February 2, 2011

Album Review: ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Tao of the Dead

The road back to redemption has been the one less traveled for art rockers, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. Their critically acclaimed major label debut, Source Codes & Tags, put them on the map as one of the most promising acts of the new millennium, but getting into bed with Interscope Records later found the band butting heads with execs over their releases and direction. After a few tolerable, radio-friendly albums working with the big leagues, it came as no surprise when Trail of Dead announced they had dropped the juggernaut and decided to go out on their own. Their first album back on an indie was the slight return to form, 2009's The Century of Self but their latest and seventh release, Tao of the Dead, is Trail of Dead coming full circle to create the epic they always seemed destined to make. The band has shed some skin since we last heard from them, now being driven as a two-piece by originators, Conrad Keely and Jason Reece. Somewhat of a concept album, Tao of the Dead is split into two parts -- one recorded in D tuning and the other in F -- making for what plays like two long, continuous tracks (There's actually 12 altogether.) Keely has said formatting the album this way was inspired by some of his favorite albums by prog masters Yes, Rush and Pink Floyd. There's no doubt Trail of Dead indulge in a healthy amount of prog rock here ("The Wasteland," "The Fairlight Pendant") but their affinity for an ear-busting wall of noise makes Tao of the Dead sound like the Dark Side of the Moon within a Daydream Nation. The album seamlessly transcends from gauzy post punk à la Source Code's "Another Morning Stoner" ("Pure Radio Cosplay," "Cover the Days Like a Tidal Wave,") grungy, metalcore riff rockers ("Summer of All Dead Souls," "Weight of the Sun [or the Post-Modern Prometheus]") to over-indulgent, bombastic battle marches that have always indicated Trail of Dead would make the perfect soundtrack for a post-apocalyptic world ("Fall of the Empire.") Yet, it's the 16-minute-plus second part conclusion, "Strange News From Another Planet," that marks a new impressive fete for Trail of the Dead by including all of the above and then some -- and very loudly, at that. Amazingly, it only took the band 10 days to record this monstrous effort, suggesting what could be the most focused release to date for these Austin noise rockers. Just when it seemed the band had lost itself in a shuffle of label woes, Conrad Keely's continuous parade of ridiculous steampunk-meets-Lord of the Rings album art and general apathy from the music world, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead bring forth solid evidence that they are more alive than ever.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Tao of the Dead will be released February 8, 2011 on Superball Records.

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