Coheed and Cambria Beat the Shit Out of Rock Music on Vaxis - Act II: Window of the Waking Mind
4.8 out of 5 stars
Coheed and Cambria’s new album Vaxis - Act II: A Window of the Waking Mind marks their 10th studio album, and after a while, one may think, “How much can one band have to say?”
Well, with Coheed and Cambria, it’s a lot…and it’s, as fans may say, “neverending.”
See, the band has been running their albums along the concept of a comic-book storyline at first known as the Bag.On.Line Adventures which later was renamed into The Amory Wars, and what has spiraled into a few other off-shoots (Prize Fighter Inferno side project, Afterman albums, and now Vaxis).
The lone exception to their string of concept albums was 2015’s The Color Before the Sun which was more about lead singer Claudio Sanchez’s son being born and changes in his personal life - probably had a lot to do with the fact that the band had just wrapped up the 5 installments of The Amory Wars plus the 2 “prequel” albums for The Afterman as well.
However, once Sanchez came back to the “Keywork” concept, he started crafting new stories in a post-Amory Wars era.
That’s where 2018’s Vaxis - Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures came in.
The story details the exploits of 3 main characters (Nia, Nostrand and Otto) who are a band of thieves trying to get off of one of the 9 planets that broke off from the rest of the planets after “the great crash” and are now used as prison planets.
These 3 characters are trying to flee “The Dark Sentencer” (name of the planet they are on), and the story unfolds from there.
Vaxis II: The Window of the Waking Mind details Nia and Nostrand becoming parents and trying to flee with their son Vaxis (who is comatose) to help him become the savior of the galaxy…or something to that effect.
Now that you got up to speed on the story, let’s dig into the music…
The first song “The Embers of Fire” is a classic intro song which is mostly instrumental aside from a few lines being repeated about “we all go up in flames, going out in style.”
Then the album really kicks into full gear with the song “Beautiful Losers” (not so coincidentally, the name of Sanchez and guitarist Travis Stever’s first band) which talks about the two main characters Nia and Nostrand as being the “beautiful losers.”
However, the song, as all C&C songs, has a real-world story about how Coheed and Cambria are the “beautiful losers” as the band themselves had just completed their 20 year anniversary as a band and overcoming the odds of a sci-fi rock band.
The song absolutely rocks, and is one of the best on the album. It is also a quick reminder that while Vaxis I was filled with 5 minute epics, Vaxis II has a mix of long and short songs to give more variety and punch along the way.
“Comatose” is an equally rad song that just blows the doors off the rock anthem abilities that C&C are known for. This song harkens me back to the days of “A Favor House Atlantic” or “Blood Red Summer” and fits right into the catalog nicely.
Shredding guitars, big vocals, not overly produced in ways that many of the other songs can be characterized as. It’s just a great rocking 3-minute song.
Next up comes the behemoth of a rock song, “Shoulders.”
The guitar riffs and leads on this song are just buzz saws that shred all the way through the song. This is probably my favorite song on the album. No, it IS.
It is probably my favorite C&C song in the last 10 years, to be honest. It is insanely good…especially live. They destroy with this song live.
This shows that just because you CAN make a 9-minute song really awesome, it doesn’t mean that you can’t also make rad 3 to 3.5 minute songs.
I can’t stress enough how good this song is.
“A Disappearing Act” is sort of the opposite of this for me. I actually do not like this song much at all.
It’s way too dancy, but who knows, it may grow on me. Some of their poppier songs have become some of my favorites over the years, but this one just seems more like a “genre-buster” and helps tell the story arc a bit more.
It feels like a sci-fi song stereotype, to be honest. Something like you would hear on a Blade Runner movie.
It definitely gives more insight into the “waking mind” of Vaxis. Still, it is my least favorite song on the album as of right now.
Then closely behind “A Disappearing Act”, the next song “Love Murder One” is probably my second least favorite song on the album.
It starts out a bit like a song from The Weeknd or something, and then throws over classic C&C riffs and beats. I just think it’s meant to sound like a robot or something singing to one of the characters, but musically, it just sounds like a “meh” pop song.
I actually kinda feel that the lyrics to “Love Murder One” are just not that great. A bit cheesy and overly simplistic, I think it is one of the songs that are more related to the “real life Claudio” than any of the characters in the story and then “retro fitted” into the saga.
“Blood” gets the album thematically AND musically back on track for me though. It’s a bit more like the transition songs I am used to from the C&C albums. A good, slower tempo song that has big choruses, cool lyrics, and a sense of impending doom that the songs to follow will have to play towards. Always a damn good song when you feel like it is leading to something bigger…and “Blood” definitely is.
It is also clearly an analogy for Sanchez’s father-son relationship and how he expects his son to do great things in life.
“The Liar’s Club” is just an absolutely fantastic song as well. Another one of the songs that rocks, but it builds instead of just coming out of the gate smashing and crashing.
By the time you get to the chorus at about 55 seconds in, you are ready to tear something apart, and mosh your face off.
“Bad Man” is unfortunately another song that I am just not really interested in. It’s a good thing that the rest of the album aside from 3 songs is so damn good. Otherwise, I might be disappointed by this release.
“Our Love” is another slower tempo love song that C&C are well known for. This one reminds me more of “Away We Go” from Afterman: Descension.
It’s definitely got all the space sounds and such in there too. It’s just not nearly as uptempo as that song.
But the last 3 songs are sort of the “holy trinity” of the album in terms of concept, execution and bad-assery.
“Ladders of Supremacy” kicks it off with a 6 minute, 48 second whirlwind of cinematic musical magic.
Lyrically and thematically, “Ladders of Supremacy” is probably the most impressive song on the album. It brings me back to my favorite Coheed and Cambria song of all time “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut.”
This is the kind of song I expect from Sanchez and the rest of the band. Not every time, but at least 1 or 2 per album that just absolutely blow your damn mind.
The song immediately leads into “Rise, Naianasha (Cut The Cord)” which is the middle part of the story being told here.
It’s not EXACTLY (to me) clear what’s going on from the songs, but it appears that Vaxis is about to be awakened from his comatose state while Nia and Nostrand are still fleeing in what I can only assume is the climactic chase/battle scene in the story. That’s the overall impression that is given anyway.
The song feels like two things more than anything else though:
If I am close to correct, then it is an incredibly beautiful and sentimental song that I think Sanchez accomplished more so with this one song than in all of the The Color Before the Sun album. This one song is exactly the result that Sanchez was looking for but just couldn’t quite say it in this exact way before.
The final song, "Window of the Waking Mind" is the prologue, or winding down of this chapter in some ways anyway.
Basically, Vaxis is awakening, and he is “leaving the infinite for the present” to come into the world and leave his higher consciousness.
The parents are trying to free Vaxis, but Vaxis is actually not imprisoned. He is where he is supposed to be, but he is going to awaken more so to help his parents than the opposite, it seems.
This is where the crux of the new era of the Coheed and Cambria story arc starts to push towards a more “heroic” storyline, I believe.
Sanchez has a way of putting a damn story together. I will give him that.
This album is another in a long line of really great rock albums. I am glad that they are now celebrated in proper circles for their insane ability to not just make good rock songs, but to tell the sci-fi story line that Sanchez has put together over the years.
Imagine if George Lucas had the ability to put Star Wars into prog-rock. Well, that’s what Coheed and Cambria are like.