Review Summary: Let's tear this place to shit, commit pact suicide!
The 1998 debut album from ". . .And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead" is blood splattering and baneful in a way that drastically sets it apart from their last couple of records. These songs surge with a self-crucifying mania that is present in their recent works only in a liminal sense. There are hints of the stately grandeur that the band would later focus on, but this *** is ROUGH. You will not find sentimental romanticism here; herein lies the noisy heart of darkness.
Opener "Richter Scale Madness" is a calamitous riot of gleeful destruction. It opens with a massive boogie rock riff of lucid distortion, but when the beat kicks in all full of manic drum fills you won't boogie so much as flail violently. "This is a riot, right/Let's all riot riot/Tear this place to ***/Commit pact suicide" sings Conrad Keeley with jovial lethality. He's kind of being funny, but at the same time you get the feeling that he might be serious. The song is so majestically macabre that it is hard to not heed its call to self destructive violence (unless you're one of those people who are sane; to paraphrase a hoary cliche: this music is not for the sane of heart). When the main verse slams into a battering delirium of spiraling noise, there will be blood. Lots of it. Later, Keeley chants the slogan "join the gun club/join the gun club" as a guitar riff bounces up and down like a really fast yo yo, the bounces becoming faster and faster until it all collapses into rubble and you fall to the ground, exhausted and maybe even dead.
The opening song is so amazing that it sets a standard the rest of the album can't quite live up to. Still, this is great, original stuff. These songs have a tumultuous and heart wrenching power that feels as authentic and free of pretension as a tornado. Some of the exploding waves of sound are so intense that you will involuntarily grit your teeth until one gets chipped.
The term "post hardcore" is the best genre tag for the album, but this is not groove oriented like most post hardcore. Don't get me wrong, there are strong rock based rhythms, but you don't rock to this album, you get thrown around by it. The drummer, in particular, is a mad man. Jason Reese creates clattering whirlwinds of percussion but he also knows when to let up and play with subtlety.
"Half of What" proves that the band can get by without all the bombast. A kick drum beats softly but insistently like a disconcertingly fast heart beat. When the chorus comes, the frenzied drum fills reappear but the guitar stays extremely soft and subdued, creating an interesting contrast. "Prince With A Thousand Enemies" starts with softly ominous guitar mysticism. Then come the vocals, deep and subdued but dripping with a foreboding contempt for some unnamed "king". Next comes a riling guitar buildup until the drums kick in and then the next battle begins. After the bloodshed, the dead are honored with an elegiac outro featuring weeping guitar feedback.
"Novena Without Faith" and "When We Begin to Steal" are the two songs that don't feature any rough elements. The latter, which closes the album, features a subdued groove and soft singing. This song smolders with a quiet and aching desperation that is unlike anything the band has ever recorded. A chiming guitar carries the album to its close with a feeling of melancholy unease. As the songs winds down, you wonder: what does the future hold for me? Will I maintain my restless urge to listen to violent clamor? Or will I some day mellow out a bit and look at life without blood in my eyes? With Trail of Dead, it turned out to be both, but mostly the latter.