Band of the Week (Week 5) – Coheed & Cambria

Thursday, 6 February 2014 | By | Add a Comment

Coheed-And-Cambria-2012

 

I will occasionally admit to having the odd fault here and there. For the most part I live quite happily knowing that my foibles aren’t going to prey on my mind too much and won’t end up costing me hundreds in self help books and weekend retreats to rectify my character defects. However one particular flaw that I had bitch-slapped into check was my post teenage prevalence for writing off a band after approximately fifteen seconds of listening to one track. No arguing, no reasoning, just eject the disc and toss it back to it’s owner. In my defense I’d started university the year before and the doors to my tiny musical world had been splintered into firewood as a whole new plethora of bands was compacted and inserted forcibly into my ears by my wonderful new friends The Internet and The Huddersfield Music Scene: I simply didn’t have time for anything that didn’t check my poptartcentric little boxes. There were a thousand other bands cramming themselves down my broadband cable vying for attention.

 

So, to say it was out of character for me to listen to no less than thirty-seven CDs worth of completely new, unsolicited music was an understatement. A new friend had set out to educate a young Duggan and lent me her CD collection collated from her early teens via an education in the strange ways of The Internet, containing  the sort of strange attractive American bands that breezed through Manchester’s smaller academy venues and who inhabited the hidden away music shop corners of college-rock, indie-pop, alt-folk and many other subgenres of music that I would grow to love even (if just for their use of hyphenated descriptions). She had scrolled through my laptop music library muttering the phrase ‘I’ll tell you what we’re not listening to…’ repeatedly. Young and cocksure, I was determined to impress with my severely stunted knowledge of underground music just to prove that, you know, I had some taste. I took the disc case and felt suddenly very, very stupid and overwhelmed by what I held in my hands.

I had only heard of one band in the whole collection and I knew in my fifteen second’s experience of their song ‘A Favor House Atlantic’ that the singer sang incredibly high and had huge hair (I’d been shown the video online). The band’s name sounded like a variety of posh cheese (‘Yes Darcy, a slice of Coheed & Cambria and port would be super!’) and their albums had strange numerical titles reminiscent of science fiction novellas. At this point in my music discoveries, Feeder’s ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’ was about as poetic and esoteric an album title as I cared to venture. Hell, clothe any five American teenagers into cut off Dickies and have them make an album called ‘Guitar Pop About Teenage Stuff’ and I’d tear your hands off to buy it. I liked my bands to make their raison d’etre quite apparent and this Philip K Dick stuff was way out of my league.

As I struggled my way through the collection I kept returning to the three studio albums I’d been supplied with: ‘The Second Stage Turbine Blade’, ‘In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3’, and the recently released ‘Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV: Vol. I’. Simple mathematical skills hinted that there was a sequence I was meant to listen to them in and that the first part was missing. I had recently joined a fledgling band fronted by another member of my cast of Cool New Uni Friends, Mr. Andie Gill. He took the time to explain the term, which would feature heavily in my upcoming musical epiphany: ‘Concept album’.

Much like with our band Haloed in the Headlights, each album was oddly titled and named as it was part of a larger story told across the tracks. Shuffling the albums or skipping through to my preferred tracks meant that I’d missed the continuing narrative. Armed with this knowledge I went back home and listened to all three back to back. Honestly, I was still none the wiser as to the story. Claudio Sanchez (Singer and lyricist) had created a world full of his own names terms: The Keywork, The Prize Fighter Inferno, House Atlantic, Prise, The Crowing, RO-Bot. I was happily lost in a brand new world of science fiction I hadn’t encountered since my childhood where I would mentally wrestle with the Marvel Universe and the terminology thrown up by my brothers’ action film collection. I was the only eight year old that knew the trouble the Weyland-Yutani Corporation caused when they attempted to terraform LV426, and I knew what the X Factor was before Simon Cowell coined the phrase. Since 2008 the stories have actually been scripted and compiled into a series of comic books breaking down the songs into a linear story that can be read as a companion to or independent of the series of albums.

