Strap in kids because this is where our story begins.
Actually, the story has to begin before this album because this is technically part two but for our purposes, this is the first instalment of my album reviews over the greatest band I have ever known…Coheed and Cambria.
The first album on our list is 2002’s Second Stage Turbine Blade. Let me start by saying that each album from this band has a unique sound or style but all remain inherently Coheed as well. The first of their albums falls somewhere between punk, post-hardcore, and dare I say it…emo. I am not one to irrationally overuse that last term but bands like Coheed and Taking Back Sunday and At the Drive-In all share similarities, especially in this first album.
Second Stage is the beginning of what would become an obsession; one that would stick with me for…let me check the calendar…14 fucking years. From emotion to lyrical prowess to sweet, sweet music, this album has it all. Oh yeah, and as I mentioned before, it also has a badass story to boot. If you are interested in the story at all, I will divulge information here but you should also go pick up The Amory Wars: The Second Stage Turbine Blade graphic novel, written by Claudio Sanchez and drawn by many artists including Wes Abbot and Gus Vasquez(Issues 1 and 2), Mike Miller (issues 3-5), and Gabriel Guzman (issues 6-10).
Let us begin with the music. The album from start to finish is at once encompassing and heartbreaking. The story can be important in understanding the emotional impact of such a work but the music and vocals are major players and can be enjoyed/wept over without knowledge of the story. I think for our purposes here, I will go song by song and in each section I will: 1) Discuss the song and each high point 2) Discuss its place in the story 3) Fawn endlessly over the glory that is Coheed.
Track 1: The Second Stage Turbine Blade
Coheed has always been a highly cinematic band and in that regard, their albums usually begin with some sort of instrumental piece. This one is beautiful and eerie and sets the stage for what will become the emotional and musical tone for the album. This song also uses a musical theme which will show up multiple times on subsequent albums, another amazing string to thread through their albums.
The Story: The world of The Amory Wars is set in Heaven’s Fence, a series of 78 planets arranged in a triangular formation, powered by seven sources, known as the Stars of Sirius. This planetary structure is known as the keywork (the symbol most people associate with the band). Before this album even begins, there is a lot of story which happens. I am not going to explain everything because you should buy and read the book but I will give you enough so that this explanation makes sense. In this world, there are three races: Man (regular human beings), Prise (Blue winged, angel-like creatures), and Mage (Powerful beings who rule the 12 sectors of the keywork). In the past, one mage named Wilhelm Ryan seized control of two other sectors, earning the title of Supreme Tri-Mage. He became a despotic leader and was feared by most across the keywork. Because of this, a man named Leonard Hohenberger created a series of IRO-Bots (Cyborgs which are indistinguishable from humans) to battle against Ryan. Before he could set their plans in motion, he was found out. Two of these IRO-Bots had their memories wiped and were sent to live a life together. The third, a brother named Jesse, was sent away with his memories intact to plan a new assault. The story then jumps years in the future when a prophecy about a messianic child who would bring about the downfall of Wilhelm Ryan is discovered and a manhunt ensues.
Track 2: Time Consumer
This song begins with instrumentals, dueling guitars, a groove from the drums, and an amazing bass line which all build their way to a high-energy verse. The music sounds pretty but somewhat melancholy, an emotion which permeates the story aspect of this chapter. Once the vocals kick in, the song becomes a palm-muted frenzy with Claudio singing quietly at first but louder as the chorus approaches. The chorus itself is a soaring tribute to the characters in the story, a lullaby of sorts (see the story below). The lyrics, “Me and my star, Mathew goodnight. You know, by law when you’ll be forgiven. Maria my star, Mathew goodnight. You know, by lord, when you’ll be forgiven,” push the emotion over the top and you can feel the pain in Claudio’s voice. The song continues along the same verse chorus structure with the introduction of amazing lyrics (my favorite from the album, which are also tattooed on my arm), “Pain is only a pulse if you just stop feeling it.” The song has a disjointed guitar “solo” if you want to call it that, mostly noise but picking up frequency until the chorus returns more powerful than ever.
The Story: Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon and their four children, Maria and Mathew (Young twins), Claudio (The middle child), and Josephine live average lives. One day, while walking out of work, Coheed is stopped by Mayo Deftinwolf, Wilhelm Ryan’s right hand man and general, and is told about his past; the terrorist group he was created for, the fact that he is not human, and the danger he and his children now present. Deftinwolf tells Coheed that he and his wife have something called the Monstar Virus which could bring about the downfall of Heaven’s Fence. Coheed is told that he and his wife can be cured but that the virus has mutated into the Sinstar Virus which cannot be removed and must be eradicated to save millions of lives. Deftinwolf informs Coheed that they will becoming the following day and that if his Children aren’t killed, Ryan’s men would do so but not before painful torture and investigation. Coheed goes home, tells Cambria all about the meeting and then proceeds to make a plan; they will kill their children to save them from a more painful death and then kill themselves. The song follows the parents as they talk about having to poison their youngest children. The chorus becomes a lullaby Claudio is singing to the children as they die in his arms. The guitar solo, to me, has always appeared to be a representation of the children choking to death. This song kicks me square in the gut every time, especially when placed in the context of the story.
