To be a Coheed and Cambria fan is no casual experience. Beyond the distinctively long songs, there are alternate galactic universes to inhabit, multiple album-spanning character arcs to follow, deeply psychological mythologies to interpret, and deafeningly loud, nearly operatic live shows to attend. Their music may not be for everyone, but it is impressively enduring, intricate, and original. By no stretch of the imagination is Coheed a punk band, but their overall ethos is definitively punk—in that if there is one thing you can count on them to do, it’s whatever the fuck they want. So far in their twenty-five-year career, the band has released ten full-length studio albums, so let’s rank them.
10. The Second Stage Turbine Blade (2002)
As this is Coheed’s first full-length album, ranking at the bottom of their discography is to be expected—it’s just a warm-up for the next two decades of increasingly creative and nuanced work that will develop the story of The Armory Wars. All the songs pretty much melt together in an unremarkable sonic landscape not unlike many other post-hardcore bands of the early 2000s, if other post-hardcore bands were singing about pretend galaxies. The fact that no song title is longer than four words is evidence enough of just how far this debut is from the super unique and technically impressive nerd-metal that would emerge in the following years.
Play It Again: “Devil In Jersey City”
Skip It: “Heartshot Kid Disaster”
9. Year of the Black Rainbow (2010)
This is the band’s fifth album, but as the first chapter of The Amory Wars arc, it feels like somewhat of a regression not just in plot, but musically as well. To be fair, it’s about bots and revenge—topics that have a ceiling on their listenability. It’s pretty safe to say most of the population isn’t able to have a personal relationship with these themes. Although I did have an uncle who claimed to travel to the future to fight mega-bots. The family doesn’t talk with him much anymore. Anyway, there is some great heavy metal-leaning guitar work across all tracks, but it lacks any real standouts or hits.
Play It Again: “The Black Rainbow”
Skip It: “This Shattered Symphony”
8. In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth: 3 (2003)
It’s fair to say that this is the album in which Coheed really came into their sound. Although, the original release did include eleven tracks of complete silence, a creative choice so insane that fans were reassured this band could never sell out even if they wanted to. A number of audible songs take place on a ship steered by the narrative of a vendetta, so that’s something. But it’s the singable singles that really carry this record, which is otherwise just okay musically.
Play It Again: “A Favor House Atlantic”
Skip It: “21:13”
7. The Afterman: Ascension (2012)
Coming in at only nine songs and a run time of forty minutes, by Coheed standards this is basically an EP. It’s the first half of the double album prequel-to-the-prequel of The Amory Wars, which follows the saga’s namesake character on a big old existential quest. Many of the tracks have an industrial rock feel to them, with a few electronic beeps and boops thrown in for good measure. It’s a solid album, if not super memorable.
Play It Again: “Goodnight, Fair Lady”
Skip It: “Subtraction”
6. The Color Before the Sun (2015)
Okay, with this being the only album in Coheed’s full-length discography that’s about, like, normal life, it’s an obvious outlier. It has a rightful place in the band’s timeline, but something about Sanchez’s fantastical writing style when applied to topics of the mundane world comes off as a bit saccharine. There’s a layer of pop-punk to many of the tracks that could appeal to a certain crowd, but at times seems to dull the uniqueness that’s always at the core of Coheed’s sound. However, it does have moments of sincerity that are beautiful enough to remind fans it’s okay to step beyond The Keywork every now and then.
Play It Again: “Ghost”
Skip It: “Island”
5. The Afterman: Descension (2013)
This second half of “The Afterman” hits more deeply than the first—musically it has a wider emotional range, big guitar riffs, and nice melodicism throughout all tracks. It also lays a trumpet track on one song without sounding the least bit ska, marching band, or symphonic—no easy feat, if you ask us.
Play It Again: “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant”
Skip It: “2’s My Favorite 1”
4. Vaxis – Act II: A Window of the Waking Mind (2022)
Oh, you “like their old stuff better?” Well, we like their old stuff and their new stuff, because Coheed’s most recent effort is a venture into new musical territory that serves as an exciting premise for what will come with the remaining three Vaxis albums. There’s an early-80s arena rock feel to this record, with its explosive guitar parts and synthesizer elements. While many of the lyrics draw inspiration from the hellscape of the pandemic, true to Coheed form, the songs still suspend the listener in a place between reality and zealously detailed fantasy. We might even dare to call this album danceable.
Play It Again: “Shoulders”
Skip It: “Window of the Waking Mind”
3. Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV: Vol. 2 – No World For Tomorrow (2007)
Written and recorded at a tumultuous point in the band’s career, this album is nevertheless an extremely satisfying sequel to their previous release and a triumphant conclusion to the main The Amory Wars tetralogy—a word we would never need to know, if not for Coheed and now I use it daily whether I need to or not. It evokes the spirit of early heavy metal, and with the energy running high from beginning to end, not one track feels contrived or out of place. Plus, let us not forget that the late Taylor Hawkins recorded all the drums on this release—a baffling fact that is almost definitely proof of a parallel universe.
Play It Again: “Feathers’
Skip It: “III – The End Complete”
2. Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures (2018)
As the first installment of the five-part Vaxis saga, this album was much anticipated by Coheed’s fandom. And with fifteen bona fide anthems about two new characters attempting to flee imprisonment at the hands of an antagonistic interstellar empire, it exceeded all r/TheFence expectations. The opening bars of “The Dark Sentencer” are nothing if not a signal to listeners to buckle up, because it’s about to get real Coheed-y. Released twenty years after the band’s beginnings, Vaxis – Act I is a testament to what can happen when you pair passion for weird, niche, hard rock music with consistency and time: it gets weirder, stays niche, and rocks harder than ever before.
Play It Again: “The Gutter”
Skip It: “Toys”
1. Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV: Vol. 1 – From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005)
While Coheed has continued to make several highly enjoyable, deeply interesting albums in the eighteen years since the release of Good Apollo…Vol. 1, it stands as their defining and most essential effort. Yes, it’s their most commercially successful record to date, but that’s probably because it’s about kidnapping and murder and poison, and people love true crime. Moreover, Coheed has never sounded more like Coheed than they do in these songs. As the “hero’s journey” album of The Amory Wars arc, it’s literally and figuratively epic, and overall just exciting to listen to. There’s a reason “Welcome Home” and “The Suffering” are still Coheed’s chosen live encore nearly two decades later; this record rocks in all twelve sectors of Heaven’s Fence, and here on Earth.
Play It Again: “Apollo I: The Writing Writer”
Skip It: “The Willing Well I: Fuel for Feeding the End”