Earlier this year in May, New York college-radio-proggers COHEED AND CAMBRIA released a new video single entitled “Comatose” ahead of their new studio album, “Vaxis – Act II: A Window of the Waking Mind,” set for release on June 24th, 2022, via Roadrunner. Like most of their outings, the new album is a sprawling, conceptual affair, continuing The Amory Wars storyline from the ongoing series of science fiction comic books and novels created by the band’s frontman, Claudio Sanchez. So, keeping this in mind, the unsuspecting listener may be less inclined to write the new single off as mindless hard-rock fodder to put on while cruising down the Santa Monica Boulevard in a Chevrolet Camaro. The thing is: listening to the song with your eyes closed, your mind could easily be fooled into thinking it was 1984 and muscle shirts, along with horizontal stripes, were cool again. The spaceships and lasers in the lyric video only further pronounce the vintage, feel-good hard-rock vibe. So, with this sort of time-warp serving as the foretaste for the full-length offering, I really didn’t know what to expect. Per an official, earlier announcement, the concept of the album follows the journey of ”a couple on the run from tyrannical forces.” In order to figure out where this hard-rocking banger fits in the story, there’s really no other option but to plunge headlong into the lore. For the hardcore fans, the deluxe version of the album comes with an illustrated novella.
“The Embers of Fire,” a minute-and-a-half sort of intro, sets things in motion in nothing short of an “opening credits of a movie” manner. You cannot escape the fact that this is a concept album. Then, I remind myself that COHEED AND CAMBRIA is a band that has carved out a whole career out of being conceptual. In their back catalog, there is only one album that is NOT a conceptual affair and a part of the ongoing saga. Echoing the structure on quite a few of their previous outings, almost two-thirds of the album sounds somewhat radio-friendly, poppy even, before things get straight-up progressive during the concluding finale of epics. In the band’s defense, it needs to be said that even at their poppiest, the songcraft is pretty damn good.
So, the first actual song on the selection is “Beautiful Losers,” an anthemic hard-rock banger that would fit nicely on the soundtrack of some Hollywood movie starring Tobey Maguire. Maybe it comes from the narrative feel of the lyrics that practically all the songs are charged with a distinct cinematic aura, specifically of the Hollywood flavor rather than something artful and European. Listening through the album feels like watching an action-packed science-fiction film with lots of explosions and big emotions.
For a hardcore prog aficionado, the radio-friendly tracks serve as hors d’oeuvres for the main course. A few of them stand out really nicely – “Shoulders” for its gritty and bluesy hard-rocking á la THE BLACK KEYS on steroids and “Love Murder One” for its outstanding, feel-good 1980s hard-rock vibes. “Blood,” in turn, blends those lovely Andy-Summers -like guitar arpeggios with the aesthetics of, say, “Doomed” by BRING ME THE HORIZON. By and large, the hard-rock side of the album throws a little bit of THE POLICE, vintage hard-rock, and pop hooks in the same blender – and you cannot really go wrong with that.
The plot thickens, quite literally, with “Ladders of Supremacy.” The song is a 7-minute epic that traverses the realms of late RUSH and the proggier side of IRON MAIDEN. Sanchez‘s vocals may trigger subtle flashbacks of THE MARS VOLTA even, here and there, but the music is by no means as restless – the poppier parts make sure of that. The same holds pretty much true for the following track, “Rise, Naianasha (Cut the Cord),” as well: the prog plot gears up a notch but without compromising the catchy vocal hooks. This sort of prog approach is strongly reminiscent of bands such as BLIND EGO and RPWL.
As the icing on the cake, the album ends with the 8-minute epic, “Window of the Waking Mind.” It is yet another epic and emotional whirlwind with all the band’s trademark trimmings. The song further demonstrates that the new COHEED AND CAMBRIA offering is yet another technical knock-out in 13 rounds, echoing their finest work. “Vaxis II” does not pale much in comparison with, say, “No World For Tomorrow,” which should be a reason enough to get your hands on this proggy hard-rock gem.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- The Embers of Fire
- Beautiful Losers
- A Disappearing Act
- Love Murder One
- The Liars Club
- Bad Man
- Our Love
- Ladders of Supremacy
- Rise, Naianasha (Cut the Cord)
- Window of the Waking Mind
Claudio Sanchez – lead vocals, guitars, keyboards, programming
Travis Stever – guitars, vocals
Josh Eppard – drums, backing vocals, keyboards, programming
Zach Cooper – bass, backing vocals