Ever since I first heard the single The Running Free, I have been hooked on Coheed and Cambria, to the point where I would call them my favourite band. One of the reasons I adore their music so much, is the sci-fi story that the band tell through their records; each new album pieces together the events of a fictional galaxy called Heaven’s Fence. The storyline, known as the Amory Wars, was wrapped up after album number five, but via a peculiar side project and their last (double) album, The Afterman, the stories of two other characters (aside from Coheed, Cambria and their son, Claudio) have been told.
However, with album number eight the band have opted to ditch their sprawling concept and release a ‘normal’ record, probably due to the lack of major plotlines to detail with a new music. I always wondered if this day would come and sadly, for a slightly-too-invested fan like me, it leaves me with a bizarre sense of worry and dread, especially as lead song, You Got Spirit, Kid, reminds a little too much of Fall Out Boy for my liking.
In an attempt to re-assure myself that losing their biggest USP will not have an impact in the quality of the music, I have been thinking about other examples of bands that have ditched the concept albums that they were known for.
My first example is often compared to Coheed and Cambria, mainly because their vocalist can reach the same high notes that Coheed’s Claudio Sanchez regularly employs. The band in question are Protest the Hero, who also occupy that strange space belonging to the quasi-genre of nu-prog, which is home to bands that seem to contain too much pop to be called metal, too many oddities to be called mainstream and not enough runaway musical passages to be called prog.
Protest the Hero began their career with two concept albums, the first detailing an execution of a woman from three points of view and the second a more loose concept dealing with the themes of faith and goddess worship. However, the band’s following two albums, Scurrilous and Volition, do not have any concepts to tie the lyrical matter together, and although there is the odd bizarre lyric that can make you cringe, the superb musicality of the previous albums was still in place and the band’s focus did not subside.
The same cannot be said about my next example however. Mastodon began their career with a series of four albums that were each related to one of the classical Greek elements. Remission was vaguely related to fire, but the following three albums Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye told tumultuous stories relating to the elements of water, earth and air respectively. With each album their place in the progressive metal scene grew exponentially, and it seemed the band could do no wrong. Then came the concept-less The Hunter, which after the highly focused music of previous albums seemed to be lacking in creativity and cohesiveness. There were some individual standout tracks, but as an album it felt uninspired – a million miles away from its predecessor that topped album poll after album poll.
My final example completes the set quite nicely. The Dear Hunter is a progressive project led by Casey Crescenzo, which originally began with a series of three concept albums, entitled Acts, based around the story of a central character called the Dear Hunter. For the project’s fourth and fifth albums, Crescenzo chose to suspend the six-part album series and experiment with different sounds. The Color Spectrum was a collection of nine EPs, that each focused on a different genre or style, ranging from industrial rock to acoustic. It was a true testament to his song writing ability and is a glorious (triple) album to listen to, if you have the time! The break from his indulgent concept series and traditional sound proved to be an inspired decision and hopefully when he returns with Act IV later this year, his musical explorations will have a positive effect and rejuvenate the project. Lead track, A Night On The Town, seems positive.
Only time will tell which path Coheed and Cambria will follow with their new record. It all depends on whether they can retain their focus without a concept to tie the music together. However, there is one thing that I can say for sure: it’ll certainly take some getting used to!
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