…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – The Century Of Self (Richter Scale Records)
Most concluded that …Trail Of Dead were lost at sea with their last two releases. Both Worlds Apart and So Divided, similar in title and sound, were blusterous affairs, and apparently subject to occasional label interference. Singles needed to be strong, but the band seemed so desperate to expand their sound that the wholes were deemed by most to be messy at best. If anything, those ‘troubled’ records after their money-spinning third LP Source Tags & Codes were their most ambitious, until the arrival of The Century Of Self. Recorded live with no overdubs, this latest LP is their most accessible since Source Tags…, and certainly the best in terms of energy, vim and expansive thought.
From the outset, it’s not an unusually bold record, but is still incredibly striking. Giants Causeway lumbers into life with a piano pedals and adjoining ensemble rock that would’ve sat beautifully on an early Queen album. Far from high camp, though, it’s played straight and with vigorous intent. The live playing immediately creates tension; we are privy to a performance of immense magnetism from beginning to end. Rolling into the crashing waves of Far Pavilions, the band announces itself vocally with gusto not heard for some time. Where previously they may have relied on nuance or gesture, they now use sheer force and contrasting deftness. Pulverised vocal harmonies eventually yield to soft synths and choral backing, building and frothing until we finally revisit the initial themes. It’s simple, but extremely satisfying.
Relentlessly pushing forward is the only option when you’ve accrued this much energy, so the Trail elect to continue to rock the fuck out like it’s a debut album. From the glitz and pomp of Isis Unveiled, it’s plain to see that those more progressive works of recent years have had an irremovable effect on the band’s sound and, in particular, their guitar work. While it’s always been frenetic and a basis for melody, it’s yet to be more satisfying than the galloping main riff here. For the most part and until its manic “oh-oh-oh” climax, Halcyon Days finally calms things down, utilising contrasts like musicians really should. Elevating noise levels and tautness ’til near-explosion, the only way to satisfy is to either explode or deflate. Though it’s a deflation we experience, it’s a necessary one and one that hints that real explosions are still to come.