Review: Coheed & Cambria – The Color Before The Sun

The Color Before the Sun is the eighth studio album from the increasingly hard-to-define quartet from New York. Coheed & Cambria began life playing intelligent pop punk, which provided a platform for a sprawling sci-fi story penned by vocalist and guitarist Claudio Sanchez. They soon evolved to incorporate a vast array of influences, culminating in two, two-part albums, which covered everything from metal anthems and lengthy progressive numbers to simple pop songs and acoustic lullabies.

'The Color Before the Sun' - Image from Wikipedia

‘The Color Before the Sun’ – Image from Wikipedia

Fast forward to 2015 and Coheed & Cambria’s eighth full effort almost sees the band returning to where they began. Lead single, You Got Spirit, Kid, is taken straight from the chart-topping pop punk of the late nineties/early naughties, taking direct influences from bands like Fall Out Boy and The Offspring. For what it is, You Got Spirit, Kid is a solid track, but it fails to evoke the same emotion that Blood Red Summer or anything from their debut, Second Stage Turbine Blade, can do so well.

However, to the most dedicated fan (which is most of them, including me) it is not the genre shift that marks the biggest change, but the song’s subject matter. This is because The Color Before the Sun is their first effort to not detail the events of their fictional sci-fi world. To casual fans this won’t make any difference, but for the majority of the fan base, this album has been treated with some caution.

Fortunately, there is no need for breath-holding and concerned faces, as The Color Before the Sun delivers what the band are best known for: sublime pop melodies incorporated into a rock package. Most notably the love ballad Here To Mars (think 2’s My Favourite 1 but with more sparkle) and the bubbly The Island bring infectious choruses to simple rock formats, whilst Eraser is the pick of the bunch, with enough attitude and riffage to remind of Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 era Coheed.

However, The Color Before the Sun offers more than just a collection of straight-forward pop rock anthems, but actually displays some inventive gems. The Audience is one of the best progressive numbers the band have written, mixing gnarly guitar riffs, schizophrenic vocals and an overriding sense of impending doom with a catchy chorus, in a way that reminds of Holly Wood the Cracked or Al The Killer, showing the band can still fit into the metal category from time-to-time. Similarly Atlas, which was first revealed to fans as an acoustic number, sees the band turn up their amps to create a truly outstanding musical tribute to Sanchez’s new son.

Coheed & Cambria’s musical diversity is really shown off on this record, from metal to acoustic, which is incredibly impressive considering the short track listing. Both Colors and Ghost are very stripped back, clean-sounding tracks, the former falling into line with the record’s emphasis on pop melodies and the latter taking inspiration from Sanchez’s introverted and haunting side project, The Prize Fighter Inferno. The final acoustic song on the record, Peace to the Mountain is an epic closer that evolves from a gentle arpeggio into an orchestrated finish, combining elements of Fleetwood Mac with the uplifting tones of a summer blockbuster; a truly spine-tingling mixture.

The only negative, along with the slightly disappointing You Got Spirit, Kid, is Young Love, which fails to leave an impression, getting lost in heavy Year of the Black Rainbow-esque atmospheres and a fairly tedious riff. Pushing those two tracks aside, The Color Before the Sun is a fantastic collection of Coheed & Cambria songs, which highlight the band’s pop tendencies, but without compromising that special something that makes Coheed so infectious.

Overall: 7/10

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James

Review: Clutch – Psychic Warfare

Clutch’s tenth studio album, Earth Rocker, was critically acclaimed and deservedly so. The four piece from Maryland had fallen upon a magic formula by streamlining their songs, ditching the nonsense and getting straight to the business in hand: rock. Album number eleven therefore had a significant amount of pressure on it; could Clutch repeat or even better the successes of its predecessor?

Clutch - Psychic Warfare (ultimateclassicrock.com)

Clutch – Psychic Warfare (ultimateclassicrock.com)

The simple answer is “yes”, they’ve released another blinder of a record. Psychic Warfare comes close to being an Earth Rocker 2, keeping the take-no-prisoners attitude, but introducing enough new ideas for the record to stand on its own merits.

After a false start with the pointless intro track, The Affidavit, Clutch accelerate off the line with the high tempo of X-ray Visions acting as cinematic wheel-spin. Vocalist Neil Fallon waits only two seconds before blasting his thick southern-tinged voice down the microphone, which when combined with the palm-muted guitar and crashing cymbals, makes for a high-octane affair, which you can’t help but nod your head to whilst making aggressive facial expressions. Half-way through a blues inspired solo kicks in, before giving way to Fallon introducing his band mates via their signs of the zodiac. If there were any doubts that Clutch wouldn’t be able to deliver, then X-ray Visions quickly banishes these worries.

It’s a similar story across the record. The trio of Firebirds, Sucker for the Witch and Noble Savage are attitude-fueled numbers, that manage to combine Fallon’s charismatic lyrics with heavy riffing and several moments of pure venom. The intriguingly titled Behold the Colossus has a looser feel to it, letting foot-tapping rhythms take hold as the song winds through lighter and darker moments.

Despite being an inherently heavy record, there are several other interesting elements present across the album. A Quick Death in Texas features a lovely, lightly overdriven, loose riff that keeps the southern-inspired song thrumming. Your Love is Incarceration has a funky feel to it, swinging through its verses and completed by a cowbell cameo. Our Lady of Electric Light comes close to being branded a ballad and provides some respite in the middle of the album, flowing in from the gentle, if a little underwhelming instrumental, Doom Saloon.

Unusually two of the best cuts from the album come at the record’s conclusion. Decapitation Blues is vintage stoner rock that brings gigantically thick riffs, whilst the album closer, Son of Virginia, takes time to grow from a sparse blues twang into a full on cataclysm of heavy guitars and thumping drums.

Psychic Warfare does well not to be a carbon copy of Earth Rocker, but also does well not to stray too far away from what made its predecessor great. The same basic formula of high-octane, blues-inspired stoner rock permeates the record, but unlike some formulaic acts, such as AC/DC, each track has distinct characteristics and inspired ideas, helped in part by Fallon’s fantastically creative lyrics. Nearly twenty-five years into their career, Clutch seem like they are only just getting going.

Overall: 8/10

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James