What ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have always mastered is the art of timing: the right double kick drum, the sprawling solo, the injection of silence followed by a perfectly cued detonation of tinnitus inducing noise. And, Tao Of The Dead, Trail Of Dead’s seventh album, is all about timing.
Recorded in just ten days, Tao Of The Dead is the band going back to their roots with the core line-up of childhood friends Conrad Keely and James Reece at the creative helm. Split into two separate parts, the record takes all the assets of the band's illustrious 17 year career and throws them into 52 minutes and 21 seconds of ear-blistering new recordings.
Produced by Chris ‘Frenchie’ Smith, Part I is 11 individual tracks (or 'chapters') that largely take inspiration from Conrad’s childhood influences: Rush, Pink Floyd and Yes to name but a few. The second half stakes out unexplored territory: recorded with new producer Chris Coady (Beach House, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead) Part II is one mammoth 16 minute beast that would make Stuart Braithwaite’s eyes water, inspired by Tao Te Ching, a sixth century BC Chinese text.
While Century Of Self partially sewed-up the creative pocket-holes burnt by the experimentations of Worlds Apart and So Divided, after ‘Isis Unveiled’ it rather lost itself in ill-thought out concepts and a repetition of formulaic riffs. Tao Of The Dead, however, delivers the same high energy of Madonna, kicking and spitting in your face in one stream of Keely and Reece’s unexpurgated sub-consciousness, reminiscent of the first high you felt when you first heard Source Tags & Codes.
”Let’s experiment, then” Conrad mutters on the introduction of Part I as gentle harmonies become battered by wave upon wave of unrelenting scales, inciting same the familiar anticipation and energy as ‘It Was There That I Saw You’. ‘Pure Radio Cosplay’ diffuses the energy in anger as Conrad sneers at the state of modern rock music to an aptly Rolling Stones-ish fug; as it slowly fades down into a calming psychedelic loop the near silence is broken by searing riff of, ‘Summer Of All Dead Souls’. Inspired by the struggle between the third and first world in China, Conrad's words exude the same vigor and hate as ‘Mistakes And Regrets’, screaming: "all the dead souls will pull you down!"
Trail Of Dead are one of those bands that have made an art form out of the loud-quiet-loud formula: Tao Of Dead knows exactly when to scream and when to breathe. ‘Cover The Days Like A Tidal Wave’ moves away slightly from the rush of Summer Of Dead Souls’ with spoken-word vocals and hushed harmonies and chords, until a dense wall of escalating chunky Fugazi riffs crush the false sense of calm. ‘Fall Of An Empire’ just about manages to reclaim the serenity. ‘The Wasteland’ continues this showing clearly Conrad’s intention of reclaiming childhood heroes Yes and Rush, as summery chords structures play with flutes, albeit, with a meaty power-chord chorus.
‘Spiral Jetty’ takes on an apocalyptic edge, creating the same unnerving tension as ‘How Near, How Far’; tribal dense drum beats bubble beneath the surface as Conrad’s vocals are at their most subdued. Stand-out track ‘Weight Of The Sun’ seems to lift the tension with the gentle sway of the acoustic guitar, throwing back and forth like the bow of a ship before the happiness is lacerated with thunderous chords and larynx severing screams. To complete the circle of the 11 chapters, ‘Pure Radio Cosplay’ is reprised before the dreamy and sombre ‘Ebb Away’. Part A then closes on ‘The Fairlight Pendant’ as the Who-like psychedelic looped riff that has been woven throughout each chapter together is allowed to go into pure free fall.
‘Tao Of Dead Part II: Strange News From Another Planet’ follows the same narrative as Part A, starting with the same psychedelic riff that joined the dots on Part A slipping in and out. The track heightens the feel of being on a journey, as the middle of the track takes your mood down as the guitars slip into a slow waltz backed up sampled voices, as Conrad’s voice, more developed and tuneful than previous albums, cuts through. It seems to echo the sentiment of the Chinese text it was based on as Conrad sings of waging warms and having epiphanies against an almost military thudding double bass drum beat, as the track works its way towards a euphoric close starting with the same music as the opening.
Tao Of The Dead is Trail Of Dead taking the strengths and hallmarks of their 17 year career into one beautifully orchestrated concept and returning back to form.
8Marie Wood's Score