Coheed and Cambria - “God Send Conspirator”
Who sat me down here?
One more from this album. Definitely my favourite on the debut, and on most days my easy answer for Favourite Coheed Song Ever. The verse is infectious, and better for having one of the more simple chord progressions on the album, Travis’ lead lines given a moment to shine. There’s also a set of comparatively unobtuse lyrics - “Burn my hands ‘til I’ve got nothing left to count my numbers on” always stuck with me as an adolescent, for regrettably dark reasons. All this plus an excellent shift into the chorus that just squeals with energy.
But it’s the outro section where “God Send Conspirator” comes together, once the minor chords begin to creep in after the second chorus all the way through to the layered vocal ending:
When eye meets eye, be calm / We lie here alone, locked the children in the floor
What a way to finish an album, especially one as strange as this one was upon release! Not only the musical equivalent of putting To Be Continued at the end of a film, leaving so much open for the follow up, but also a song that reveals a more mature and measured band. “God Send Conspirator” is an excellent indicator for what Coheed would become, for at least the next album or so.
Though, in truth, it’s not the real ending to the album. Up until the special edition re-release, “God Send Conspirator” was paired with a secret track, “IRO-Bot" (subsequently moved to the end of the "Everything Evil" demo on the special edition) which I listened to so often that I knew exactly how long to hold down the fast forward button on my cheap mp3 player before I’d reach the opening, plucked notes.
"IRO-Bot" is a clear predecessor to Claudio’s side project, The Prize Fighter Inferno, which I’ll touch on later this week. It’s an entirely acoustic affair, the only one on the album, a tender tune, perhaps a little silly. I personally love that Claudio named the song after the cyborg species in the story, and love even more that he named the species IRO-Bots at all.
From experience: both of these songs sound best on a plane, alone, starving, excited and in love.
During my formative high school years in the early-00s I spent a lot of time, as I know everyone else did, on P2P clients downloading anything I read or heard about that seemed vaguely interesting. After first seeing the term “emo” being used to describe Finch’s debut record What It Is To Burn in 2002 I began exclusively looking for music under that tag. It’s how I first heard Taking Back Sunday, Alexisonfire, Fall Out Boy, Brand New.
It’s also, in a way, how I first heard Coheed and Cambria. I’d downloaded a song entitled “Shameless” by Shabutie, the band that would become eventually become Coheed - by the third Shabutie EP, the lineup contained Claudio, Travis, Josh and Mic.
Years later I was able to put the pieces together. Until recently, there weren’t many authoritative sources on how many releases Shabutie had, or which songs should be attributed to that band or to Coheed themelves. Around the time I started posting on fan-forum Cobalt and Calcium, many of the Shabutie and early Coheed demos were still quite rare to happen upon. The prized jewel was “Star Cecil”, a song that apparently only the true fans had access to. When I was finally sent it via email by one of the forum users, I understood why - I still think it’s beautiful.
Here’s Claudio at one of the band’s special VIP acoustic shows playing “Star Cecil”. Listen out for the girl who figures out what he’s playing moments before he starts singing. These songs still matter so much.
(Incidentally, how strange that I can simply search on youtube and find multiple links to the audio, when only 10 years ago this piece of digital media had an element of rarity)
There are other Shabutie highlights - “Cassiopeia" is a similarly lovely ballad from the same EP as “Shameless”; "Strung Short" is a fun, innuendo-laden pop song, but is most interesting for how much the band returned to the sounds they were playing around with in this song in their later career.
The rest of the material holds a special place in my heart, but is.. not that great, really.
(Also, yes, that’s Claudio saying “Shabutie” at the beginning of "Devil In Jersey City").
I should probably get this out of the way, too.
