Coheed & Cambria knew they had unfinished business ahead after releasing Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV in 2005. It just wasn't the kind they were expecting.
By then, Coheed had become renowned for its convoluted album tetralogy based on a science-fiction story written by singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez. The four-part series started with the band's debut (2002's The Second Stage Turbine Blade) followed with 2003's In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 and then Good Apollo.
In theory, all that was missing was the inevitable fourth (though technically the “first” in the series, akin to the Star Wars prequels) installment. But that's when things fell apart. The band—and its fantastical approach to concept albums—was thrown into peril in June 2006 when bassist Mike Todd and drummer Josh Eppard abruptly quit the band, leaving Sanchez and guitarist Travis Stever to sort through the wreckage.
“It was certainly a trying time for Travis and myself,” Sanchez says. “We were both—outside of Coheed & Cambria—moving into very new lives for ourselves… and there was a moment of, Are we going to move forward?” Sanchez began playing informally with other musicians “to kind of weigh my options” in the event that C&C couldn't be salvaged. But testing the waters only clarified for Sanchez that Coheed & Cambria was itself a concept, an idea whose sum was greater than its parts.
Sanchez and Stever slowly began work on a second volume of Good Apollo (subtitled No World for Tomorrow) as a duo before Todd rejoined the group by the time recording began. Eppard, however, was replaced in the studio by Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins before Chris Pennie, formerly of Dillinger Escape Plan, took over behind the drum kit full-time.
While band members have been reluctant to discuss the impetus for the departure of Todd and Eppard, it becomes apparent in Sanchez's cautious words that substance abuse played a major role.
“You don't want to be in a place where you're watching your friends die,” Sanchez says. “Touring… certainly plays a role [and] the only way for recovery is to get off the road. It's a vicious cycle and that can make things unhappy.”
Sanchez has had limited contact with Eppard since he left the band, but says of Todd: “He's in very good spirits, and everybody is proud of him for his accomplishment.”
Which, when read between the lines, suggests Todd is now off the sauce, junk or both. His return allowed Coheed & Cambria to be born anew on No World Tomorrow.
“It just felt like the beginning,” Sanchez says. “We had been through the wringer, so to speak, but at the end of the tunnel, there was certainly a lot of hope. Everybody was very enthusiastic and just having fun and that was something we hadn't had in a long time.”
But that's not to say No World Tomorrow is full of rainbows and puppies. Even without the backstage drama, the backstory behind the series was already at a tipping point.
The short version of where the storyline stood before No World Tomorrow is that the married protagonists—Coheed and Cambria—had murdered their children to save the universe. One child (Claudio) survived, however, and went into hiding. Coheed was then transformed (don't ask how, this is the short version) into Monstar, a creature capable of saving or destroying the universe. No World Tomorrow hinges on what decision Monstar will make and what role Claudio will play in the outcome. As the title suggests, not all ends well.
“Before even writing the album, I'm sure we as a band were probably thinking this was going to be the darkest project of them all,” Sanchez says.
Considering that Sanchez included lyrics that deal with the real-life struggles of the band, the album had all the makings for a morbidly bleak experience. But, echoing the unexpected success of previous singles like “A Favor House Atlantic,” “Welcome Home” and “The Suffering,” No World Tomorrow may be the band's most accessible album yet, musically speaking.
Previous albums had their share of cumbersome epics that took several listens to digest. But, by and large, No World Tomorrow boasts songs—like “Running Free,” “Feathers” and “The Hound (Of Blood and Rank)”—that are more streamlined while packing more of a melodic punch than previous efforts.
And as the four-part series—dubbed The Amory Wars in a comic-book adaptation written by Sanchez—expands, so does Coheed & Cambria's stage show. The band will feature a larger cast of touring musicians with extra instrumental accompaniment and even a chorus of backup singers, plus what Sanchez cryptically refers to as “some interesting props.”
No World Tomorrow officially culminates an ambitious adventure in concept albums that's been at least six years in the making but it also signifies the conclusion of the very real turmoil the band has experienced the last three years. “It is the end,” Sanchez says. “It is the ultimate end of this saga.”
Which, in the world of Coheed & Cambria (where the first chapter of the saga has yet to be written), means this is just the beginning. Coheed & Cambria plays Sunday, July 27, with Russian Circles at Viejas Concerts in the Park. 619-659-1996. www.coheedandcambria.com.