Coheed & Cambria - Year of the Black Rainbow
Record Label: Columbia
Release Date: April 13, 2010
Despite how much I listen to music, talk about music, and read about music, every once in I while something happens that makes me realize that I don't actually know anything. The most recent example of this is Coheed & Cambria's newest release, Year of the Black Rainbow. The band's fifth studio album and fourth for Columbia Records is the latest installment of The Amory Wars, a sci-fi storyline penned by lead singer Claudio Sanchez. The story actually begins with Year of the Black Rainbow, so this record serves as a prequel to Coheed & Cambria's other four albums. I'm certainly no expert on the story of The Amory Wars, and truthfully I've only been a casual listener of Coheed & Cambria in the past, not listening to much other than Good Apollo Volume 1. But after spinning Year of the Black Rainbow a few times and immensely enjoying it, I headed over to my most heralded, reliable website for retrieving virtually irretrievable knowledge: Wikipedia. An hour later, I had read numerous articles attempting to describe The Amory Wars, researched releases of multiple comic book series and graphic novels associated with the storyline, and bookmarked links to purchasephysicalcopies of every Coheed & Cambria record I was missing on Amazon. For the past eight years, this profoundly unique group have been telling a story that they created through their music, an absolutely genius and layered story at that, and I had been missing out completely.
Now, I'm not about to go into detail on the storyline and won't attempt to delve into the lyrical content of Year of the Black Rainbow, but honestly, I don't have to. It doesn't take a biological science major to realize that this album is very well worth listening to regardless of whether you're a seasoned veteran of The Amory Wars storyline or you've never even heard of Coheed & Cambria.
Even though I've only snuck in high praise for this album so far, it begins with a clunker, and in fact, the two real strike-outs on this record are presented within the first three songs. "One" is a two-minute introduction to Year of the Black Rainbow that's meant to sound epic and foreboding, but really just drags on without much excitement. When it finally does kick into "The Broken", we find that it was well worth the wait. Sanchez's unmistakable vocals dominate the track, underlined by dueling guitar melodies that immediately remind the listener of the group's musical prowess. Coheed & Cambria's progressive rock sound continues into "Guns of Summer", a song with a nifty guitar riff and a chorus that is highlighted by Sanchez's earnest vocals that could benefit from a better production job. While the pieces are all there, most of the song sounds like it was Scotch-taped together. Coheed's best work is done when everything is distinguishable, but "Guns of Summer" is a dogpile of effects that is questionable at best. The band get back on track in glorious style with first single and my personal favorite, "Here We Are Juggernaut". The momentous, chill-inducing chorus is produced excellently, and when it kicks in for the last time, a higher-pitched background guitar sends the track out with an extra oomph.
The industrial-sounding "Far" is a bit of a strange find at this point in the album, but it's saved by jam-worthy instrumental portions. While Sanchez's vocals are extremely unique and infinitely fun to listen to, "Far" makes you wish Coheed had let their instruments loose longer. "This Shattered Symphony" is the vessel for yet another impressive guitar riff that is slighted by a lack of expertise in the production. In this case, at certain parts the listener may feel like there isn't enough space to really distinguish the instruments, but the song as a whole is enjoyable."World of Lines" is an upbeat number that's sure to be a future single, and has the catchiest chorus on Year of the Black Rainbow aside from the one on "Here We Are Juggernaut". The concreteness of the second half of the record continues with "Made Out of Nothing (All That I Am)", a heavier track that actually gets overshadowed for me by the beauty of "Pearl of the Stars". "Pearl of the Stars" starts out with an acoustic guitar and the deepest vocals that Sanchez offers on this album, and although it may be meant to be a track for listeners to take a break, the guitar solo offered in the bridge deserves nothing less than full attention.
Getting towards the end of the album, "In the Flame of Error" is the only song on the second half of the record that took me a few spins to really start liking. The change of tempo in the chorus is welcome here, as it's easy to get lost and impatient during the track. "When Skeletons Live" and the title track close out the record. The former gets repetitive at times, but this isn't entirely a bad thing as Sanchez's vocals are warming on the track. The latter closing track is a long-winded, seven-minute epic that we have come to expect when nearing the finale of a Coheed record. It starts out slow, then builds up a lot of steam with a nice crescendo, proving to be the most enjoyable instrumental track on the album.
Long-time fans of Coheed & Cambria are probably a little wary of this album because of their love of the band's early work. While my relative blindness to their pre-Good Apollo Volume 1 work left me in a unique position to review Year of the Black Rainbow, as I stated earlier I have listened to all of their efforts since receiving this album. This album is certainly no Second Stage Turbine Blade or In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, but I think that fans will react better to this than they did to No World for Tomorrow. It's not exactly a return to form, but it's a step back that way. For Coheed & Cambria, they continue making music the way they want to make it and progressing their sound. I encourage everyone to set aside your pre-conceived notions of the band, sit back, and enjoy this record.
Thanks, I'm interested to hear what he has to say. You're all about the first-letter-of-the-first-name-followed-by-a-dash-then-another-word nicknames. I can respect that.
Creativity isn't my thing, ya know?
Actually, if I ever give out nicknames, they're for something embarrassing or in regards to some weird trait. Not that it's weird, but I could start calling you Too Tall Tom if you'd like. Or T-Cubed. Shit, I'm right back to where I started. Man, I need to eat a Powerbar or something.
Great review! I definitely agree with a lot of what you said. And thank you for mentioning the sub-par production...I couldn't believe it when I first listened. At some points on the album, I have trouble getting past the poor production.
Overall, I'd say this is my least favorite Coheed release so far, but it's still a solid album. I enjoyed reading the review...great job!