As I mentioned, Coheed and Cambria’s music is centered around a sci-fi universe called Heaven’s Fence, held together by a beam of light called The Keywork. That logo in my introduction post? That’s the symbol for The Keywork, and by extension the band itself. The records follow stories penned by lead singer and lyricist Claudio Sanchez, and their band name comes from two of the characters (a married cyborg couple who give birth to the lead character, named – of course – Claudio). There are multiple series of comic books, graphic novels and other media which describes more specifically the vague story elements that the lyrics detail. Apparently, a movie adaptation is being worked on.
For much of the fanbase, The Story is crucial to the appeal of Coheed and Cambria, but most fans seem to agree that understanding what’s going on is not necessary for enjoying the music, which is also the position I take. Just like a lot of giant-scope concept albums made by ambitious progressive rock bands, everything Claudio writes about here is just a vessel for Real Life Feelings. It’s a conduit by which he can write honestly about thoughts and anxieties and loves and hates without admitting to them directly - a classic introvert move.
So yeah, there are albums that take place in the middle of a galactic war, multiple levels of reality (with two Claudios, not including the real man himself), characters named Wilhelm Ryan and Ambellina and The Prize Fighter Inferno, and songs named after space vessels. But unless you’re a science-fiction fan excited by the prospect of exploring this world, ignore all of this. It’s there, but so are the beautiful truths that are usually expressed in even the most abstract science fiction. It’s why I love the genre.
(Watch this footage from their Neverender DVD from 46:40 to hear Claudio talking about the inspiration for the story, and how that morphed over time)
However if you are excited by the prospect of exploring the world, I don’t want to be the one to butcher the details I don’t understand about the story, so don’t expect much written about it here this week. It’s an interesting tale, but there are already excellent online resources filled with fans who are way better suited to explain it’s intricacies. You’ll find them at Cobalt and Calcium (a forum I spent some time on from 2004 - 2006) and r/TheFence. There’s also a wiki which has collected story fragments from the various comics and other story sources, or you could always go ahead and purchase the graphic novels.
Coheed and Cambria - “Time Consumer”
Pain is only a pulse, if you just stop feeling it
My older step-brother Joshua and I were never best mates, but from the time our two splintered families came together in 2002 I always had a strong affection for him, and what little we had in common day-to-day was more than made up for by our mutual musical interests. The amount of bands that we exposed each other to made up for a large portion of my early high-school obsessions, and laid the groundwork for the kinds of music I occupy most of my time listening to and thinking about now.
We were also both “gamers”, which I put in inverted commas because, ugh that term, but I bring this up is because he often listened to the new music he had downloaded or bought while playing X-Box. The day he first burned Second Stage Turbine Blade onto a disc and listened as he drove some car around some racetrack on our living-room television, I happened to be sitting reading in another room. Halfway through “Time Consumer”, I realised I was no longer paying attention to my book, but was instead transfixed by the music. I walked into the living-room and asked “What IS this?”.
He paused the game. “Coheed and Cambria”, turned to look at me, smiled, and without waiting for my reply said: “I know”.
Joshua now has a Coheed and Cambria tattoo.
That was in 2003, the year after Second Stage Turbine Blade came out and also the year that Coheed released the follow-up, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (Don’t worry about those cumbersome album titles, I’ll mostly be sticking to acronyms this week). It took about 12 months to become a real Coheed-head, but even during this first exposure to the band I was experiencing something beautiful and strange and perfect to me. “Time Consumer” remains a highlight in the bands discography, for more than just nostalgic reasons – the chorus hook is still a triumph, as are the verses which are some of the catchiest on the album. The instrumental intro and then it’s reprisal before the final chorus is a fantastic dynamic shift, plus the guitar solo from Bad Brains guitarist Dr. Know adds a lot of personality and flavour, and his inclusion in the song hints at Coheed’s punkier roots. It’s a striking opening track, a bold statement of intent.
In fact I feel like this song is so representative of the band, or at least their early material, that if you’re listening to it and finding nothing appealing about it at all, there’s a good chance you’ll find little to like in the next few days.
Though obviously I’m going to do my best to prove that hunch otherwise.
