Coming off the heels of the stellar Ascension, The Afterman: Descension has a lot to live up to. Ascension was a comeback album of sorts after the somewhat-maligned Year of the Black Rainbow and the departure of two band members. For a lot of people who had written off Coheed and Cambria, there were no expectations that the album would be any good. Yet, the first half of the prog-rock quartet’s double-album turned out great, leaving big shoes to fill for the second half. Can Descension live up to those expectations? Well…sort of.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Desecension is not as good as Ascension. However, I fear that its relative quality may lead to its being unfairly dismissed. In fact, it’s a more adventurous album than its predecessor. Songs like “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant” and “Gravity’s Union” delve into the band’s proggy, mathy side. “Pretelethal” sees the band experimenting with new tonalities. “Away We Go” and “2’s My Favorite 1” flirt with classic pop-rock, while “Number City” is a slice of electrified third-wave ska. Coheed is known for their eclecticism, but this is new sonic ground, even for them.
That being said, Descension is a heavier album than Ascension, which isn’t a bad thing, per se, but Coheed tends to be at their best when they’re more light-footed. Tracks like “Gravity’s Union” and “Dark Side of Me” feel like they’re lumbering, as if being burdened by some invisible weight. Few of the tracks really soar, and none of them have the anthemic quality of their pop-punk songs, like “The Running Free” or “Mothers of Men.” Descension is not a record where Coheed really plays to their strengths, and sometimes it feels like the band is reaching a bit too far out of its comfort zone.
However, I wouldn’t have wanted the band to play it safe here. I’m fine with Descension being the experimental counterpart to the quintessential Coheed of Ascension. If the band hadn’t reached a bit, we wouldn’t have gotten the supremely fun “Number City” or the gorgeous “Iron Fist,” which, if it had been sung by guitarist Travis Stever, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Davenport Cabinet album.
Overall, while Descension doesn’t quite attain the heights of its predecessor, it’s a pretty great album in its own right. It’s heartening to see that even seven albums into their career, Coheed and Cambria is still willing to try new things.