Like Mordor, baby

Those longing for something meatier than the garage-rock rave-ups and pop-punk anthems ping-ponging through the underground like lottery balls can find recourse in the emo-core epics of Coheed and Cambria. Drafting an ongoing space-age drama that pits good versus evil in a battle for the soul of the universe, this New York City quartet is operating well outside the accepted parameters of punk-rock lyricism. In fact, the richly baroque grandiosity Coheed and Cambria bring to their churning heaviness easily recalls the ambitious sweep of prog-rock pioneers Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Rush.

Singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez, whose soaring tenor recalls Geddy Lee, readily acknowledges the connection. "Prog rock was definitely an influence. Actually my first concert ever was a Black Sabbath concert with Dio. But Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin are also big influences," he says from a van speeding up a California highway.

With a title that's somewhat misleading, "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3" is the second and latest album from the band and continues the still-unfolding story of a married couple -- who just so happen to be named Coheed and Cambria -- and their struggle to redeem their postapocalyptic universe. Purportedly based on a sci-fi novel in progress, the overarching "Coheed and Cambria" narrative is a bit convoluted, and Sanchez is loath to go into too much detail, lest it detract from fans' own interpretive enjoyment of the story.

When pressed, however, Sanchez admits there is a strong theme of betrayal running through the latest chapter. Of particular note is the "Velorium Camper" song trilogy that's the climactic centerpiece of "Silent Earth: 3."

According to Sanchez, the song cycle "takes off with a new character that gets introduced into the record, Al the Killer. `T`here is the feeling of betrayal by the new children that have been created by the brother of Coheed and Cambria to do his wishes. They feel like, well, yes, we're created, but we're also these living things that want to be loved."

Oh. That clears it up. Needless to say, Coheed and Cambria's sonic approach is far from simplistic. The stylistic diversity on "Silent Earth: 3" ranges from angular guitar elegies such as "The Crowing," whose percolating roar alternates with soft legato breaks, to "Blood Red Summer," with its gentle rock sway. The "Velorium" trilogy, which opens with a funky blues-rock guitar riff, is only another example of the band's vigilant pursuit of eclectic sounds.

"That's really what this band is about. The band doesn't really try to pigeonhole itself into creating `a` style of music so `that` it therefore fits into `a certain` genre of music," says Sanchez. "That's why you have songs like 'The Crowing' sitting next to songs like 'Blood Red Summer' next to 'The Faint of Heart,' which sounds like the opening riff to a Santana song. I think this band is very diverse, that's the way we are, the way everything kind of gels."

The album ends with "The Light & The Glass," a delicate, largely acoustic number that glides over ethereal keyboards and supple finger-plucks before blooming into a full-bore rocker. The effect is a perfect encapsulation of C and C's encompassing style.

For his own part, Sanchez doesn't find himself listening to much current music. While he gives shout-outs to tour mates Thrice and Thursday, Sanchez confides, "I'm pretty finicky when it comes to music. The only stuff I find myself listening to now is the older stuff, like Thin Lizzy, Jimi Hendrix and The Beach Boys. The stuff that's coming out today is not my thing."

One new artist that he does cotton to, strange as it might seem, is South Florida musician Sam Beam and his country-folk outfit, Iron and Wine. When it's suggested that both he and Beam share a kind of insinuating fluidity and fine-grained sense of drama, Sanchez seizes upon the comparison. "You mean, Iron and Wine is like the Shire, and Coheed and Cambria is like Mordor? Fantastic. I like it," says Sanchez.

Leave it to Sanchez to gravitate to a grand metaphor recalling one of the most expansive epics of the last century when describing his rock band. Yet the comparison is somehow apt, considering the contextual solidity of Coheed and Cambria's music. In the same way that Tolkien wasn't light reading, the group's bold lyrical and musical ambitions easily outstrip the simplistic revolutionary paeans and silly love songs of their peers. On to Middle Earth.

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