Return from the Dead
Once upon a time, it seemed like …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead were just about done for. They put out two very messy, disappointing records—2005’s Worlds Apart and 2006’s So Divided—full of orchestral cacophony, grandiose ambition gone awry, and mystifyingly crappy lyrical content. Bogged down by kitchen-sink production and overwrought concepts, this prog-punk band seemed like they were headed for permanent obscurity. As it turns out, Tao of the Dead is a remarkable resurgence and a refreshing reinvention of the Austin, Texas quartet.
Yes, they seem to reinvent themselves with each record, but at least with this one they went simpler. Now, “simpler” for Trail of Dead is still on par with a punked-up Rush or Yes record, which is not simple at all. They’re still layering crunchy, fuzzy guitars over pummeling drums, but this record is a lot more nuanced. They use tempo changes wisely: this record has instrumentals, ballads, thrashers and anthemic indie-rock songs. What’s significant about this record is a key change at the end: “Strange News from Another Planet,” a 16-minute suite that could easily be another EP yet is passed off as Part II of Tao of the Dead. Aside from this rather adventurous song cycle, the rest of the record blows past you before you realize it’s about to be over.
Of the first 11 tracks, all but four clock in at around three minutes. This is sweet relief, and with smooth transitions between songs the record has an impressive flow to it considering the different tempos and styles employed. “Pure Radio Cosplay,” with one of Conrad Keely’s strongest vocals, could draw comparisons to Foo Fighters or Superchunk. Beauties like “The Spiral Jetty” and “Ebb Away” could convert even the loudest of naysayers. Keely’s considered one of prog-metal’s biggest megalomaniacs, but on Tao of the Dead he can win over even avowed hater with a few dedicated listens. Touché, Trail of Dead.