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September 19, 2014

Album Review: In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

Filed under: Review — Tags: , , — rockshowmusic @ 10:26 pm

Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!  Back in 2011 I celebrated an upcoming Incubus concert by doing a full album review of their newest release, If Not Now, When?  Now I’m doing it again.  For those unaware, Coheed & Cambria have recently embarked on their Neverender: IKSSE3 tour, in which they’re playing their 2003 album In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 in its entirety.  The local show takes place on 9/24 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, and in preparation for it I’ve decided to take a look back and give a review of the album.  So let’s get started!

In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 is the band’s second album, and the follow-up to 2001’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade.  It picks up the Amory Wars story where the debut album left off, and on this album we meet one of the most important characters in the saga–the Prise, Ambellina.  The album marked the first wave of mainstream success that the band saw, with the popularity of the singles “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Blood Red Summer.”  They’d later get a little more success from their following album (featuring the rock anthem “Welcome Home”).  But IKSSE3 is a big-time fan favorite, and for good reason–it kicks some serious ass, and steps up the musical creativity from its predecessor by a wide margin.  This is the album that took Coheed & Cambria from being just another post-hardcore emo band to something much more interesting–this is the album that brought out the hints of progressive rock, a style that would slowly take them over in years to come.

Track #1:  The Ring in Return

The album opens as most Coheed albums do, with an instrumental track.  This one features a few elements.  First, it starts with a ringing phone and footsteps.  The phone is answered, triggering a piano-and-strings rendition of one of the main theme songs of the Amory Wars.  It plays for a while before more sci-fi sound effects take over, culminating in the voice of the character Claudio saying, “Hello, Apollo. Where should I begin?”  This track certainly works well as a way to build suspense for what comes next–the sci-fi sounds are drawn out very nicely, creating a sort of buildup effect.  As an actual song, it doesn’t stand well on its own.  But it isn’t really meant to.  It serves its purpose–to introduce the album and pump the adrenaline for the next song, which blows that door wide open.

Track #2:  In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

The title track picks up immediately after Claudio’s words on the last track, opening with a slow, clean-tone rhythm guitar riff.  The lead guitar gradually chimes in, slowly building to the breakpoint about 40 seconds into the song.  The lead guitar then takes center stage while the rhythm guitar, bass, and drums provide crunchy, distorted, hard-rock support.  After the intro jam the rhythm guitar comes back into the limelight with the verse riff, showcasing frontman Claudio Sanchez’s intriguing rhythm guitar style.  The verses are a bit low-key, but the instrumentation is much more complex than it initially lets on.  Then the buildup to the chorus comes in, with more dynamic vocals and crunchy power chords, and then finally the chorus hits–almost 2 minutes into the 8-minute epic.

The chorus makes it clear that the song’s about some kind of battle–in this case the skirmish between Inferno’s IRO-bots and Wilhelm Ryan’s Red Army.  The chorus showcases the urgency and intensity of the song but keeps it contained in catchy vocal melodies so familiar to Coheed music.  After the second chorus things start to go off on a tangent.  We get some darker sounds and more riffs than chords as the beginning of the bridge builds up.  There are many times throughout Coheed’s music (and a lot of instances on this album, as well) where Claudio (frontman, not character) is singing over some very complicated guitar riffs.  Easy enough to do in the studio, of course, but he pulls it off live as well.  The bridge slows down a bit and goes into a few different parts before eventually ending and faking out that the song is over.  There’s a nice little lull for a moment before the intro kicks in again, slowly building up to the climactic true ending of the song.

This song is a hell of a way to open an album.  It’s big, it’s overblown, and it kicks ass.  It establishes a real feel for what’s going on, and it melds many different pieces together in a way that seems very organic.  A study of this song reveals just how intricate some of the rhythm guitar work can be, and it sets itself up as an anthem for the band.  This song is a routine show-closer, and for good reason–the ending is about as epic as epic can get.

