…And You Will Know us by The Trail of Dead are one of those bands who can’t seem to release an album without a heap of harsh criticism. This is most likely due to releasing a certified masterpiece in 2002’s Source Tags & Codes relatively early in their career. The expectations after that album were exceedingly high, and for good reason. The two albums that followed were met largely with disappointment, even though both albums are good in their own right, and many people began to write off Trail of Dead as being overly self-indulgent. The band has re-emerged, sans major label Interscope, now on their own Richter Scale/ Justice Records, with The Century of Self, a fitting name for the Brooklyn by way of Austin, TX five piece.
Epic indulgence mixed with a healthy smattering of indie prog is still very much in the cards for Trail of Dead, but this time around it doesn’t come across as too overbearing or alienating. The experimentation throughout the album feels much more free and loose then on the past two albums, which sounded strictly orchestrated and rigid. The first half of the album crashes and roars with a renewal of their punk energy before the second half of the album slips into a more ballad driven sound. “Far Pavilions” storms out from the start with the punk energy that has been missing from their sound recently. There are still multi-movement outbursts in songs, but they should be embraced with their now gigantic crescendos and ambient drifts. “Isis Unveiled” contains a dizzying melody to accompany the vocals’ religious tirade. Haunting shifts and a slow stomping rhythm lead the song into the chant along middle section before charging back into guitar fueled chaos. “Halcyon Days,” is a phenomenal throwback to the Source Tags sound, with enormous sounding guitars that sound like they were recorded in a castle. A brief organ section flows together with some upbeat chants before the song curves back into itself.
“Bells of Creation,” previously heard on the Festival Thyme EP, gets a bit of a revamp but still contains the same pounding piano section and intelligently placed power chord waves that resonate over the mix. The drums rolls in the middle can’t help but resemble The Who while adding life and energy to the otherwise somber track. “Fields of Coal” has a strange Celtic sailor vibe, while containing an old world feel from the waltz like rhythm to the jangling guitar shimmers. “Inland Sea,” also from their previous EP, slows down the tempo with a very natural crash-and-release groove and passionate yet woozy vocals from Conrad Keely. “Luna Park” begins the softer more ballad fueled half of the album. It’s a pretty straight forward track with a great slow build and an incredible use of doubled vocals. “Ascending,” is a double overlapped vocal assault featuring members of strange Brooklyn indie darlings Dragons of Zynth.
The album doesn’t make it completely through without falling victim of the complaints of their past two releases. “Pictures of an Only Child” is a promising track that seems to get buried alive in too many arrangement shifts. “Insatiable One” and its return “Insatiable Two” both appear a bit out of place with their toppling piano rolls and overly structured quality. They add the same overblown theatrical and attempted provocative nature that was so widely criticized for self-indulgence in the past.
While their music can tend to overindulge and meander at times, Trail of Dead are provocative enough to keep it interesting. Trying to balance the simplicity of punk rock and the complexity of prog was never an easy task, but the band strides on. The Century of Self might not be their best album to date, but it still makes for a great listen.