Track 3: Devil in Jersey City
After a quick reference to the bands original name (Shabutie), the song kicks in straight away into a punk vibe which is all driving guitars, bass, and drums with Claudio’s vocals aggressive and energetic. The song very simply oozes energy and, as is normal in most of their songs, the story is not as happy as this song sounds. The lyrics to start the song, “New Jersey bound when sound asleep they’ll find you at your most vulnerable,” are a good indication of the subject matter. Also, the repetition of the lines, “Don’t let them scare you,” and “When you run, they’ll follow you,” are also indicators of this. The song has a wonderfully mellow break before it kicks into overdrive with a singing/screaming back and forth which ends violently and abruptly.
The Story: This song follows Josephine, who unaware of what has happened at her home, is out with her fiancé Patrick. He wants to take her to someplace secluded but ends up parking in the turf belonging to the Jersey City Devils, a violent and dangerous biker gang. The song follows what happens when the gang comes across Josephine and Patrick, beating him severely and raping her. The lyrics aren’t lurid but you can feel the fear in the vocals.
Track 4: Everything Evil
This song is one of the fan favorites, an epic which changes direction multiple times and has so many memorable quotes that it is almost impossible to include them here (almost impossible). Once again, the song begins with just drums and the sound of a door opening before the guitars and bass kick in with a quick picking pattern and amazing lyrics immediately: “What for, everything evil in you comes out.” This song is usually performed by just playing while the entire crowd sings the lyrics through the verses. The prechorus is faster, screaming, “Evolve, Monstar, Show me the things I never wanted done.” The chorus is once again a soaring vocal part which is just begging for fan interaction. As the song progresses, we are taken into a completely different bridge where Claudio sings, “Jesse, just come look at what your brother did, here he did away with me.” The song gets quieter until it builds to a sweeping ending, singing parts like, “Would you run down past the fence” and “She screamed Claudio, I wish, Goddammit, we’ll make it if you believe!” One guitar is driving while another uses octaves to accentuate the ending, the bass and drums picking up tempo and driving the song in a fading, fast exit. At the very end, there is a wonderful piano piece which bridges perfectly into the next track.
The Story: At House Atlantic (Ryan’s stronghold), he has taken the other Mages and transformed them into monsters called Onstantine Priests. Ryan has released one to make sure that all of the Kilgannon children are killed and ensure that the Supreme Tri-Mage will be safe. The section details how Coheed decides to kill Josephine, who has returned home after her encounter with the Devils, with a hammer as he cannot bear to see her suffer as the others did. Claudio is late and is out with his girlfriend, Newo Ikkin so the parents are alone with their oldest. Coheed kills Josephine (“A series of knocks to the young girl’s head-side”). Patrick sees this and runs out to find Claudio and tell him of what has happened but Red Army (Ryan’s forces) needs to find Claudio as he is to who the prophecy is referring. Coheed and Cambria are taken by Deftinwolf and imprisoned, as Ryan is planning to use the Monstar Virus inside of them to destroy a sector which is causing unrest and pushing toward revolution. As Claudio arrives home, he finds Josephine’s body and, unknown to himself, his messianic abilities bring her back to life just in time for her to warn him about the Onstantine Priest who is in the house hunting him. She screams, “Claudio, We’ll make it if you believe,” and he runs away, escaping everyone including the police and the Priest.
Track 5: Delirium Trigger
OH MY GOD, this song is amazing. It is probably my favorite on the album and the best, in my opinion, to see live. It starts slowly with an almost bluesy riff and a flowing Mic Todd bassline before kicking in full throttle to an epic sounding landscape of open chords and palm-muted riffing. The song has verses which are building but quiet with the music, Travis Stever’s guitar does some wonderful work to layer the verses and make them even more interesting before the song bursts into a loud, heavy chorus, blaring the words, “Oh dear God, I don’t feel alive when you’re cut short from misery,” and ending with the phrase, “Come know me as God.” There are some other great lines, including a reference to Ridley Scott’s Alien: “Parasitic cyst, I can’t stand to watch, it’s coming up and out of your chest.” The interlude is quiet and emits the fear the characters are experiencing. Claudio does a great job of changing his voice to mimic different characters and the interlude is so quiet until it kicks full-gear back into the chorus which is louder and more powerful than ever.