Track #3:  Cuts Marked in the March of Men

This song doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, mostly due to the number of well-known fan favorites on the album–“Cuts Marked…” seems to slip through the cracks.  It carries a lot of the same urgency and intensity of the previous track, continuing the battle though from a different POV.  The verses have a good lead guitar hook, and the imagery of the lyrics is pretty damn vivid.  One can easily get the sense of a massacre in the making.  Once again, the chorus captures lots of intensity into catchy melodies, backed by pounding power chords and a ripping lead guitar line.  The bridge on this one feels a little lackluster, especially compared to the variety the rest of the album showcases, but it does provide a good buildup to the final chorus and its extra lead guitar riffs.  Overall this songs just gets overshadowed by the other tracks.  It has a lot to offer, but in the company of powerhouses like the previous track and the next two, it really does get lost in the mix.

Track #4:  Three Evils (Embodied in Love & Shadow)

Definitely one of the more memorable cuts from the album, and one that fans still adore.  This one opens with a much more upbeat, pop-punk feel than the last two tracks.  Despite that, the lyrics still describe some pretty violent and intense stuff.  But this song brings out the real vocal hooks and melodies that exist in all the fan-favorite Coheed songs.  We also get a lot of different pieces melded together here, though the verse-chorus-verse-chorus feel suits the first half of the song nicely.  The song never stops being catchy, and despite the different sections it never loses its sense of unity as a song.  The rhythm guitar takes a bit of a backseat on this one, focusing much more on power chords than riffing, but the lead gets a nice workout on the outro.  Throughout the song the lead guitar provides very subtle accompaniment, and it really works to enhance the pop-punk vibe the song gives.  As upbeat, catchy, almost-hits go, this one’s a real winner.  That’s probably why it’s so popular among the fans, and why the band still brings it out onstage time and again.

Track #5:  The Crowing

Another big-time fan favorite, “The Crowing” takes a dark turn right away and stays there for its six and a half minute duration.  “The Crowing” is the first track that brings the character of Claudio back into the picture, focusing on his meeting with the Prise, Ambellina.  This is the first real track that makes me think “metal,” at least a little bit, but it definitely pulls away from the post-hardcore and alternative sound that the album’s had up until now.  The track grooves well, and the choppy guitar parts really set the pace and the atmosphere.  The chorus is low-key and creepy (like all the best Coheed stuff), filled with interwoven guitar lines that harmonize beautifully.  But it’s the bridge section after the second chorus where things really start to explode.  The lead lines have an epic feel about them, and the rhythm guitar builds the backdrop well.  The vocals, fairly mid-range on this track, really reflect the frustration and anger of the character Claudio.  Then the jam kicks in and gets really heavy, giving the song a strong prog-metal flavor.

It gets dark and creepy again in the breakdown, and the lead lines really add so much atmosphere to it.  The buildup to the outro is excellent as well, seamlessly transitioning from 3/4 into 4/4 without drawing attention to itself.  The outro releases the tension built up along the way, firing off angry vocal passages but also catchy melodies that herald the ending of an important chapter in the story.  Claudio sets out on his revenge mission with Ambellina as his guide, and the adrenaline pumps through the fadeout ending.  The song is just so big and dynamic, showcasing the musicianship of the band so well, that it overshadows many of the other songs on the album.  It’s markedly different, and gives a glimpse as to what musical direction the band ultimately goes down.  A standout for sure, and one fans never get tired of hearing live.

Track #6:  Blood Red Summer

This one was the second single of the album, and one that got a good bit of mainstream attention in its day.  It’s definitely a radio-friendly song, though as a follow-up to “The Crowing” it really contrasts hard.  The mood changes completely between the songs, and after such a powerhouse of a track this one feels kind of, well, wimpy.  But it’s got hooks out the wazoo (hence its success as a single).  One thing I do really like about this song is the lead guitar in the verses, played on the low strings of the guitar–almost like a bass line.  It really adds a texture to the song that gives it that lost in the woods feel.  It definitely has a singalong chorus, a catchy bridge, and a gimmicky breakdown (filled with wah-ohs and hey-hey-heys).  I think that in comparison to the rest of the album, though, that this track does come up a little short.  Its simplicity coupled with its endless hooks make it fun for sure, but as a member of a prog album in the company of giants like “Three Evils,” “The Crowing,” and “The Light & the Glass,” it just doesn’t pull its weight.  But it is a crowd pleaser, and the casual fans will definitely get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Track #7:  The Camper Velourium I: Faint of Hearts

