Favourite rock/metal concept albums (Part 1) – Coheed and Cambria’s The Amory Wars album series

In January, I published a few posts about the albums that signposted my discovery of rock and metal sub-genres from the late 80s onwards. In Part 4, as I was writing about progressive metal bands like Coheed and Cambria, Dream Theater and Mastodon, I realized that many of my favourite albums from these groups are concept albums. Since then, I’ve been itching to create a list of my favourite rock and metal concept albums. Over the past few weeks, I’ve revisited many of them and have now shortlisted listed 15 albums, from 7 bands. I’m going to have to spread this out over a few installments. In this first one, I am writing about Coheed and Cambria, who account for 8 of these albums because almost their entire musical output has been built around a single story, with recurring characters and interconnected plots, sort of like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The current line-up of Coheed and Cambria (from left to right):
Zach Cooper (bass), Travis Stever (guitar), Claudio Sanchez (guitar and lead vocals) and Josh Eppard (drums)

Band: Coheed & Cambria

Album: Eight out of their nine studio albums (except 2015’s The Color Before the Sun) plus a 2006 solo album released by lead singer Claudio Sanchez (under the band name The Prize Fighter Inferno) are linked together by a common narrative thread:-

  • The Second Stage Turbine Blade (2002)
  • In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (2003)
  • Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005)
  • My Brother’s Blood Machine (2006) – by The Prize Fighter Inferno
  • Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow (2007)
  • Year of the Black Rainbow (2010)
  • The Afterman: Ascension (2012)
  • The Afterman: Descension (2013)
  • Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures (2018)

Narrative genre: Science fiction, space opera sub-genre

Theme/concept: Based on a series of comic books and a novel written by band leader Claudio Sanchez, named The Amory Wars, the albums tell the story of ill-fated lovers Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon, and is set in a complex solar system called Heaven’s Fence, consisting of 78 planets and 7 stars held in place by beams of energy called The Keywork. The multi-generational saga is predominantly tragic and features war, betrayal and murder.

What makes it special: The first three albums from 2003-05 are the best and are consistent in musical style – melodic heavy metal with complex hooks built around Claudio Sanchez’ distinctive soaring vocal style which is very effective at conveying the tragic and ultra-violent nature of the story. Perhaps best exemplified by the 8-minute magnum opus title track from their 2nd album In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, with its signature chorus line “Man your own jackhammer, Man your battle stations, We’ll have you dead pretty soon” (what a thrill head-banging and screaming out these lyrics with a few hundred other fans when they played at a small venue in Kuala Lumpur in 2010). They also have some wonderful melodic slow songs such as The Light & the Glass, Always & Never, Wake Up and The Road and the Damned; in rock parlance, one would call them power ballads, although even these slow songs contain violent and disturbing lyrics! The 4th album featured shorter songs and a more conventional ‘radio-friendly’ rock sound, evidenced by songs like Feathers and The Running Free. They lost some steam by their 5th album in 2010, which felt repetitive and lacking in the innovative hooks that were so much a feature of their early work. But then made a strong comeback in 2012/13 with the two-part The Afterman double album released 4 months apart, with the 2nd part Descension having a winner with pretty much every song, including one of my all-time favourites, Away We Go, which combines the best of Sanchez’ melancholic vocals, heartbreaking lyrics (“And away we go, Sinking in this beautiful undertow, together with you”) and compact, catchy riffs.

Best songs: Because the album names are so long, I’ve just put in the year of release instead:-

  • 2002: Time Consumer, Devil in Jersey City, Delirium Trigger, Neverender, God Send Conspirator.
  • 2003: In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, Cuts Marked in the March of Men, Three Evils, Blood Red Summer, The Camper Velourium I: Faint of Hearts, The Light & the Glass.
  • 2005: Always & Never, Welcome Home, Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood & Burial), Crossing the Frame, Wake Up, The Suffering, The Lying Lies & Dirty Secrets of Miss Erica Court.
  • 2006: Who Watches the Watchmen
  • 2007: Feathers, The Running Free, The End Complete IV: The Road and the Damned.
  • 2010: Here We Are Juggernaut, Far.
  • 2012: Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute, The Afterman, Goodnight Fair Lady, Subtraction.
  • 2013: The Hard Sell, Number City, Gravity’s Union, Away We Go, Iron Fist, Dark Side of Me, 2’s My Favourite 1
  • 2018: The Pavilion (A Long Way Back), Old Flames.

Ok, the heavy lifting has been done with this part. I listened to all 8 albums while writing this and it was so much fun re-visiting old favourites and discovering some new ones. My remaining posts will cover other favourite concept albums from the 1970s through to the 2000s.

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