Austin’s …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead is a prog-punk band in the truest sense: For the past 14 years, the group’s music has blurred the line between anthemic and indulgent, mixing punk’s distorted anarchy with prog’s meandering majesty. The problem has been getting the formula right.
On 2002’s Source Tags & Codes, the band reached an artistic zenith, teetering between artful guitar atmospherics and power-chord thrust. But since then, the results have been mixed: 2005’s Worlds Apart negated its most powerful moments with bloated orchestral interludes, while 2009’s much-improved The Century Of Self was similarly bogged down by its own grandeur. But each successive album has been more coherent than the last, peaking in clarity with 2011’s wildly psychedelic Tao Of The Dead.
“Open Doors” kicks off Trail Of Dead’s eighth album with a swirl of tribal percussion and ominous synth drone. The track quickly explodes into a face-melting clatter, though, with co-frontman Conrad Keely wrangling out waves of distortion over Jason Reece’s pummeling beats. Suddenly, the urgency that’s been missing for more than a decade comes tumbling into focus.
But Trail Of Dead hasn’t abandoned its prog ambitions—it’s refined them. The best songs here (the tongue-tied melodic assault of “Pinhole Cameras,” the dizzying “Up To Infinity”) traverse sonic peaks and valleys, often building to a roaring climax and quieting to an atmospheric hush, just before firing back up again. Keely’s written some of his most emotionally direct songs to date, pulling lyrical inspiration from American cynicism and the social freedom he’s experienced living in Cambodia. But Lost Songs’ MVP is Reece, who—frenzied drumming aside—re-emerges as a dynamic frontman foil: On “A Place To Rest,” he screams himself hoarse over proggy guitar squeals. Meanwhile, on the relentless “Catatonic,” he alternates between a victorious yelp and a soothing melodic calm, rallying against pampered modern complacency. Even at its most polarizing, Trail Of Dead has never lacked thrilling ideas. But with Lost Songs, it’s rekindled the raw, unflinching spirit that, a decade ago, placed the group among rock’s elite.