Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis – Act II: Window of the Waking Mind review: A rigorous expansion of the band’s mythology |


In the age of mega-franchises and serialized television, modern audiences are well used to putting in the work before settling in for the last superhero hug on the big screen, and getting up to speed before gorge on the new Netflix hit. Rare, however, is the obligation to rave when it comes to the release of an album…

Since 2002, New York prog-metal bands Coheed and Cambria have built a sprawling multimedia narrative, each of their albums (beginning with The second stage turbine blade) tied to a complex sci-fi conceit. Dubbed “The Amory Wars,” C&C’s epic tale spans a range of comic books, a novel, and an iOS video game, among other non-musical entries. Needless to say, the breadth of frontman and engine Claudio Sanchez’s expansive mythos has spawned a voracious fan community.

Twenty years after those inventive beginnings, Sanchez and his Coheed acolytes show no signs of stopping. New album Vaxis II: A Window to the Awakened Mind serves as the second installment of a prequel to the original story, told over eight ongoing albums (not including 2015’s eerily personal standalone The color before the sun). For newcomers, the group’s esoteric galactic drama can prove nearly inscrutable – a tale of Tri-Mages, predicted saviors, and the downfall of the universe. That is, unless you want to spend an afternoon mapping this dense lore via the Coheed and Cambria Wiki.

The Coheed myth is the creative engine of the group. It is also, you will be relieved to hear it, no need to tackle it to enjoy the music. For the majority, Vaxis II: A Window to the Awakened Mind can be taken on its own merits.

There’s a lot to do here, from catchy pop-rock bangs to labyrinthine arrangements that twist under impressive guitar work. After an ominous opening, the first track proper, beautiful losers, breathes his way within earshot. With its huge powerchords draped in arpeggiated pinpricks, the track makes for an engaging start that’s cemented by its solid chorus hook. The barbed riffs and double-octave leads of Comatose and the fuzz-soaked brutalism of Shouldersone of the strongest cuts on the record, proves that the band, unlike many progressive artists, knows the value of the three-minute banger.

It is in this urgent form that the album is most effective, with the calculated and controlled six-string interplay of Sanchez and lead guitarist Travis Stever functioning as both a pleasing melody and a power boost. Sanchez’s shifting voice is also top-notch. However, as the record progresses, its post-punk intensity occasionally gives way to clichéd rock enunciation – as on the too-long love murder one and the other smooth The Liars Club – reminiscent of Jack Black making his way through a Tenacious D.

At 53 minutes, Vaxis II is a long file. Deeper cuts like the poppy An act of disappearance match the influence of the opening salvo, but there’s also the heartfelt simplicity (and Hallmark sentimentality) of Our lovethe whirlwind Bloodand electronics with automatic adjustment of evil man, which sports a stunning lead guitar buried in its soggy effects mix. The album enjoyed the least success on some of its more progressive expeditions. The big riffs of Scales of Supremacy carve a favorable path around a meaningless-sounding sci-fi scene, but the final nine-minute title track becomes entangled in a quagmire of rock opera, pseudo-heroic epic and aimless metallic histrionics. By the time we reach the jarring, flippant climax, we can’t help but wonder if what we’re listening to is an unfettered work of genius or an ego-stroking misadventure. Either way, it’s not something we’ll be rushing into.

Despite our distaste for its authoritative conclusion, Vaxis IIopens up tracks for you, plus the icy, palm-muted Blood and the bubbling An act of disappearance hit hard and demonstrate Coheed and Cambria’s ability to distill their imaginations into economical, well-written songs.

For the Coheed dyed-in-the-wool congregation, Vaxis II should fit satisfactorily into the larger narrative puzzle of the bunch and deliver the elements that shaped the first installment of this sonic prequel. For everyone else, Vaxis II is unstable listening; sometimes infuriating, often dazzling.

Vaxis II: A Window to the Awakened Mind is now available via Roadrunner.


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