Coheed and Cambria are dead.
The titular characters at the center of Coheed & Cambria’s sprawling sci-fi concept have long since been killed. They were dead before the close of The Second Stage Turbine Blade, the prog-rock band’s 2002 debut album, casualties of frontman Claudio Sanchez’s wanton, destructive narrative.
The exhaustive fictional universe Sanchez created is known as the Amory Wars. It’s a savage starscape where the planets are held in alignment by the souls of the damned. Where parents watch their children get impaled without flinching. Where there is no sacrilege in killing the namesake characters of your story before the end of the first chapter. George R.R. Martin would wince at the madness.
But for their October release The Color Before the Sun, Coheed & Cambria — who play Myth on Saturday night — put aside their fantasy epic, focusing instead on the drama of Sanchez’s life as a new father.
“I think having our son Atlas really created this focus for me,” Sanchez says of the record. “It made me feel a little more confident in myself that I could pull back the curtain and allow the themes and the songs to speak for themselves. Had I written this record a couple years ago, I probably would've colored it with a concept.”
Sanchez has spent his 13 years songwriting with Coheed & Cambria channeling his own relationship with his father into the Amory Wars. The series is named after the street Sanchez grew up on, and the character of Coheed — an IRO-bot embedded with the galaxy-threatening Monstar virus — was meant to act as an anagram for Sanchez’s father’s struggle with heroin addiction.
It took Sanchez 13 years to process those emotions into a fiction. The result was blood and warfare — a legend whose body count has sprawled across seven LPs, dozens of comics, and an entire wiki. But Sanchez found his impending fatherhood too profound to be turned into graphic novel fodder, a fact that’s captured in the finale of “Atlas.”
Though the song is ostensibly sung from Sanchez to his son, the narrator and audience suddenly invert the deeper Sanchez reflects, culminating in the line, “Now give us the man that you've been hiding / 'Cause this is your life now.”“[The Color Before the Sun] is very much a point of completion,” Sanchez says. “So much of the Amory Wars is my confusion of self and who I am under the umbrella of my parents. I know that my life as a father is just beginning and will ever evolve and change, but, with this record, I'm confident enough to put the punctuation on the statement.”
But The Color Before the Sun isn’t the first time Sanchez dissolved the line between the Amory Wars and his real life. On Coheed’s fourth album, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume 1: From Fear through the Eyes of Madness, Sanchez went meta, introducing himself as the Writer — the deranged, vengeful creator of Heaven's Fence, the setting of the Amory Wars.
“Good Apollo hinted at the fact that a lot of these songs come from a very real place,” Sanchez explains. “Splitting the story into those two parallels of reality and fiction showed how fiction is being affected by the Writer’s life.”
On Good Apollo, the Writer is driven insane by his traitorous ex-love Erica Court, to the point where he fantasizes about crushing her face in a doorway. Eventually, he intervenes in the story, murdering Court's avatar in order to cope with his own heartbreak.
In reality, Erica Court is based on Sanchez’s wife and Atlas’ mother, Chondra Echert. Echert and Sanchez have been together for well over a decade, and they’ve penned several songs, comics, and stories together, but they’ve also tortured each other’s hearts.
Ten years ago, Sanchez wrote “Welcome Home” — Coheed & Cambria’s violent flagship anthem — to exorcise his rage at Echert. Now, Sanchez is ready to redeem the actions of the Writer by speaking without the guise of fiction. His apology to Echert is “Here to Mars,” the most straightforward love ballad in Coheed’s catalog.“We've come so far, and now here we are, not only collaborators in art, but collaborators in life, “Sanchez says. “I think that's why that song is so straight, because to me, my wife, she definitely deserves it.”
Sanchez cops to feeling self-conscious while writing The Color Before the Sun. This is partly because of the fact that he demoed the record in his family’s Brooklyn apartment instead of at his country home, where records like Good Apollo were cut without the fear of his neighbors eavesdropping.
That insecurity seeped into the songs, and Sanchez sought to preserve the imperfection it brought. That’s why Coheed & Cambria recorded The Color Before the Sun live in the studio instead of doing it piece by piece.
“It just created an honesty,” he says. “Not that the other records aren't honest, but because they have that concept that accompanies them, you get in there, and you want to be as cinematic as possible, and you tweak all the details. With the stripping of a concept, I wanted it to feel that way sonically.”
The Color Before the Sun is Sanchez at his most blemished. There’s no fantastical mythos to lean on. His lyrics at times (“Eraser,” “The Audience”) feel hamfisted and exposed, but Sanchez is also at his most accessible. He’s established himself as a person and not merely a character — and that’s been a balm for diehard fans who long for the chaos of the Amory Wars.
“Ultimately, the fans have been really accepting of this idea of no concept behind The Color Before the Sun,” says Sanchez. “They’ve really grown up with us.”
For now, the bloodletting is on hold, and the severed relationships are mended. As for the fate of the Amory Wars, Sanchez has learned to be more careful with the things he chooses to kill.
“Doing this record actually gave me a moment to breathe and think about where the concept should go,” he explains. “That being said, the idea of the concept is not dead.”
Coheed & Cambria
With: Glassjaw, I the Mighty, Silver Snakes
When: 7:30 p.m. Sat., Feb. 27
Where: Myth, 3090 Southlawn Dr., Maplewood
Tickets: $27.50; more info here.