Saturday, February 21, 2009

Review: ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - The Century of Self (* * * *)

Known for their unwieldy name and art-rock-meets-hardcore musical style, ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have created a niche all their own in the indie music scene over the last ten or so years. The sextet released their sixth LP, The Century of Self, this past week, their first after leaving Interscope in favor of their own Richter Scale imprint. The album is also different in the way in which it was recorded. According to Billboard, the band tracked much of the record live instead of using extensive studio overdubs, though 'Century' still features complex layers of sound and noise in a sprawling collection of thirteen surging prog-rock tracks.

'Trail of Dead' aim for 'epic' throughout The Century of Self and hit the mark more often than not. Songs swell from intimate piano/vocal lines to thundering guitar riffs and back again, never settling into any one groove for very long. "Isis Unveiled" begins with a soaring metal riff before eventually slowing to a grinding stomp and then brings things full circle for an anthematic close. Other tracks, like the more relaxed "Luna Park" and the two-part "Insatiable," keep things subtle and refined, though no less ornamental or interesting. Elsewhere, the band get back to their punk roots on "Far Pavilions" and the first half of "Ascending," play straightforward rock on "Fields of Coal," and throw in operatic backing vocals into the bridge of "Halcyon Days." It may be difficult to wrap your head around the entire 54 minutes of grandiosity, strange orchestration, and unusual song structures, but it's an enjoyable exercise anyway.

What ultimately makes 'Century' a solid return to form for 'Trail of Dead' is the way the songs on the album feel connected despite the breadth of styles and sounds. The band manage to avoid unnecessary noodling around while still providing enough surprises to keep things exciting. It's loud, noisy, and over the top like the group have always been, but this album feels fresh and, most importantly, focused where their last couple albums seemed in dire need of direction. The Century of Self is a welcome comeback from some of rock's more inventive artists.