Part 1 – ‘The Amory Wars’
With a beginning 40 miles north of the Big Apple in Nyack, New York, progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria started close to something giant and have since steadily grown into a cohesive and conceptual powerhouse. While New York is a long way away from Kelowna, Underground Music is bringing this prog giant to your ears no matter where you live in the Okanagan, British Columbia.
Coheed frontman Claudio Sanchez and lead guitarist Travis Stever began playing music together in 1995, experimenting with different styles and band members and have been the core of the band ever since. From 1996 to 1999, the band was known by the name ‘Shabütie’, taken from a chant in the 1965 film ‘The Naked Prey’.
The group’s first release was an EP called ‘Delirium Trigger’ in 2000, which contained some songs based on a rough comic book series called ‘The Amory Wars’ that Claudio had begun writing. The band bought in to the idea and agreed to rename to ‘Coheed And Cambria’, the storyline’s two main protagonists. They adopted the comic’s themes and mythos to inspire their continued recordings, each album becoming the soundtrack to a different volume of the story.
The Amory Wars: Volume I-IV
Coheed’s first 4 albums follow directly along with the main storyline of ‘The Amory Wars’, a space-borne origin story for our universe. Claudio uses the setting to convey poignant feelings of loss, frustration, hard reality and the never-ending desire for the human race to grow and succeed. The comics succeed in taking readers on a fantastical space opera ride through various character’s viewpoints. They are full of imagination and feature well executed themes and character development.
The Second Stage Turbine Blade
The band’s music is meant to fill in emotions and background information behind the story-line of the comics. In Volume I called ‘The Second Stage Turbine Blade’, readers (and listeners) are introduced to Heaven’s Fence, a group of 78 planets held together by the ongoing energy created from seven nearby stars. This energy band is called the Keywork and holds all the planets and their respective races in safety. The main antagonist of the story intends to shut the Keywork off and let the planets disperse, dividing and conquering the empires that exist within. Coheed and Cambria, along with Coheed’s brother Inferno, are part of a group of three powerful beings charged with keeping the Keywork active through a gauntlet of betrayal and redemption. We’ll try not to explain too many of the story’s outcomes here so that you can read it for yourself!
Claudio’s lyrics on songs like ‘Everything Evil’ and ‘Neverender’ paint clear pictures of the various set pieces of the comic’s story from multiple character’s point of view. As the story gets more desperate and meaningful, so does the tempo and topics of the album’s track list. Music has a powerful way of evoking emotions and providing subtext to our own lives. Claudio and the band do a great job of using it instead to experience feelings and motivations of a universe all-at-once separate and part of ours.
In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3
‘The Amory Wars’ second volume focuses on the battle for the Keywork from what is this Universe’s Earth. The fight continues and themes of war, sacrifice and trust in potential saviors gave Coheed and Cambria their two earliest hit songs within the prog community. The title track ‘In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3’ tries to detail the immense pressure of the battle for the Keywork through exploring soldier fatigue, war weariness and a chorus that continues to call all warriors to their posts despite mental and physical hurdles. The first and most successful single released from the album in 2004, ‘A Favor House Atlantic’, went on to become the band’s first hit and helped the album peak at #52 on the Billboard 200. Considered overall to be the groups’s breakout album, it was certified gold by the RIAA and is thought to be a top album in the ‘new prog’ genre.
Coheed and Cambria was also able to up their live show game throughout the tours for this album, showcasing their talent with lights and screens reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s spectacles. Leaning heavily into symbology and the relationship a powerful visual experience can create, Claudio and the band put a lot of thought and work into sculpting the live experience that fans would get. Claudio’s cutting tenor voice routinely matches the album’s melodies and is an instrument to be reckoned with all its own. Travis’ guitar lines scream with accuracy and by now the band had a regular bassist in Michael Todd. Every live show also benefited from the excellent drumming of Josh Eppard, one of those drummers that just always seems to be ‘in the pocket’.
Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness
Coheed has gotten a lot of playful (and sometimes not) criticism for the confusing titles of their albums throughout ‘The Amory Wars’ saga and it continued with this album. Some critics wager that the band’s popularity and growth was possibly hampered by the confusion. To follow along musically, it seemed almost a requirement to read the corresponding comic epic to make sure your place in the story line was footed. It was quite a risk to tie music and print together so closely and surely for each misstep or harder road that was created, the band triumphed in creativity and musical freedom.