The Story: Coheed and Cambria have been captured and sedated. They are en route to the Star of Sirius so that they can dislodge it and crush the rebellion. The only problem arises when they wake up. They are tired of being pawns and decide that they will fulfill their destiny by bringing down the ship on which they are flying. A new character, Admiral Crom, has stepped in to defeat and recapture Coheed and Cambria and put the ship back on course. The battle ensues.
Track 6: Hearshot Kid Disaster
This song begins one way but immediately shifts gears in a way that I will forever associate with Coheed. It starts with a thinned out guitar riff which kicks into a heavy opening, followed by a scream (of an Onstantine Priest I’ve always thought) before jumping into a completely different part again. The song builds and is somewhat restrained until the chorus which is a fast paced, open chorded singing of, “I NEED MAYO,” which travels into the rest of the song. Another verse and chorus and then an amazing shift, yet again, into a back and forth of heavy and quiet parts with almost incomprehensible screaming, mirroring what is happening in the story, before finally ending on a more coherent stretch of music and lyrics: “Thank God for your strength.” It’s a great ending to a midway song on an album which changes so many different times.
The Story: There is a lot going on here in the story so I am going to try and sum it up somewhat quickly for you. Claudio is missing, having disappeared from his home. This infuriates Wilhelm Ryan who screams that he, “needs Mayo,” referring to his general. The “I won’t fail you now” is Deftinwolf’s response to that. Ryan informs him about the dangers with Coheed and Cambria and how Mayohas been demoted and that Crom has succeeded. Meanwhile, Claudio has wound up on a planet which is full of races of aliens who have been imprisoned (very much like the holocaust) by the red army. It turns out that Ryan is having the Red Army throw these races into the keywork to help power it. These creatures are called Stars by the Red Army and Claudio befriends one, saving his life. He is told that he needs to leave the camp because he may be the messiah but that also, he cannot believe everything that is in the Book of Ghaansgrad, the prophetic book of which Ryan and Claudio are both mentioned.
Track 7: 33
This song is upbeat and fast, feeling as though there is a chase involved. A great deal of spirit comes from the riffing of Claudio Sanchez and the lead licks layered in by Travis Stever. The song moves from somewhat quiet to loud but never loses its driving feeling and the chase vibe continues throughout the piece. It’s a fun song and something to which you can constantly bob your head. The story is referenced directly in this song again with lines like, “Patrick, short flip, and outside boundary lines,” and “I’m running you down.”
The Story: This song focuses exclusively on Patrick, Josephine’s fiancé who, after witnessing Josephine’s murder, has fled the scene but has been pursued by the Onstantine Priest. Sadly, as he is escaping, he is captured and impaled, and he dies.
Track 8: Junesong Provision
This song is another favorite from the album. It is a very sweet and reflective piece that has some great points but once again, most of the lyrics follow the story: “Dear Newo Ikkin, how’s Apollo been treating you?” The song has an off rhythm feel which gives a great vibe to the way the lyrics flow from Claudio into the song. The verses are quick and energetic but when it breaks into an interlude, the song becomes very quiet and the words are almost whispers. Then of course, as is Coheed’s style, it picks up and there follows and entirely different ending than one would think when first listening to the song. It ends with an amazing outpour of emotion, saying, “Paper cut my heart in half and discard the evidence, when it's yours, come send me the last half dowsed in kerosene, in a torched blazed bloodbath. When boy sets fire, God knows you've lost,” before ending with the lines, “Wait for me alright, I'm still a boy down there, when you want to promise me that.” Such a good song and a wonderfully poignant ending.
The Story: Claudio has made it back to his home only to realize that his life as he knew it is now over. He sits and thinks about how much he loves his girlfriend, Newo, but that their life can never be because now he is a wanted man. Mariah (the mage who is causing rebellion and revolution) is trying to stop Mayo from releasing Dragonflies full of a destructive toxin upon the people of Paris: Earth )a planet) but she cannot do so and they are released. One stings Coheed and activates his inner beast. He and Cambria have been manipulated into activating the Monstar Virus, shutting down one of the Power Sources and have both died. Claudio doesn’t know exactly what has happened but he knows he is now alone and he is still a boy but must adjust to the new life in front of him. He is scared and doesn’t know what to do. Because of the destruction of the power source and the dislodging of the planets in the sector, the Prise band together, sacrificing themselves to hold the keywork together. All of Wilhelm Ryan’s plans are coming to fruition. Meanwhile, a new character, a Prise named Ambellina (she has burned her wings and hair) is out to track down Claudio and help him as the messiah of the universe. She has been fighting the Onstantine Priests. There are a lot of storylines if you can’t tell…you should really go read the book.