“Faint of Hearts” begins the trilogy of “Camper Velourium” songs, during which we meet the character of Al the Killer.  “Faint of Hearts” follows the previous track well in that it brings much of the upbeat, pop-punk sound along with it.  The difference here, however, is that the rhythm guitar really shines with all kinds of riffs that integrate well with the lead lines.  This is another tacks that really groves well, and in my opinion it captures the essence of the upbeat side of Coheed.  It’s got all the clichéd Coheed vocal hooks, background vocals, and guitar tricks that make it a very signature song.  The chorus is infectious.  The bridge, like in many Coheed songs, is broken into many different parts with varying degrees of catchiness and musical skill.  The double guitar solo is a definite highlight, as the parts work so well together, and the last part of the bridge that follows brings in a really catchy vocal part and lead line.  The chorus comes back with a little more intensity (full power chords instead of palm-muting), and the song finishes strong.  Overall it’s a very definitive Coheed song, easy to like, and a clear fan favorite.

Track #8:  The Camper Velourium II: Backend of Forever

“Backend of Forever” is where things start to get weird, and it seems like that’s intentional.  The rhythm guitar repeats a very creepy (and complex) pattern that takes a dark turn right away.  The lyrics sound very much like the rambling thoughts of a maniac (which they are, as the song is from Al’s POV), and as a result the song does not immediately gel as something catchy.  As a matter of fact, much of this song is distinctly hook-less until the ending.  The musicianship here is intense, especially when one realizes that the lead guitar is playing the backing chords and the rhythm (played by vocalist Claudio Sanchez) is the one doing the picking pattern.  The vocals never really pick up throughout the verses, and as a result the song can definitely have an acquired taste feel to it–it’s not likely something one is going to get into right away.  But it really brings out the creepy side of the band’s songwriting, something that will get more pronounced on the following album (Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness).  The chorus gets a little more catchy, though it still has some strange melodies and the chord progression is far from conventional.  The ending is really where the hooks come back in, with some singalong-style vocals and the signature background vocals to provide a ton of layering.  It’s a very strange song, but it fits the chapter of the story it deals with and does a good job of setting up the next song, as well.

Track #9:  The Camper Velourium III: Al the Killer

And here’s where the intensity really hits hard.  This song is both creepy and angry, with lots of distorted vocals and crunchy guitars to give it a climactic effect.  I mean, what else would you expect in a song about Ambellina stumbling upon Al’s closet full of corpses?  This is another song that will likely require a few listens to really get into, as it is far from a conventional song.  The pre-chorus is especially intense, building up to a chorus that fully showcases the insanity of the title character.  Like “Cuts Marked in the March of Men,” this is another track whose bridge section leaves a little to be desired–maybe a little too simple.  But the power of the last chorus can’t be denied as it leads up to the showdown that takes place in the next track.  This is definitely one of the more unique tracks on the album, really bringing out the hardcore elements of the band.

Track #10:  A Favor House Atlantic

The first and biggest single from the album, “A Favor House Atlantic” really brought Coheed & Cambria into the mainstream, at least for a little bit.  Needless to say, its success comes from its instant radio-friendliness.  The vocal hooks are endless, and the power-pop chord progression and song structure really lend a lot to the emo/pop-punk vibe the song gives off.  Though less of a fan favorite than some of the more obscure stuff (the hardcore fans of a band always bemoan the hits), it still gets huge reactions from the crowds at live shows.  It’s the hit that put the band on the map, and it definitely sounds like it all the way through.  The lead lines give the song a bit more flavor, as otherwise it would just be a four-chord romp from beginning to end.  But its catchiness can’t be denied, and it definitely has more life to it than “Blood Red Summer.”  It’s a song that’ll get you moving, and it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.  For one of the big hits, it definitely deserves its popularity.