And here they are! On the left, an early photo of the first incarnation of the band (looking crazy young) - from left to right, Claudio Sanchez on guitar/lead vocals, Michael Todd on bass, Josh Eppard on drums and Travis Stever on guitar.
On the right, a recent photo of the current lineup. Mic has been replaced by Zach Cooper, and while Josh Eppard left the band for a few years, he’s now back.
Claudio’s hair has only gotten better.
Deciding what your “Favourite Band” is can be tough. For one, to take the leap and claim a single musical act above all others (even for the most personal of reasons) often comes with social risks if you happen to run in musically-obsessed circles. But it’s also an internal struggle: so many different types of music can have a huge significance for any number of reasons, surely it’s impossible to pick just one. Taste is too fluid.
And yet, a lot of us do it. We rank and compare and develop criteria and we come out with one group that summarises Us. We collate our musical Ids and emerge with a singular Ego: a talking point when meeting strangers, a potential tattoo candidate, a way of maybe freezing that liquid taste into a solid glacier of identity.
Luckily there’s a canon, or at least a collection of appropriate responses, when considering your personal choice - and we all know it is a choice, as silly as it seems. Throughout my life The Cure, The Who, Boards of Canada, Kanye West and Nick Drake have all fulfilled their responsibility as typical go-to selections for Fav status, none of them feeling particularly out of place, all of them generally respected critically and adored by their respective fanbases. Safe, typical choices.
But the struggle I’ve faced is that, from the very moment I heard them, one band has remained a fixture at the forefront of my internal Favourite Band Battle Royale, and they are most certainly not typical. They’re a ridiculous progressive-rock/pop-punk/metal hybrid fronted by a shy genius with giant hair and the highest singing register you’ve heard since Geddy Lee, who writes albums worth of lyrics set in a science-fiction universe of his own creation.
And I love them so much.
Thank you, Heidi!
Next up, we’ll turn our attention to NY prog rockers Coheed and Cambria.
Guest writer for the week will be Alexander Tulett, who is the host of Close to the Edge on FBi Radio.
You can also find Alex on Twitter and on Tumblr.
See you tomorrow!
Hasta Luego, Monsieur et Madame
I was forced to attend church weekly as a child. I hated going, but, if I was good, I was allowed to go to the record store and pick out a single. I was well behaved once. I picked out a Whitesnake 7”. I grew up in the 1980s.
Typically, the sole highlight was the sermon. The priest would often go off on a tangent or try to impart oddly morbid life lessons on us. A particularly memorable one was the Christmas Eve sermon when he told the congregation a story of a child who snuck down the stairs to take a peak at his presents. He ended up tripping on the way down and died.
I think the lesson was supposed to be not to look at our presents before morning, but what I got out of it was that Dr. Denton pajamas have slippery soles and it would be best to wear sleepwear without covered feet. And also count the stairs the night before and take it slow.
My point is you take what you want out of what you are given. To apply that to this week, I took what I wanted out of Sparks’s music and you should take what you want out of it too. Or don’t take it all.
I like Sparks’s music. Does this mean that if someone has a differing opinion that I somehow know more about music than they do? That I’m a more educated listener? Absolutely not. I didn’t write the songs, and I don’t have a financial interest in the publishing. There is no bearing on my life if someone does not like the same bands, songs, and genres as me. There are certainly bands, songs, and genres I like. There are certainly bands, songs, and genres I don’t. Opinions and debate are great; being combative, patronizing, and dismissive to others who don’t like what you like is not.
Abandon your musical pedantry. And make sure you take stairs with either a proper shoe or a bare foot. And no running.
What I like about the format of OWOB is that each week has the potential to be completely different, not just in the music written about, but also in how the writers approach it. I don’t especially enjoy critical analysis of music. For me, it can come off as incredibly elitist and that’s not something that appeals to me. Others love reading it and writing it. And that’s cool too. So thank you Hendrik for creating such a great forum for a diverse group of voices.
And thanks for reading!!! Here’s a round up of the week if you are interested.
On The Spin