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CD Review
Coheed and Cambria- Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
by Arya Chowdhury
Staff Writer

  Progressive rock has always occupied a strange place in music. Take Rush's "Moving Pictures", one of the most commercially viable prog-rock albums of its day that spawned at least 3 radio hits. "YYZ", a fan favorite since its release, is an eccentric instrumental partially inspired by a translation of Toronto's airport code into Morse code and seemingly random guitar/bass synchronized runs. So the uninitiated might wonder what does afore-mentioned prog-rock have to do with the likes of a pop-punk band that has a penchant for catchy hooks and a relatively young fan base? Well, as a person who first heard these guys with a really bad live mix in a previous Parkfest outing and was only familiar with their radio singles, I was not expecting much. Then I heard their latest album "Good Apollo, Iím Burning Star IV, Volume 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness", and realized that what may come across as radio-friendly and melodic belied a lyrical and musical complexity that spoke more to the creativity of bands like Rush, Yes and Dream Theater as opposed to bands that would enter anyone's mind when he/she hears the word "punk".

  The album starts with strings and piano playing the dramatic overture "Keeping the Blade", which made me think, "Oh I get it; lull the listener before pummeling with the hard rock. Nice trick, but predictable." However, the next track "Always and Never" seamlessly drifts in as a mostly acoustic number with some great, understated singing by lead singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez. Where did this come from? By the time the heaviness of "Welcome Home" sets in, it becomes apparent that the band put a lot of thought into integrating the dynamics of each song with the sequencing of the album, a much appreciated respite from the prevailing "bunch of songs=record" school of thought.

  The first song that really made my jaw hit the ground, though, was "Apollo I: the Writing Writer", which is indeed as epic as its name would suggest. The musicianship of the whole band breathes life into this track, which is then counterbalanced again by Claudio's ingenious vocal hooks and harmonies. Also, musical themes in this song are echoed later in the album by "The Willing Well III: Apollo II: The Telling Truth" (go figure).

  However, the last four songs (which includes "Apollo II") of the album are the true crux, musically. This would seem odd as each runs over 7 minutes in duration risking a loss in impact that the rest of the album worked so hard to gain. However, they flow so well and incorporate so many different elements to sustain the listener's interest. Using organs, Fender Rhodes, and all manners of sonic textures, they bring a fittingly dramatic end to this chapter of the Coheed and Cambria story.

  That said, while there are many surprises, the songs are amazingly accessible. For instance, songs such as single "The Suffering" and "Once Upon Your Dead Body" remind us of the band that has delivered catchiness incarnate in past songs such as "A Favor House Atlantic", and Claudio infuses the songs with over-the-top vocal harmonies and melodies that stick in your head long after the song is over.

  However, amazing as it is, there are some drawbacks to the album. For one thing, Claudio's singing is an acquired taste. Also, this album is fourth in a series of 5 albums in a storyline conceived by Claudio and as such contains lyrics which do not convey it in any sort of linear fashion. Some of the lyrics can be taken out of context and work; then there are head-scratchers like "If my shame spills our worth across this floor, then tonight, goodnight... I'm burning Star IV". Mind you, it's fun to sing along with the song, but certainly proves cryptic in terms of the narration and evoking any sort of personal resonance. In addition, while the album was well-composed and paced, it would be nice to include sections where the musicians were able to stretch out and improvise even more, as the album shows that they have the capacity to do it.

  All in all, a fantastic album which aptly demonstrates that Coheed and Cambria occupy a unique place in music. The fact that most people can instantly get into much of the album on first listen while appreciating the music more on subsequent listens is testament to the creativity and talent of this quirky foursome. This is their major-label debut, so here's to the music industry accepting more bands that continue to push the boundaries.
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