Track #11:  The Light & the Glass

The last official track on the album, “The Light & the Glass” is yet another fan favorite (this album’s full of them, can you tell?).  It’s an epic–over nine minutes in length–and really plays to the variety of sounds that Coheed’s capable of pulling off.  It starts with a slow acoustic bit, building toward the first pre-chorus and the first use of distortion in the song.  The pre-chorus and chorus hit hard, with soaring vocal melodies that really capture the emotion behind the song.  It already feels like the perfect way to close the album.  Then the post-chorus comes in, taking it into a bit of a tangent.  It slows down again, the middle section repeating a guitar pattern behind very soft accusations of “Liar” until it worms its way back to the pre-chorus.  The second chorus hits hard again, but this time it leads into new territory and a darker, creepier feeling.  The aggression begins to come out, building up to the extensive outro.  And it’s the outro that the song is really building to.  The lead guitar takes center stage, accompanying the powerful vocals into a very climactic revelation for the character of Claudio, and after a few repetitions it blends into an intricate jam behind a chorus of “Pray for us all.”  The feeling of an epic ending is certainly not lost here, and the jam extends for quite some time before fading out and giving way to a repetition of the theme music from the opening track, giving the album the feeling of having come full circle.  According to the comic books, the story of the album is told by Claudio to Apollo after the fact, so bringing the ending back to the start feels just right here.  With such a dynamic structure and an operatic closing, it’s no wonder this song is so well loved by the fans.  And it’s a strong finish to the album, until…

Bonus Track:  21:13

After a lot of nothing, the bonus track on the album reveals itself.  “21:13” is not actually part of the story of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.  Instead, it tells the story of the song “Time Consumer” (from The Second Stage Turbine Blade) from the POV of Matthew and Maria.  Which is actually really disturbing if you know the story–“Time Consumer” is the chapter in which the characters of Coheed and Cambria are tricked into murdering their children in order to stop the spread of a virus, though it’s actually all a lie.  “21:13” tells the story from the perspective of the children, just before they go to sleep after having been poisoned.  Yeah.  It’s a little fucked up.

The song is another nine-minute epic, spiraling through all kinds of sections that really showcase the musical talent of the band.  There’s lots of riffs throughout the song in addition to parts with catchy vocals and power chords, blending the post-hardcore/emo sound with the emerging prog rock sound.  One may find this song to be a little all over the place, directionless, meandering, needlessly self-indulgent, etc.  But that’s part of what makes prog rock so great.  The song runs the gamut of feelings and styles, hitting upbeat pop-punk, arena rock, prog-metal, and creepy-signature-Coheed sounds throughout.  There’s even a reprise of the intro to “Time Consumer” in the middle, and a reprise of “IRO-Bot” (the bonus track on The Second Stage Turbine Blade) at the end.  All in all it’s a very weird song, one that will definitely take repeated listens to fully enjoy, but one that fans love (especially due to its rarity live) and one that really does show where the band is heading.  Post-hardcore and emo may be the roots of Coheed & Cambria, but with this album they definitely start to embrace progressive rock and explore what they can do with a concept album.

In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 is arguably the most important album of the band’s career.  Whether it’s the best or not is something fans will argue over until the end of time, but the fact that it brought the band out of obscurity and into the spotlight is really what makes it stand out.  It contains a staggering number of fan favorites and has virtually no filler.  Expertly blending styles to create a signature sound, Coheed really makes this album unique with both its variety and its familiarity–something they’ve always done well.  A Coheed song sounds like a Coheed song, and even if you’ve never heard it before it sounds so obviously like them that there’s no way to doubt that it belongs in the catalog.  To this day their live shows still pull heavily from this album, and for good reason.  Now with this current tour, fans will get the album all the way through on stage.  Time to man your battle stations, folks–your socks are about to be rocked off.  September 24 can’t some soon enough.

~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music!

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