If Coheed and Cambria weren't such geeks, they'd be overbearingly pretentious. The New York-based indie-prog-rockers have released five albums since 2002, all of them telling the story of "The Amory Wars," a sci-fi concept conceived by frontman Claudio Sanchez about a galaxy far, far away and the messianic dude (named Claudio) at the center of it all.
The band's most recent album, Year of the Black Rainbow, debuted at No. 5 in April — the highest showing ever for a Coheed and Cambria record. It's a prequel to "The Amory Wars," and, in step with the group's geek ambitions (The Amory Wars is also a comic-book series penned by Sanchez), it was simultaneously released as a novel co-written by Sanchez and author Peter David, whose résumé reads like a comic-shop shelf (Batman, Spider-Man, Star Trek).
"I created a concept that I can essentially hide all of my experiences behind," says Sanchez. "I was pretty shy and still am, to some degree. It was really tough putting my heart on my sleeve. [The characters Coheed and Cambria] were originally a reflection of me and my lover at the time, but they started to take on the life of my parents and my confusion growing up."
Year of the Black Rainbow, like Coheed and Cambria's other four albums, can be a tricky listen. And we're not just talking about the band's twisty, totally prog time signatures. The story itself is often confusing. Starting with the debut, The Second Stage Turbine Blade (which is actually the second part of "The Amory Wars"), none of the records really follows a chronological timeline. In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, from 2003, is the third chapter. Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005) is the first half of the fourth part; Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow (2007) is the other half. Got all that?
The new album is supposedly the final word on the subject. Or ... wait a minute — it's actually the first word, right? "There are certainly some holes that need to be filled," says Sanchez. "I think Year of the Black Rainbow helps clear up some of the events that happened previously. I never really thought it was going to get this big. [The story] has a great ending, but it's still open-ended. It needed some closure."
Still, Sanchez and the other three members of Coheed and Cambria (guitarist Travis Stever, bassist Mic Todd, and drummer Chris Pennie) designed Year of the Black Rainbow, more so than any of the other albums, to stand on its own as a collection of songs. And there is a more direct and melodic approach to cuts like "Here We Are Juggernaut" and "The Broken" — a contrast to past Coheed and Cambria faves like "Welcome Home," "A Favor House Atlantic," and "The Running Free," which become somewhat knotted along the way.
"I wanted the album to feel very universal," says Sanchez. "I didn't want to suffocate the listener with the concept so much. Those fans who want to read the novel can see the relationship between the [songs], but I wanted to be sure those fans who didn't want to get into the concept could relate to the music."
Instead of playing Year of the Black Rainbow in its entirety on their summer tour, Coheed and Cambria are offering fans a greatest-hits mix. Sanchez says the band will probably cover all five of the albums — from start to finish, like they did in 2008 with the Neverender concerts — at some point in the future.
But the future is one thing Sanchez is unsure of. Now that he's wrapped "The Amory Wars" — a pet project more than a dozen years in the making — he may start a new concept. Or he may abandon the whole narrative thing altogether.
Then again, there just may be more of "The Amory Wars" to explore. As George Lucas can tell you, there are tons of tales to be found in galaxies far, far away. "I'm toying around with the idea of a story that frames this one — that goes into the past and connects to the future beyond 'The Amory Wars,'" says Sanchez. "But at the same time, I'm wondering if I should take a step back and let it breathe. I gotta clear my head and see if this is something I really want to get back into."
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