...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. A name so long that even the band members themselves use it only in its shortened form. The band from Austin, Texas came to sudden fame in 2002 with their third album “Source Tags & Codes”, which perfected the noise rock of their first two albums and sparkled with energy and power. The noise walls that pushed the songs to the edge of sudden deafness and the instrument-trashing live shows found the pleasure of indie rock’s holy internet-mekka and consecrated by a perfect 10.0 score they suddenly found themselves in the olymp of their respective scene. But instead of pleasing their mentors with more of the same they exchanged the noise with orchestral arrangements and “Worlds Apart” slid slowly towards the unholy territories of prog rock and - bang! - their ratings and sales figures rushed down. Not bothered by getting vastly underrated they kept on annoying critics and fans alike with “So Divided” until it seemed as though they would finally back down in front of the mob promising to make a record that would be “more cohesive than the last two” as they put it and a “return to form” as the fans put it.
Well first of all there is to state that their last two albums were formidable enough to let talk about a “return to form” seem like a meaningless phrase. And then there is to state that instead of outmatching those last two albums, “The Century of Self” tries hard but finally finds its place at the end of the row as by far the weakest Trail of Dead album to date. No matter how different their previous albums were, they all had one thing in common: they were real growers. “The Century of Self” is the exact opposite: at first overwhelming and then unfolding its weaknesses one by one. The biggest one of which must be the lack of ideas. Trail of Dead albums have never been extremely versatile, but each of their songs has always been original and initially distinctive. This time it all seems way too similar and blurred. But actually their songwriting has never been that multifaceted at all, so the production has always played a crucial role in keeping their albums interesting, and it just doesn’t deliver this time: everything sounds washed out and striking moments are rare. The sound is noisier than ever since “Source Tags & Codes”, albeit not heavier. The drumming is as top-notch as expected (there are a punch of three drummers listed this time), and Keely makes some sort of a comeback as a rough vocalist, but all in all it seems as though many of the layers of sound here are added without purpose: where the orchestration has been an essential part in their last two albums this time it just aimlessly meanders somewhere in the background and adds nothing to the songs at all. The band has been extended to a sextet, but the question remains what for: bassist Danny Wood for example might be good on his instrument or he might be bad, it doesn’t matter because the bass is buried so deep in the mix it hardly ever gets noticed at all.
Like every Trail of Dead album since “Madonna”, this opens with an intro of sorts: and although not interesting on its own Giants Causeway
does its job building up to the actual opener Far Pavilions
, the only song that really reminds me of their pre-“World Apart” works: fast, energetic, lively, including noisy guitars, the obligatory softer bridge and a clever use of both vocalists. But from there on it takes its time until the album lives up to that standard again: Isis Unveiled
starts like a Flogging Molly song only to go on ripping off their own Will You Smile Again?
-bridge section. And to be honest, when all the first three songs use that aggressive/soft/crescendo/aggressive scheme it kinda gets really old. So it’s a pleasure when Trail of Dead suddenly delve into pop territories: the surprisingly awesome Bells of Creation
still rips apart its elegant verses with eruptions of noise, but songs like Inland Sea
, Luna Park
and Picture of an Only Child
all stay relatively low-key throughout most of their running time - at least for Trail of Dead standards, focusing more on melody than on aggressiveness. Sadly they are only a shadow of Trail of Dead’s prevoius excursions into the realm of softer music like All White
or Witch’s Web
, but in the flow of the album they are a pleasent suprise. This middle section finds its height in Insatiable One
, which sounds wonderfully like something from the Earth disc of Thrice’s Alchemy Index: a catchy piano that’s for once not just another layer of sound, but actually in the foreground, and a beautiful melody turn it into one of the album’s highlights and possibly into a great closer. But instead of stopping there they add Ascending
- another aggressive number, not bad really but not adding anything either - followed by an uninteresting short instrumental, only to finally end the album how it could have ended eight minutes before. Insatiable Two
is essentially its first version with a noise crescendo to nowhere added in its middle. It finally fades out with the same cautious applause in the background that I’m willing to give it: There are some treats to be found within these 53 minutes of music, but there is an unnecessarily big amount of dirt to dig through until you find them. What makes me really sad though is that although this album is clearly weaker than both “Worlds Apart” and “So Divided”, it is likely to get more love than either of them.
Oh hell, I almost forgot to mention that: yeah, this album is self-indulgent, overblown and everthing. But don’t tell me you’re surprised by that. After all you’re dealing with a band called ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, right?