The music of Coheed & Cambria challenged me as much as the lyrical content, calling for my solid grounding in pop structures to make room for a more relaxed approach to song writing. ‘Three Evils (Embodied in Love and Shadow)’ goes for three minutes and forty-eight seconds of it’s five minute eleven second length just on a one-two punch of verses and differing bridges before it gets to the chorus which explodes into a refrain of ‘Pull the trigger and the nightmare stops!’ over and over again, turning it into more of a refrain than a regular major chord chorus. Musically it’s weird and shouldn’t work but the pop anthem enthusiasm and the saccharine layered vocals (all backing done by Claudio again in three different harmonies) set up shop in my brain and refused to leave. Similarly ‘the Crowing’ goes through nearly five minutes of progressive structuring (including a fake chorus) before delivering a battle anthem refrain in the final two minutes that stroked shivers up my spine on first listening. Coheed & Cambria clearly knew the fine art of delayed gratification in song writing, holding back the parts they knew the listener desired for the intricacies they wanted to write: If you want your anthem, you have to indulge our story first.

I became addicted. My brain couldn’t weigh up whether the music was too elaborate and grandstanding for it to digest or if the harmonies and major key choruses were the perfect accompaniments to emotion and storytelling. Claudio’s voice became another instrument to appreciate, distinct and unique in a world of stroppy screaming. The story fell into place piece by piece and shook awake the child in me and whispered that there was one more story of a world that needed saving. Catching them live for the first time at Download 2006 I sat on a hill in the burning sun, topless and oblivious to the people around me passing around water and weed. I just watched. The twin guitars (something I’d never been convinced of in other bands) fell into place perfectly. Claudio lifted his guitar to his face and sang into the pickups, creating a distorted computer wail. The session musician on keyboards, percussion and samples pulled out a fucking theramin. This was insane.

 

As I digested this intriguing new world I began to suspect that not all was as fictional as Claudio made it out to be. Many of the lyrics on ‘Good Apollo…Vol.1’ were clearly about someone who had wronged him. A callous pen wrote named someone a ‘whore in sheeps clothing’ and described religious-themed persecution that would get soon the album banned in several American states; ‘The Suffering’ was too obviously about a marriage proposal getting rejected; the last few songs of Good Apollo dropped the Amory Wars front altogether and seemed the ramblings of a drunken writer to himself. I sought out the documentary ‘The Fiction Becomes the Real’ on Youtube where the band talk about the events that inspired the story. The dragonfly emblem adopted by many of the band’s fans was revealed to be a symbol for heroin which had plagued Claudio’s family life from a young age. The Amory Wars were named after Amory Street where he had grown up. The Bag OnLine Advertures (the original story title) was taken from an actual handbag store opposite his girlfriend’s flat in Paris when he first started writing. None of this ‘hiding in plain sight’ strategy would have mattered much to me if it wasn’t something I had recently started to do in my own writing.

 

Discovering Coheed & Cambria was a changing point in my musical life. My ego took a blow when I saw that I had nearly overlooked one of the most accomplished back catalogues in recent history. I started to look outside of Victory and Drive Thru Records for my next band to appraise. I had started pulling together my own story that would eventually develop into songs that I would look for a band to perform, stumbling across The Idol Dead in the process. Creatively a fire was started and an appetite I didn’t know I had was sated. I decided to improve my guitar playing by learning some of their songs. I got as far as the opening few riffs to Welcome Home Clean, but I was impressed at myself nonetheless. A year or so into Idol I peeled off the flamenco intro and Nish immediately filled in the drum parts accurately and with a huge amount of zeal. We never did learn the rest of the song (although that’s never stopped us trying this introductory salvo many times since) but it made me smile to know that the band that shook up my concepts of what a band can do still has it’s small moment of appreciation in what I contribute to today.

 

I never did take to any of the other CDs in that borrowed collection quite as much as I did with Coheed & Cambria but whenever I feel like giving up on a new band before their song has got to it’s second chorus I remember what I nearly missed out on because I judged a band by it’s hair instead of it’s heart.

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Guitar battering, lyric bellowing merch seller. Give me pepperoni pizza at shows.

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