Coheed and Cambria’s prog rock gets cosmic



By Steve Newton

I’m a big fan of progressive rock, but I must admit that I don’t always listen as closely to prog lyrics as I should. Heck, sometimes when I’m vegging out to Rush’s “2112” I’ll get all lost in Alex Lifeson’s compelling chords and have no clue what Geddy Lee is on about with Neil Peart’s sci-fi storyline. It may be sacrilege, but there you go.

Fans of Coheed and Cambria might find that lyrics-be-damned approach a little hard to comprehend, as the New York prog-metal quartet has been telling one long story—the Amory Wars saga—over the course of five studio albums now. Its latest, Year of the Black Rainbow, is actually a prequel to the other works, as singer, guitarist, and lyricist Claudio Sanchez illustrates in a plot outline.

“Essentially this void appears over Heaven’s Fence, which is where the story takes place,” explains the fuzzy-haired rocker from his Manhattan apartment, “and it divides the people of Heaven’s Fence into two. Some believe that it’s the work of God, this omen coming of bad things, where others believe it’s confirmation that Wilhelm Ryan, the dictator that’s pushed into power, is truly the Almighty. It creates a bit of civil unrest, and that’s kind of what sparks the creation of Coheed and Cambria as these characters that are set in place to remedy what’s happening.”

That’s pretty complex stuff for your typical headbanger to ingest; even Sanchez admits that it “gets a little all over the place”. But the real hard-core C&C followers can actually go one better with the deluxe edition of Year of the Black Rainbow, which comes with a 352-page novel cowritten by Sanchez and best-selling author Peter David. That tome acts as an extension of the lyrics for those who can’t get enough of the Amory Wars concept, which Sanchez isn’t necessarily done with yet.

“If I decided not to continue the story line it could live the way it is right now,” he points out. “But I do have ideas to continue it, and whether or not the band will be part of it is really hard to say at the moment in terms of the musical counterpart.”

Sanchez’s lifelong obsession with sci-fi grew from watching Saturday-morning cartoons, reading comic books, and escaping into the realm of the Stars Wars films. But he doesn’t jump on the Hollywood bandwagon as far as futuristic blockbusters go. In other words, Avatar didn’t blow him away.

“I thought it was cool, I guess,” he hedges. “My wife didn’t. I was kind of on the fence. I certainly thought the visuals were stunning, of course, but the story was just a very universal one and kind of rehashed a little bit.”

Sanchez got a lot more enjoyment from watching Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, the recent documentary on the legendary band that his group has drawn comparisons to over the years. But one thing Rush hasn’t done during its fabled career—not yet, anyway—is jam with the University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band, as Coheed and Cambria did at Coachella last April.

“We wanted to do something special and management just suggested that,” recalls Sanchez. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the YouTube footage, but when they come out and take the stage as the song is going on, it’s tremendous. It’s really a highlight of my being a part of this band.”

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