Written by: Callum Doig
Three years on from their first ever non-conceptual record “The Color Before the Sun”, New Yorkian alternative prog quartet Coheed and Cambria have returned to the sci-fi realm of The Amory Wars with “Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures”, which has just seen the light of day across the world. With an exciting new story in the epic saga, we spoke with bassist Zach Cooper about the inception of “Unheavenly Creatures”, how a story can be reinterpreted in the listener’s own perspective, and his feelings of the final masters of Coheed and Cambria’s latest effort.
“I’m super proud of it and to be a part of it, and it was such a fun experience recording it. The process was interesting because we went to Applehead Recording where the band did “Good Apollo”, “In Keeping Secrets” and “The Afterman”. We went there without anyone producing it – it was just the band and our engineer Chris (Bittner), so it was kind of an interesting thing where everyone was comfortable just trying things, and overall, it was a super positive experience and a lot of fun.”
Prior to returning to the studio, Cooper and the rest of the band had been receiving demos by frontman Claudio Sanchez, as well as a number of rough art designs of what was to be put on the physical and graphic aspect of “Unheavenly Creatures”. While the remainder of quartet usually didn’t get to see the visuals or get a rough idea of the storyline until closer to when recording was done for an LP, this was the first time where Sanchez would share more details about the new chapter in The Amory Wars chronicles.
“As we were getting demos and song ideas from Sanchez, he also sent us a synopsis or an outline of the story and he was sending us concept art that artists were doing. So, it was kind of an interesting process because, usually when records were in the concept, we wouldn’t really get that much information about the concept beforehand. It would either take shape afterwards or maybe it was fully formed before. But, this was the first time we got a lot of information. So, it was a new perspective to come at the songs from. You could understand part of the emotional impact that Sanchez is going for or some of the different feelings that the songs needed to have.”
Just before the end of May, Coheed and Cambria surprised fans with their first single to “Unheavenly Creatures” called The Dark Sentencer, a seven minute epic featuring a two minute long Prologue. The track was treated as somewhat of a teaser trailer for “Unheavenly Creatures” where everyone could get a glimpse of what was to be expected in Coheed’s latest plot in the form of a malevolent prog rock anthem.
“One of the reasons I was really excited about The Dark Sentencer being the first song was that you get a tease at some of the characters, and some of the story with the Prologue. So, you’ve got this whole section that leads into The Dark Sentencer and teases some of those things, which, coming back to the concept after “The Color Before the Sun” is an exciting thing for a large portion of the fan base. Then, The Dark Sentencer just rips and to me, it’s cinematic and has a grandiose vibe to it. It’s a good representation of the feel of “Unheavenly Creatures” from start to finish, and it’s a really cool way to set the tone for someone’s first listen for something off the record. It sets the same tone for them, and they just don’t know where it goes from there.”
While most the fan base identify with Sanchez’s storytelling in his lyricism, their fan base known as the ‘Children of the Fence’ have been recalled to create their own understanding and analysis of the songs by Coheed themselves. Cooper finds himself to resonate with this notion much like the fans – being able to have his own translations when listening back to what he and his fellow bandmates had incarnated.
“Having the concept and knowing how the songs fit into the concept, and knowing him personally, and the songs where he’s coming from, you’ve got a good background on that. But, with everyone forms a different connection, especially with lyrics. Even knowing all of that stuff, you can interpret something completely on your own, and enjoy it that way. Before I knew anything about them, they were just demos that got sent to me with some lyrics, guitars and stuff. You hear something, and it conjures up an image or emotion with you, and it speaks to you on a level that is totally uninformed. I think that even when you get informed, you can still relate to it in that way however you interpret it.”
Looking back at everything that Coheed and Cambria had spent many months working on, Cooper feels as though the versatility between all the tracks has felt like the most rewarding result of the album’s development. It wasn’t just because all of the songs were distinctive between each other, it was also because they made the whole thing feel like a journey, musically and story-wise.
“From my perspective, I feel like the most accomplished part would be all of its elements. To me, the record feels well balanced. It’s not too far on the heavy side, or being a bunch of pop songs. You’ve got moments of all of those kinds of elements, and none of them are overpowering to the album. To me, it’s like a ride as you go through it, and it’s set up to feel that way. The track listing was devised to be a ride – to listen to it from start to finish, to come all the way through and just enjoy where there’s dips into mellower things, and then there’s the heavy rocking stuff, the soaring pop chorus, the anthemic bursting sections, all of that stuff is there, and it’s all part of the ride. If you have too much of those things, the ride runs flat.”