Having released one of the finest albums of the last decade in Source Tags and Codes, Austin’s …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (more commonly known as Trail of Dead) went on to prove what can happen to any band suddenly given a seemingly limitless budget. Their previous two albums were an exercise in what happens when you turn everything up to eleven, bring in a choir and maybe a few string sections, and “if we could just have another widdly guitar solo please right about now…”.
Never having been the most subtle of bands Trail of the Dead could certainly have seemed to have an air of extravagance about them, but this was always a part of what made them unique in the first place. You were never going to get a record full of two minute songs about the drummer’s ex but you could be sure to have epic songs about ancient Mayan civilisations amongst guitar riffs that could tear your face off and twin drums that sound like the first flashes of the end of the world
With a reputation built on their incendiary live shows where half a guitar and the drum kit were liable to join you in the crowd by the show’s end, Trail of Dead were possibly the most exciting band to emerge from the US in the early ’00s. Its was all the more disconcerting then when post Source Codes, and having newly signed with Interscope, they proceeded to turn into a prototype of My Chemical Romance and release the widely derided Worlds Apart and So Divided. After the overindulgence of these records where Trail of Dead were of the verge of turning into a parody of themselves, it was hoped the band would go back to a louder and more forceful sound. Instead they have toned down the guitar noodling and reigned in the string sections, along with a subsiding of the prog-rock bombast, to be left with a lite version of what Trail of Dead were originally about.
From the instrumental refrain of initial track “Giants Causeway” through to the opening salvo proper of “Far Pavilions”, “Isis Unveiled” and “Halcyon Days” you could be forgiven for thinking that Trail of Dead were back to their best. These songs signal an explosive return of energy and are as incendiary a triplet as they have ever produced, reminiscent of past releases and proving to be as cathartic for the band as for the listener. It’s on the next track though that we hear where the change has really been made in the Dead camp. “Bells of Creation”, previous released on last years Festival Thyme EP, is probably as close as you will hear Trail of the Dead get to a ballad and is indicative of the progression they have made. This is an amalgamation of both sides of their recent output and goes a long way to reconciling what many feel to be their strengths.
The biggest failing here though is that for all the excitement of the beginning the album does trail away somewhat on the later half. “Insatiable (one)” and “Insatiable (two)” could quite easily be improved by dropping the piano, or even dropping the songs entirely, and the throwaway “An August Theme” likewise doesn’t do any one any favours with its inclusion.
While in the hands of other bands some of these tracks could sound hammy, to be fair they sound sincere here. The Century of Self is perfectly balanced on the precipice of daring and extravagance and goes a long way to make back Trail of Dead’s lost ground. While we may have to forget that the Trail of Dead on Madonna and Source Tags even existed, we can be assured that we have a band that at least sounds like they are aching to innovate.