic album art and epically tragic song titles, we’re left with a slew of pop-metal hooks coupled with a singer that sounds like Geddy Lee of Rush, a sound that seems to stray a bit from the conjured images of blood, death and intergalactic warfare. It can’t be ignored that Sanchez has a knack for pop melodies and smooth harmonies. Nor can one overlook the clever dueling guitar work that elevates the music above their pop-metal colleagues. Nonetheless the constant angst in the music that provides the band with their contemporary edge makes it all too easy to imagine Sanchez’s laments over war-scathed planets to be simple songs of unrequited high school love.
It seems impossible to give an unadulterated review of “Good Apollo” with all the extramusical aspects of the band’s artistic efforts. Where the previous albums allowed a listener to more easily disregard the sci-fi tale that was taking place behind the lyrics, the recent release is presented more overtly as part of a larger work. This is where the album falls short of Coheed and Cambria’s otherworldly ambitions. “Good Apollo” gives the impression that the boys in Coheed finally found it in themselves to push the concept more heavily following the surprising success of Mars Volta’s prog-rock concept album “Frances the Mute.” Unfortunately, where “Frances the Mute” was a self-contained work, “Good Apollo” comes off as merely a portion to some vague and elusive Gesamtkunstwerk. What should serve as a tool to entice a more careful listening ends up alienating listeners and ultimately distracting from the catchy songs that Coheed does so well. Although, perhaps it is to their credit. I’ve been so preoccupied by the failure of their concept that I wasn’t able to wittily criticize the 2 1/2 minute string intro that the band didn’t even write. I guess I got distracted.