The Coheed and Cambria Albums Ranked
Coming out of a post-hardcore scene and embracing a millennial sound of progressive rock, the concept-focused band Coheed and Cambria have made ten albums in the 20 years since 2002, all but one telling the story of the sci-fi epic The Amory Wars. The brainchild of frontman Claudio Sanchez, the saga has also been brought to novels and comics. Now look: I’m not up on The Amory Wars. I don’t particularly find it amazingly compelling. But it provides a heft to the direction Coheed and Cambria takes their music, and surprisingly, their lyrical content isn’t as dense as the titles of their records and songs might make it seem. But I can get to what impact that music and lyrical content made on me as I get to those ten albums below. Of note, but not ranked here, are the EPs the band made after forming as Shabutie in 1995: PLAN TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD (1999), THE PENELOPE EP (1999), and DELIRIUM TRIGGER (2000).
#10 — YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
Favorite track: “Far”
As far as I can tell (and I am by no means dialed into the Coheed and Cambria superfan community, as my friend who has the band’s logo tattooed on his arm would tell you), YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW is one of, if not the, accepted worst album from the group. This is a good time to mention, by the way, that I don’t think that Coheed has made a bad album yet. However, YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW is, to me as well, in the clear bottom spot. Besides perhaps their earliest works, this record is among the band’s “darkest” or heaviest. Coheed has always played with pop hooks and melodic through lines, but perhaps what puts YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW in that dark camp is a lack of the soaring scale that is usually imparted in their albums. It just all feels a little underwhelming, grooving along without much of a big impression. For a band that I would term maximalist, that’s a detraction, making YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW the least “essential” of Coheed and Cambria’s albums.
#9 — THE AFTERMAN: DESCENSION (2013)
Favorite track: “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant”
It’s not quite right to call the Afterman releases, of which THE AFTERMAN: DESCENSION is the second part, a double album; that’s because they were released about four months apart. Still, they are obviously of a kind, but I feel more in terms of the Amory Wars story. Even still, they are maybe appropriate pairings because of their inverse relationship. Fittingly, DESCENSION is the darker record than ASCENSION, but as with YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW, that impression mostly comes from a lack of uplifting choruses. I’m so hook-/catchiness-oriented that I can certainly focus too much on those downsides, but the fact of the matter is that Coheed have always fused that instinct so proficiently with their prog/post-hardcore/metal roots. And to be fair, DESCENSION still rocks, with Sanchez especially screaming powerfully on “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant.”
#8 — VAXIS — ACT II: A WINDOW OF THE WAKING MIND (2022)
Favorite track: “The Liars Club”
Coheed and Cambria have made three album sequels in name, although of course almost all of their records tie into each other thematically. But VAXIS — ACT II: A WINDOW OF THE WAKING MIND is the latest “part two” release, and indeed the band’s latest in general, at the time of this writing and the impetus for this piece. A WINDOW OF THE WAKING MIND comes after the biggest gap between albums for the band (it’s been over three and a half years since its predecessor) and is the perfect representation of why I listen to records quite a few times to get my true impressions of it. At first listen, A WINDOW OF THE WAKING MIND leans way too hard into the pop sounds that I’ve so far expressed my admiration of. And even still, a number of tracks on the first half of the album play with production tropes that are so rankling from Top 40 radio, and are glaring to be heard from Coheed. But it never reaches critical mass cheese, and indeed, the tracks that follow the first half of unsettling songs are way stronger and rockier. “The Liars Club” is the perfect nexus of this interplay. While A WINDOW OF THE WAKING MIND improves, the overall impact of the album is compromised by a kowtowing to contemporary pop trends, not an inherent attention to catchiness on the band’s own terms.
#7 — THE AFTERMAN: ASCENSION (2012)
Favorite track: “The Afterman”
As mentioned, DESCENSION is the darker half to its predecessor, THE AFTERMAN: ASCENSION. Surprisingly, considering all its reputation as the band with an epic, album-spanning concept, the power of Coheed and Cambria’s lyrical content is its ability to universalize specific sci-fi stories. One’s interpretation of any song on almost any Coheed record can extend beyond the plot details of The Amory Wars, and that’s one reason I’ve always liked the band. That being said, ASCENSION feels like one of the most concept-y of the group’s concept albums; that’s in regards to the songs themselves, as record and track titles before and since are also convoluted bits of narrative in themselves. ASCENSION feels this way because of opening track “The Hollow” and a few other soundbites in tracks across the album that ground it a bit more in what the band is doing thematically. Nevertheless, this is such a minor quibble, and indeed probably out of step with a primary reason why people like Coheed and Cambria: the narrative. Ultimately, though, ASCENSION is in fact a good album, at its best when playing with an etherealness that represents its compellingly named central character, as on “The Afterman.”
#6 — VAXIS — ACT I: THE UNHEAVENLY CREATURES (2018)
Favorite track: “True Ugly”
When I began listening back to Coheed and Cambria’s discography for this project, I thought VAXIS — ACT I: THE UNHEAVENLY CREATURES may very well place last. I remember not being very impressed with it when it first came out. But after repeat listenings four years later, I think THE UNHEAVENLY CREATURES was underrated, by me and perhaps others. Appropriately for a band that focuses so much on a cohesive concept, the whole album-length experience of the record is really strong and emotionally investing, even if it doesn’t quite have the standout tracks that even albums lower on this list have. But THE UNHEAVENLY CREATURES is the newest album from Coheed to evoke that balance of rocking, Sanchez’s slinky and growling delivery, his subsequent soaring vocals, and catchy choruses that makes them great.