Track 9: Neverender
This song uses the trademark off-kilter rhythms that so many love about Coheed and Cambria. The song is quiet and somewhat melancholy, a running theme on this album, except that the choruses are even more quiet and reflective than the verses, singing very pensively, “In graver mistakes, dear mom and dad, I write you in this letter that states (I'll be moving on). When the new day's begun (New day's begun), Forget your son when he's out on his own.” The song doesn’t really pick up until the bridge in which Claudio sings, finally full-voiced, “Point your gun in another direction, now that you’ve cried yourself to sleep.” Such a powerful song and even more so when played live to a crowd who is screaming the words right back at the stage.
The Story: Claudio is lost and decides that he will write a letter to his parents and let them know not to think about him anymore. He is contemplating suicide because his life is a wreck and everything he has ever known is gone. He burns down his family home and goes to kill himself but cries himself to sleep instead.
Track 10: God Send Conspirator
This song begins in an almost indie way and the song follows a very jazzy, bluesy tone until much later in the work. The vocals are very restrained and matter-of-fact, all of which makes sense in regards to the story. Stever layers over wonderful bluesy licks here and there to help build the vibe of the song. It feels as though you are listening to a conversation set to music. As the song gets a little heavier, the words, “Dear Mariah, the world’s not big enough for the both of us,” and the tempo picks up, turning into an alt rock song which takes the rest of the song to develop. The ending is a driving, repeated guitar through the bridge and another wonderfully quiet break, with soft singing. The conclusion of the song ends with a nice back and forth between the main and backing vocals. The music fades to another piano piece which starts in the realm of “God Send Conspirator” before turning into the theme of “The Second Stage Turbine Blade,” leaving a wonderfully haunting ending to a powerful album.
The Story: All of Ryan’s plans have come to fruition: Coheed and Cambria are dead, the rebellion has been crushed, and Mariah has been captured by Mayo. No one knows the whereabouts of Claudio but Ryan contents himself with the torture and eventual execution of Maria, the rebel leader and last stand against Ryan’s power among the mages. In fact, to get back in Ryan’s good graces, he decapitates Mariah and brings Ryan her head, which he places on his throne. Jesse has gone into hiding as has Claudio. The album ends with the continuation of the theme from the beginning of the album, leaving you to know that the story is far from over.
Secret Track: IRO-Bot
This song is beautiful and haunting. It is acoustic and has a plethora of electronic effects to help build the soundscape. This is very similar to what Claudio Sanchez would later do on his side project, The Prize Fighter Inferno. It is very simply a song about creatures that no longer understand their purpose; a great bridge to the next album. There are wonderful lyrics like, “A favor captain, a word with you, My system's gone and lost its mind, My right eye has done shed a tear, My gun I've left behind. Will systems take me home and dissemble me? Will I be terminated with you near? Alongside the others that I hold so close, If I'm to be killed, then when, by whom?” The guitar sounds slightly out of tune and it really works for the song. You should definitely listen. The song begins at 7:38 on the “God Send Conspirator” track.
As you can see, there is so much going on with this album. I cannot recommend it enough. It may take a few listens but I have yet to find someone who, when introduced to this album and gave it a fair shot, has not come away with a love for Coheed not unlike my own. It is a wonderful introduction to their music and the place that every great fan will tell you to start. This album may not have skyrocketed them into the spotlight like its successor did, but you can feel every ounce of passion and emotion just as strongly here as any of their records. Do yourself a favor and listen to it from start to finish…and then listen again…and again because once you start, you won’t want to stop.
Also, if I haven’t mentioned it before, the story is pretty complex and I have done a less than stellar job of describing what is happening. Go pick up the ultimate edition at your local comic book store, Amazon, or even from the Coheed merch store. Do yourself a favour and support something that I love so much, it is emblazoned on my skin forever.
· Claudio Sanchez – vocals, guitar
· Josh Eppard – drums, piano
· Michael Todd – bass, vocals
· Travis Stever – guitar
· Michael Birnbaum – production, mixing
· Chris Bittner – production, mixing
· Jayson Dezuzio – recording, pre-production
· Roger Lian – mastering
· Nate Kelley – drums (on "Delirium Trigger" and "33")
· Dr. Know – guitar (on "Time Consumer")
· Todd Martin – recording (on "Delirium Trigger" and "33")
· Montana Masback – additional vocals (on "Hearshot Kid Disaster")
Images - Amazon