[Columbia; 2010]

The growth of Coheed and Cambria since 2002’s Second Stage Turbine Blade is, frankly, remarkable. From the humble beginnings of a band standing in the middle of the contemporary rock pack with a potentially ambitious album-spanning concept as the only feature elevating them over their contemporaries, they’ve transformed into an epic, hard-hitting modern progressive metal behemoth. To suggest they’re still at the same level as 30 Seconds to Mars et al would be an insult to the band.

Year of the Black Rainbow returns the listener to the very start of the Amory Wars story, a story that each album has so far been a part of. For me, Coheed’s decision to return to the start of the saga at a later date mirrors George Lucas’ decision to film the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy after the Original Trilogy; in no way could the band have handled the dense and epic content of Year of the Black Rainbow at the start of their career.

Songs chronicling the start of a devastating in-universe war which results in an oppressive ruler coming to power could only have been written by a band who have had the chance to grow together and progress to a point where they play the music they want to play with no interference, and to gain a reputation that they can enlist the help of producers of a certain calibre; Atticus Ross and Joe Baressi of Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age fame respectively. But, as triumphant as the story is, enough of engrossing album concepts. The music is the deal maker or breaker here, and it is the music that highlights the bands ever-growing maturity rather than the songwriting. As with recent Coheed albums, the opening track is orchestral and scene-setting; minor in key with a brooding and menacing yet solemn piano melody backed by distorted electronic whirs, booms, feedback and steadily growing crescendos segueing straight into already released “The Broken.” This begins an extraordinary 5-track sequence of dark, and at times atonal metal (“The Broken”), an astonishing Mars Volta-meets-NIN song (“Guns Of Summer”), a theme which is continued for the verses of “Here We Are Juggernaut” until an anthemic, fist-pumping chorus takes over.

“Far” represents a tender side to Coheed and a respite from the doom and gloom of the previous four tracks while still sounding like Coheed. And yes, that’s only the first five tracks. Do the remaining seven songs reach the lofty heights of the first five? Not really, with “When Skeletons Live” and “The Black Rainbow” being the only exceptions. Middle portion of the album is certainly more focused than much of the music on preceding album No World For Tomorrow; the ballads are more heart-felt and the rock songs are tighter indicating a band who have made the step-up, but they aren’t as unique as the first five and thus don’t grab you as much however It isn’t quite the definition of a “flabby album mid-section.” Album closer The Black Rainbow is drenched in desperation and solemnity and builds to a crescendo of negative emotion; a suitable closer for the album.

The growth of Coheed and Cambria since 2002’s Second Stage Turbine Blade is, frankly, remarkable. From the humble beginnings of a band standing in the middle of the contemporary rock pack with a potentially ambitious album-spanning concept as the only feature elevating them over their contemporaries, they’ve transformed into an epic, hard-hitting modern progressive metal behemoth. To suggest they’re still at the same level as 30 Seconds to Mars et al would be an insult to the band.

Year of the Black Rainbow returns the listener to the very start of the Amory Wars story, a story that each album has so far been a part of. For me, Coheed’s decision to return to the start of the saga at a later date mirrors George Lucas’ decision to film the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy after the Original Trilogy; in no way could the band have handled the dense and epic content of Year of the Black Rainbow at the start of their career.

Songs chronicling the start of a devastating in-universe war which results in an oppressive ruler coming to power could only have been written by a band who have had the chance to grow together and progress to a point where they play the music they want to play with no interference, and to gain a reputation that they can enlist the help of producers of a certain calibre; Atticus Ross and Joe Baressi of Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age fame respectively. But, as triumphant as the story is, enough of engrossing album concepts. The music is the deal maker or breaker here, and it is the music that highlights the bands ever-growing maturity rather than the songwriting. As with recent Coheed albums, the opening track is orchestral and scene-setting; minor in key with a brooding and menacing yet solemn piano melody backed by distorted electronic whirs, booms, feedback and steadily growing crescendos segueing straight into already released “The Broken.” This begins an extraordinary 5-track sequence of dark, and at times atonal metal (“The Broken”), an astonishing Mars Volta-meets-NIN song (“Guns Of Summer”), a theme which is continued for the verses of “Here We Are Juggernaut” until an anthemic, fist-pumping chorus takes over.

“Far” represents a tender side to Coheed and a respite from the doom and gloom of the previous four tracks while still sounding like Coheed. And yes, that’s only the first five tracks. Do the remaining seven songs reach the lofty heights of the first five? Not really, with “When Skeletons Live” and “The Black Rainbow” being the only exceptions. Middle portion of the album is certainly more focused than much of the music on preceding album No World For Tomorrow; the ballads are more heart-felt and the rock songs are tighter indicating a band who have made the step-up, but they aren’t as unique as the first five and thus don’t grab you as much however It isn’t quite the definition of a “flabby album mid-section.” Album closer The Black Rainbow is drenched in desperation and solemnity and builds to a crescendo of negative emotion; a suitable closer for the album.

Year of the Black Rainbow is a far bleaker and despairing album than previous efforts for Coheed, but by becoming darker the band sounds revitalised in almost every possible way. The production duo of Ross and Baressi have played a part in that revitalisation, but on the whole it is a band striving to move forward and push their own boundaries while sounding like themselves that has caused this step-up. We can only hope that now the Amory Wars saga is complete, this isn’t the end of Coheed because on this evidence, they can only get better.

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