Review Summary: Time heals nothing.
Time has tried to tame what once was one of the wildest live acts of the 90s alternative rock scene and, well, let's say it has very mildly succeeded in doing so. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead return six years after IX
with a new album that feels like both a nostalgia punch and a last stand to stay relevant. We are talking about a 25th anniversary here, no small feat, so such an apocalyptic title like X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
should speak for itself.
Few bands can marry epic, conceptual storytelling so effortlessly with alternative rock like the band from Austin. Loss and longing seem to be the themes that drive their tenth release, partly reflecting Conrad Keely's reluctant return to the US after living in Cambodia for several years. This last release is an odyssey of songs spanning a whole array of influences that have been present at one or another point in their vast career, from the NIN grittiness of "Gone" to the progressive rock of "Through the Sunlit Door". The core duo formed by Conrad Keely and Jason Reece surely have succeeded in bringing back most of the traits that have always formed the band's essence: The instrument and singing swapping (both Keely and Reece are outstanding drummers and more than decent vocalists), and the indecipherable amalgam of styles that merge into their music.
X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
starts as expected, with a trance inducing, bombastic crescendo followed by a bass line that immediately calls back the glory of the 90s. The explosive opening track, titled "All Who Wander", soon materializes the little I remembered about them, but after a few seconds it all comes to mind like it was yesterday. I’ve always thought that And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead is a band that have always gone a step further than their peers in regards to writing and performing. Passages like the middle part of the acoustic tinged "Something Like This" and the second half of what at first sounds like a one-sided indie pop tune called "Don't Look Down", slowly progress into a blooming collage of guitar harmonies and strings that burst into something greater than they were supposed to be, and that is what always have made this band so special.
The first half of X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
is quite dynamic thanks to tracks like "All Who Wander" and "Into the Godless Void", with plenty of unexpected turns and a wide sound palette. When "Gone" splits the album with a darker tone, it does so to prevent stagnation, veering towards a more electronic sound to cleanse your ears before "Children of the Sky" and "Who Haunts the Haunter" return the album to its original state. It's in these two tracks, though, where I found myself in thicker fog. The brilliant build-up in "Children of the Sky" is wasted in going back to the first phrases, ultimately building up to nothing, while "Who Haunts the Haunter" persists in hammering the listener with a repetitive chorus that lacks the melody to glue everything together. Instead, it evolves into a spoken word rambling until it's mercifully killed. These are but small qualms that don’t really have an impact when looking at the greater picture, but they are small bumps in the road, specially when considering this is one of those albums that truly shine when they are enjoyed as an uninterrupted experience.
The last section of X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
is introduced by an interlude titled "Eyes of the Overworld", prefacing the last three tracks which are surprisingly solid. "Gravity" recalls the sound of bands like The Mayan Factor, ending with a sweet piano section that interweaves seamlessly with the first notes of one of the album's stand-outs, "Blade of Wind", just before the last track, "Through the Sunlit Door", sings off the album with a fairly positive vibe.
X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
feels like an album where a lot is happening. It’s a daunting climb on first listen, specially for newcomers to the band, but it turns into a magic slide down once the melodies that interweave throughout these twelve tracks connect with your system. It's also a record that has the arduous task of convincing a whole generation of people that weren't even born when they were in their prime, destroying stages and injuring themselves all around the globe. And while there is enough material in X: The Godless Void...
to breach through this skepticism, And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead show no sign or intention of doing so, opting instead for staying true to the sound that have carried them throughout the years, regardless of the aftermath. Time has failed to completely extinguish the spark left in them, and that little flame is more than enough to keep them going far into the new decade.