And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

IX

Written by: TL on 26/11/2014 15:57:27

With the title of their new album "IX" offering a not so subtle pointer to the band's constant presence over twenty years and now nine full length albums, Austin noise/prog-rock institution 'Trail Of Dead has so much history to their name that those in the know will have their expectations set long before any new release, while others glance at their large body of work and wonder where to even start with the group. It doesn't take much googling though, to get an idea of the band's ongoing struggle - since the much lauded third album "Source Tags And Codes" - at finding a sufficiently appeasing balance between the two ends of their spectrum: Their oppressive and direct storms of layered guitar noise, and their more experimental, long-winded, multi-instrumental, progressive ambitions.

Revolving continually around the instrument-swapping duo of guitarists/drummers/vocalists Conrad Keely and Jason Reece, that spectrum is an unusual one to get into in the first place, as the band first and foremost seems interested in what kind of noisy soundscapes they can weave with their instruments. Currently running with four members including drummer/guitarist Jamie Miller and bassist/vocalist Autry Fulbright II, the group's drumming is never simple, the bass is constantly booming and at any given moment there will be at least two layers of guitar noise gliding in and out of each other, giving less of an impression of conventional riffage, and more of a sense of fluctuating, echoing distortion and reverb. Against this thick drape of sound, Keely delivers the lion's share of the vocals, chanting with raspy, drawn out tones, often bellowing against the loudness of the instruments, extending notes and syllables like a man who wants his voice to beat the odds and be heard even on the back rows of the arena.

That description fits the basic type of 'Trail Of Dead song, as is also established at the opening of "IX", just by listening to the quartet of "The Doomsday Book", "Jaded Apostles", "A Million Random Digits" and "Lie Without A Liar". Each roll like thunder with no time for quiet moments, sounding like they were intended for huge spaces, and "A Million Random Digits" stands out particularly by its extra muscular opening riff, yet each of the four also portray that 'Trail Of Dead are capable of a sneaky sort of catchyness, with refrains that come to mind clearly as soon as the opening bits are heard. The reason this impact is surprising is that the band has a way of numbing you past the sense of conventional song dynamics: They play loud or louder, and you get lost and might not notice the leaping transistions between parts you normally expect, because your head is either pummelled senseless or busily chasing each new little development in the vast soundscape. Keely's vocals are actually clearly audible, but because they rather follow the instrumental ebb and flow more than they're staged by it, you often get distracted and end up vibrating to the frequency of the noise instead.

It would be deceptively easy then, to attribute this music with an oddly boring epicism, due to a singing performance that - while catchy enough melodically - doesn't have a good enough voice behind it, and doesn't really have its own room in between the massive guitar exchanges. But as 'Trail Of Dead begin to open up and let their more adventurous ideas flow starting with the more balladic "The Ghost Within", you start to feel at the very least why fans have kept hoping for the group to reconcile their merits into something that's just epic, period. "The Dragonfly Queen" has an intriguing nostalgia going while dramatic synths lend it extra pathos, and the following, exclusively instrumental piece, "How To Avoid Huge Ships", justifies its title by growing mercilessly on the horizon, embodying all the tenacity of an advancing oil tanker on autopilot, eventually crescendoing in a way that makes you feel like you just experienced a giant's turbulence up close. Count this in as a likely high point of future stories from the band's famously furious live shows, as it is sure to completely drown the listeners in noise while the group goes on rampage on stage.

Moving on, the spacey "Bus Lines" grooves about with casual cloud gazing, only to fade off and return as glorious riff-o-rama in its sixth minute. "Lost In The Grand Scheme" goes 100% hurricane after a few minutes of Reece taking charge at the microphone, letting the listener breach the winds and reach an eye of the storm before passing violently out on the other side of the track's plus seven minutes. Finally, "Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears" applies the band's consistently orchestral approach to actually orchestral instruments, as piano and strings are employed in another instrumental overture, before closer "Sound Of The Silk" takes off on an exotic journey from the marketplace to the jungle, where a tribal romp builds underneath spoken word from Reece and eventually sends the whole record off with all guns once again blazing and with both vocalists joining to howl against the music.

Taking a view from the top, "IX" should ultimately be a record that is sure to make pre-existing fans of the band happy, because it showcases both ends of their potential solidly, and because they must supposedly already have bought into 'Trail Of Deads' premise: Namely that the group is a frustrating and fascinating one all at the same time, because you consistently sense the potential in their uncompromising ideas, but also often wonder if it couldn't be realised to even greater effect. It's like the band's long life has given them a confidence which affords them a disinterest in the idea of making a perfect record, with "IX" rather seeming the product of a band content to refine the pick of their litter of ideas and present them to the listener in an eclectic sequence that lets you grow frustrated or relieved as your own taste and temperament dictate. It's not exactly easy listening, but it would be unfair to say it's not worthwhile.

Download: Lie Without A Liar, How To Avoid Huge Ships, Sound Of The Silk
For The Fans Of: Sparta, Oceansize, Rival Schools, Smashing Pumpkins
Listen: facebook.com/andyouwillknowusbythetrailofdead

Release date 20.10.2014
Superball Music

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