#5 — THE COLOR BEFORE THE SUN (2015)
Favorite track: “Peace to the Mountain”
I really, really like Coheed and Cambria’s non-Amory Wars album, haters be damned. From here on in, the list is made up of real bangers. I think THE COLOR BEFORE THE SUN proves my point that the band has always been good at making their songs make sense for those not necessarily following their sci-fi storyline, as it still captures the emotional ethos of its Amory Wars cousins. Sure, the record is among the band’s poppiest, but it’s no A WINDOW OF THE WAKING MIND in that regard. Instead, Coheed opts for an almost arena rock sound, as on my favorite track and anthem “Peace to the Mountain.” Now, that statement is almost always a death knell in my opinion, but what I mean is that the band translates a rocky sound into something a bit softer, sure, but also something atmospheric, enveloping, and moving. THE COLOR BEFORE THE SUN may not be Coheed and Cambria’s best album, but it’s one I always root for and hold in a special place among the rest of their discography.
#4 — THE SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE (2002)
Favorite track: “Neverender”
Coheed and Cambria came out the gate with the strange titles that make you go “huh?” That’s because the Amory Wars concept was already formed on their debut (and in fact some of it was already on the Shabutie EPs), THE SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE. This has the most obvious post-hardcore energy of any of the band’s records, before Coheed went with a neo-interpretation of prog-y instincts and became kind of categorized as such. To that end, THE SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE is kind of in that “dark and heavy” camp that I described YEAR OF THE BLACK RAINBOW and THE AFTERMAN: DESCENSION as being a part of. The difference here is, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, that it’s rendered with a more compelling rawness and instrumental proficiency. Coheed has never been stripped down, but the mix on THE SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE does make it feel like a broadcast from another world. That’s helped along by Sanchez’s voice, who I have yet to classify as one of my favorite vocalists, which is indeed the case. You can identify the guy within one millisecond of hearing him, and his high-pitched delivery can range from powerful growls to the soaring notes that owe something to, and often exceed, the band’s prog predecessors. This was all evident on THE SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE, a really strong debut that still stands as one of Coheed and Cambria’s best albums.
#3 — GOOD APOLLO, I’M BURNING STAR IV, VOLUME ONE: FROM FEAR THROUGH THE EYES OF MADNESS (2005)
Favorite track: “Welcome Home”
Here’s where I may get in a bit of trouble. According to my aforementioned friend, the diehard Coheed fan with the band’s logo tattooed on his arm, GOOD APOLLO, I’M BURNING STAR IV, VOLUME ONE: FROM FEAR THROUGH THE EYES OF MADNESS (ridiculous album title, by the way) has to be at least #2 on this list. But I’m nothing if not a contrarian, if only very slightly. The fact of the matter is that any one of the albums in this top three could, within a fraction of changing tastes, be swapped with each other. There isn’t quite a pervasive problem with GOOD APOLLO that makes it fall lower on this list. Indeed, it’s a really great record, one that continues the balance that Coheed’s second record introduced and nearly perfected. The album rocks and wails with a verve and energy that certainly grounds it in a different era than the pop-oriented things to come in the following decade, but nor is it missing the head-bopping (in addition to head-banging), earworm-catching hooks in many of its songs’ choruses. GOOD APOLLO hits the epic scale of Coheed’s best records, with just a fewer number of standalone tracks to totally instill admiration in me.
#2 — IN KEEPING SECRETS OF SILENT EARTH: 3 (2003)
Favorite track: “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”
I may be in more trouble. As I understand it, IN KEEPING SECRETS OF SILENT EARTH: 3 is the favorite for favorite Coheed album. And look, it’s really great, I’m going to stop defending myself here. Instead, I’ll say that the band’s sophomore release was an incredible improvement and refinement of the ideas present on THE SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE. You can hear it so brilliantly on the (not-quite-opener) title track (one of my favorite Coheed songs), just an incredible fusion of pounding riffs and drums and otherworldly vocals from Sanchez. While on the harder end of Coheed’s records, IN KEEPING SECRETS does not dip into gritty malaise, and instead leverages a metal and prog rock influence into something new and appealing. The sound of THE SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE paired so well with the band’s sci-fi saga aspirations, and with its follow up, the group continued to evoke a world apart; you can hear that without knowing every intricacy of the lyrics. IN KEEPING SECRETS is indeed a special record, rocking, catchy, and dare I say uplifting?
#1 — GOOD APOLLO, I’M BURNING STAR IV, VOLUME TWO: NO WORLD FOR TOMORROW (2007)
Favorite track: “Feathers”
Marketed and titled more simply with its post-colon words, the fully named GOOD APOLLO, I’M BURNING STAR IV, VOLUME TWO: NO WORLD FOR TOMORROW actually fulfills the promise of IN KEEPING SECRETS more than the previous part did. Granted, NO WORLD FOR TOMORROW was Coheed’s poppiest record to that point (they approached mainstream at a new level with Rick Rubin as one producer), and even still, many of its standout tracks are those that go a bit more smooth than they do rocky. I mean, take “Feathers,” which has some melodies in its chorus that wouldn’t be out of place with different instrumentation and production on pop radio. But if the rawness of previous records is slightly diminished, what’s not missing from NO WORLD FOR TOMORROW is a commitment to really rocking prog and metal sounds. That’s fused into the catchiness that I do so love. The record is also heavy with this significance and gravity, distilled by the music, that always suffuse the band’s releases, an attention to scale and an almost cinematic rendition of emotion that elevates them beyond “that band with the sci-fi concept albums.” For whatever it’s worth, coming from an outsider disciple, I think NO WORLD FOR TOMORROW is a near-perfect fulfillment of Coheed and Cambria’s tenets.