Coheed and Cambria return with their 9th studio album Vaxis – Act 1: The Unheavenly Creatures for Roadrunner Records. No stranger to the band, as discussed on the ReadJunk podcast’s Hudson Valley episode, I’ve seen them evolve from a high school band in Nyack, New York during their time as Shabutie all the way to huge tours in large venues all around the world. It’s been interesting to see the band evolve into this layered multi platform experience, with the stories of the album’s concepts being worked into several comics written by frontman Claudio Sanchez into multiple ongoing series and graphic novels.
While Roadrunner might seem like an odd fit considering it’s legacy, if they’re calling this Act 1, I’m assuming they’re going to continue on with this series. The album itself was referred to as a “return to form” revisiting the concepts of the earlier albums with the Amory Wars. What I find is it’s seemingly a battle of 2 albums, one that delivers the return to form, but another one that’s paced a little too slow and falls in line more of their recent works. It was really easy when the first pre-release single “The Dark Sentencer” was released to jump back on board for most fans, as the song recalled a lot of the epicness of the earlier anthems that cemented the band as a force to be reckoned with, but the next pre-release single really left fans scratching their heads. The title track “Unheavenly Creatures” evokes more of a Good Apollo… vibe, but more of the lighter material.
I questioned using the “Progressive” style tag for the album, as if anything it’s very subtle throughout, and evokes more of a Pop/Rock feel than it does the earlier Rush/Yes comparisons. “The Gutter,” the 3rd pre-release single also fell in line similarly to flow that “Unheavenly Creatures” have, you start to question what form the band is returning to, but delving deeper into the album, tracks like “Love Protocol” evoke a Second Stage Turbine Blade style a lot of older fans will love. Some of the songs on this album seem to invoke a continuation of the last album’s more pop feel like “Toys”, “The Pavalion” and “Old Flames” which seem to have more in common with later years Jimmy Eat World than it does Coheed.
But it’s not all like that, there are moments where the band takes creative leaps and it interestingly pays off. “Queen of the Dark” has an almost Type O Negative like delivery, bringing on a somewhat more darker tone where the slower pace works beautifully. “Night-Time Walkers” features a Starscream/Cobra Commander-esque vocal and is a great tool for advancing the story as well as engaging listeners in a different way that certainly grabs your attention the way earlier albums did. “All on Fire” is pretty well paced jam; one of the more exciting tracks, and “It Walks Among Us” does fit well late in the album with that pace and a somewhat more familiar style similar to the previously noted Good Apollo era.
The album closes on a slower note with “Lucky Stars, while not the epic 4-5 part grand finale, it does bring back a feel similar from songs like “Always and Forever” and “Mother Superior.” Overall, I mentioned this was a tale of 2 albums, one that felt like the return to form, and another that felt like filler material more akin to their previous album The Color Before The Sun. It’s not that this isn’t a good album, it just feels overall this would’ve been better as 2 separate EP’s as opposed to an album that was heralded overall as a “return to form.” But as the band is well into it’s second decade, they have more than enough material to have something to please their fans. But overall I think there’s enough old style material here to make it worth your while.
Notable Tracks: The Dark Sentencer, Queen of the Dark, Love Protocol, The Gutter