The story for Vol III of the saga involves our main protagonist’s sudden belief that the only way to stop evil from taking over Heaven’s Fence is effectively to beat him to the punch. As he tells his dog Apollo, Star IV turns out to be the main source of the Keywork’s power and is now his responsibility to shut off. Our hero wants to dissolve the Fence himself, believing due to visions and dreams that it actually is made of energy harvested with a dark purpose. It seems he is the only one capable of shutting Star IV down, and he struggles with the weight of the outcome resting on his shoulders. The audience is also introduced to the writer of the story himself as a character, and how many of his fears and hurdles are shared by the story’s main character. Claudio and his now wife Chondra Etchart (responsible for her own comic successes such as ‘Key Of Z’ and ‘Kill Audio’) dig deep into the mental state of the writer and how connected he has become to his story. Characters from the writer’s waking days interact with ones from the Amory Wars universe in a blurring of lines and 4th walls. The story explores many hard choices that must be made in desperate situations, and how stress or obsession can take over what are usually positive outlets.
The music for this volume again took a step forward within the prog metal/rock community. Providing the group’s biggest hit with the song ‘Welcome Home’, this 15 track epic evokes Rush and The Mars Volta turned up to 12 from its first track to its last. ‘Always & Never’ and ‘Wake Up’ are sweeping ballads while ‘The Final Cut’ is a blistering trade-off guitar solo filled homage to Pink Floyd. Coheed begins to explore more time signatures, rhythms and continues to find new ways to incorporate musical character and situational themes from ‘The Amory Wars’. Their audience awarded them by helping Apollo Vol 1 peak at number 7 on the Billboard charts and selling out shows across the world.
Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow
The fourth and final installment in the original ‘The Amory Wars’ saga is subtitled ‘No World For Tomorrow’ and marked the opening of many doors for Coheed and Cambria. Fans were excited to see the newest release but to this day are still waiting on the accompanying comic content. While we received another musical tour de force, we’re left to wonder from titles and lyrics just what’s happened in the final act of ‘The Amory Wars’. Infusing their harder rock and metal roots with a few organs and piano arrangements produced what many critics consider Coheed’s ‘sweet spot’ in their sound. The tracks on this record shift back and forth in style and tempo, but are each undeniably produced with focus and aesthetic resolve.
Ambitious marketing campaigns for the record sparked interest and controversy. Special editions and DVD versions were announced, igniting an already burning Coheed collector culture. Excitement around the record drove it to debut at #6 on the Billboard Hot 200 at release and the band’s music began to appear in popular video games and other media for the first time in their career. Rock Band and Guitar Hero featured some of their songs. Large sports titles rushed to add a track or two to their soundtracks. Interest drove the album to hit #3 on the US Top Rock Albums list.
Instead of sitting back, Coheed and Cambria plotted their most ambitious tour yet. With keyboardists and backup singers, Coheed would tour North America on what they dubbed the ‘Neverender’ tour. Each venue hosted 4 nights of live ‘Amory Wars’ content, with each album being played in its entirety in volume order. Fans scrambled for tickets and the resulting special edition DVD/CD boxset with each night’s setlist included has become a symbol of Coheed fandom. The set is extremely hard to find and often sells for thousands of dollars on collector sites. Underground Music would be happy to try and get your hands on it!
The Story Is Complete For Now. Or Is It?
Coheed and Cambria has gone on to release studio albums all the way up to 2018’s ‘Unheavenly Creatures’. We’ll cover what’s happened between the initial end of ‘The Amory Wars’ comic and music rollercoaster ride up to the band’s most recent album in part 2 of Underground Music’s featured artist spotlight. Keep an eye out for it coming late 2020!
Due to Coheed and Cambria’s initial cult following, original many-colored pressings of their vinyl releases of the above 4 albums can be very hard to find. While re-pressings have occurred, most are onto black 180g blanks. Underground Music’s ability to source the album you’re looking for could sure come in handy if you’re looking to start picking up this amazing band’s vinyl discography. We often have 1 or 2 of their albums in stock, and we’ll do our best to order in what you need. Contact us today or check our Online Store for what we have on hand currently.