Review: Trail of Dead Keep Rock Alive, Bring Back Strings on “IX”
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have been a act hard to pin down as they continually evolve their sound from their early records which leaned towards Sonic Youth, to classic rock with 2005’s Worlds Apart, and prog with 2010’s Tao of the Dead. One thing remains the same: they like their music loud, big, and epic with some beautiful and dark moments in-between.
2012’s Lost Songs brought back the punk, chaos, speed, and ferocity associated with their 2nd LP Madonna, minus the angst of youth. Their new record, IX (funnily enough, their 9th record), veers away from punk rock sound yet again, and goes back to rock and roll coming up with one of the best rock records of the year.
Band co-founder Conrad Keely sounds almost cheery with album opener, “The Doomsday Book,” which is probably one of Trail of Dead’s lighter songs in their catalog. It’s a somewhat weak start to a record that soon takes off much more with the second track, “Jaded Apostles”, heavy on double drumming from Jason Reece and Jamie Miller, and a much more menacing vocal melody than the previous song. “I miss the wounds of a good fight,” Keely laments as the album kicks-in.
“A Random Digits” seems like a possible leftover from 2012’s Lost Songs with a more Fugazi and hardcore grind and velocity. Keely dominates most of the record as he has for sometime, but the line-up has not changed in four years consisting of band co-founders Conrad Keely and Jason Reece supported by Autry Fulbright on bass and Jamie Miller on drums. All shared on songwriting duties on the record.
“Liar Without A Liar,” is again a brighter song, almost reminiscent of 90’s alternative rock, but not the very bad manufactured one hit-wonders, but better efforts of bands like The Smashing Pumpkins. The record it’s self harkens back to The Who’s Quadrophenia. Heavier rock songs are mixed with acoustic numbers, and a few epic instrumentals that combine rock and roll and strings beautifully.
Strings return to the forefront for the first time in several records, although they’re not layered throughout as with Source Tags & Codes. The Jason Reece penned, “How to Avoid Huge Ships,” builds upon the same line from a whisper to an epic number, and “Like Summer Tempest Came His Tears,” is one of their grandest songs yet.
“Lost in A Grand Scheme,” kicks things back up and is the one song to feature Jason Reece on lead vocals. It’s a powerful and strong song that goes though several movements before launching back into a maniacal yell.
Ultimately the album is not far from 2005’s Worlds Apart: colossal rock songs, a few ballads, and some beautiful and brooding moments. Trail of Dead are very close to putting out a record that matches the brilliance of Source Tags & Codes. In a way, it’s almost unfair that they put out such a great record that that it created a very hard shadow to escape. They come very close with, “IX,” but a few misfires such as, “Bus Lines,” would have been probably been better left off the record.
For now, where rock and roll records are few and far between, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead keep rock alive and well. It may not be the best record of the career, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best rock records released this year.
Trail of Dead are due to play the Belmont October 30 with I Love You, But I’ve Chosen Darkness.