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Lords of the Ring

Coheed and Cambria's epic emo dazzles a conspiracy theorist.

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It never works.

You may think it does. But -- we interrupt for a special bulletin -- it doesn't. You know, the Pink Floyd Wizard of Oz freakout. Cue the movie. Pause the CD. Wait for the MGM lion to roar three times. Press play. "The Great Gig in the Sky" spins with the tornado. Far out. "Money" plays as Dorothy and her heartless, brainless, cowardly boy toys enter the Technicolor world of Oz. Whoa. "Brain Damage" thumps as the Scarecrow sings "If I Only Had a Brain." Heavy.

If you only had a brain indeed.

It's an urban myth. Like Ouija boards or heads exploding from the mixture of Coke and Pop Rocks. Putting credence in such nonsense is like playing "Stairway to Heaven" backward or searching for "Paul is dead" messages on Beatles albums. Floyd in cahoots with the flying monkeys?

I call bullshit.

So imagine my skepticism when the rumor mill churned out the jaw-dropper that Coheed and Cambria's latest album, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, is cosmically intertwined with the movie Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. That the young quartet from upstate New York meticulously crafted 12 epic, emotional rock songs to coincide precisely with the first movie in the epic, emotional cinematic trilogy taken from the J.R.R. Tolkien novels.

I call bullshit again.

Still, if anybody were to attempt such a grandiose endeavor, it would be Coheed and Cambria. This is a band with the introspective intensity of Thursday, the operatic ambitions of Queen and the dark meanderings of Led Zeppelin. A band that has taken the concept album to dizzying heights. A band that gets its name from two mythical characters in an elaborate story created by lead singer Claudio Sanchez, first introduced on 2002's Second Stage Turbine Blade and carried over to Silent Earth.

Those albums are the second and third segments of a quadrilogy envisioned by Sanchez. Each song is centered on a husband (Coheed) and wife (Cambria) and their struggles with life and death in a science-fiction world hatched in the mind of Sanchez, who is also putting the finishing touches on a comic book to complement the four-part series.

Sound complicated?

"You wouldn't believe how complicated it is," bassist Michael Todd tells the Pitch. "It's very intense. I don't understand all of it right away, but I'll talk to Claudio late at night, and he'll explain all of these thoughts and ideas he has, and it just blows my mind."

Which means the band probably was talented and resilient enough to embark on a nerdish odyssey to mirror Lord of the Rings with an album.

If I was going to be like those brave souls who found the word Satan in the Mr. Ed theme song, I'd have to be prepared.

I headed to Blockbuster and snagged the last available copy of Fellowship of the Ring. I locked my apartment door, turned off the lights and twisted the cap off a bottle of red wine, because every transcendent search for hidden meanings in one-week rentals and prog-emo records requires some sort of chemical stimulation.

I pop Silent Earth into the CD player. And in three ... two ... one ... press play.

A phone rings.

Christ. I grumble and hoist myself off the couch. I stumble through the darkened apartment, bumping into furniture and tripping over piles of dirty clothes as I search frantically for the phone. That is, until I realize that the ringing is coming from my stereo. It's the introduction to "The Ring in Return," the first song on Silent Earth.

Coheed and Cambria 1, Dinsdale 0.

"The Ring in Return" launches into epic, drifting instrumentals and descends into a rumbling roar as the screen flashes to scenes of volcanoes spewing fiery froth. Then "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3" kicks in, and two armies clash onscreen as Sanchez sings, Man your battle stations! and Will they be buried here among the dead?

Whoa.

More fighting. More singing. Good guys are getting beat down by bad guys. Sanchez is crooning The truth be told, a child is born just as a good dude grabs the ring from a bad dude. Then the hero is corrupted and finds himself floating in a river with two arrows in his back as Sanchez coos, I love you.

Uh, maybe not.

And so it goes. Some of Coheed and Cambria's sweeping songs complement the majestic panorama of the film, but most of the time, neither has anything to do with the other. In fact, watching the movie without sound offers more revelations. It becomes abundantly clear, as I plunge 20,000 leagues beneath the seal on the $5.99 bottle of merlot, that the Fellowship of the Ring is really a homoerotic parable about the joys of boy-on-boy action and smoking wacky tobaccy.

Think about it.

Not only does Gandolph the Grey look like the homeless guy who smells like piss and Boone's and says his car broke down and he needs $5 for gas, but the paranoid wizard also is sucking on a pipe every waking moment he isn't giving Frodo the sexy eye or neglecting to shampoo his rat's nest of a beard.

Meanwhile, the "evil eye" that threatens to envelop Frodo looks suspiciously like a big, fiery vagina. Plus, the "fellowship" of boys eating wild mushrooms and sleeping together? Hell-o, girlfriend! The movie is only a few plot twists from becoming a psychedelic gay porn flick, Lord of the Cock Rings.

Somehow, Sanchez crooning, Pull the trigger, and the nightmare stops doesn't seem to have anything to do with a birthday party for Bilbo Baggins. That's when I realized that I could play Pet Sounds alongside Weekend at Bernie's II and find profound parallels if I really wanted to. And ultimately, trying to force Silent Earth into Middle Earth hardly does Coheed and Cambria's music justice.

The band is really a few average guys making above-average music. They still help their parents shovel snow. They dig the Darkness. They like Led Zeppelin and the Police and comic books. Yes, they are a little nerdy. Yes, they are a little like Rush. But not quite to the extent that is often portrayed.

"It's kind of ridiculous," Todd says. "We don't have pocket protectors. We don't play Dungeons and Dragons on the tour bus. The whole Rush and Star Trek [and Lord of the Rings] things are ridiculous. Time will tell. When people actually listen to the album to review it instead of reading other reviews, they'll realize our music isn't really like that."

So what is their music really like?

Read this story backward to find out. Coheed and Cambria's epic emo dazzles a conspiracy theorist.

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