Formed twenty years ago by vocalist/guitarist Conrad Keely and vocalist/drummer Jason Reece, Texas quartet …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead has established itself as one of the most striving, interesting, and distinctive rock bands around. Although often classified as an alt/post-hardcore group, their music also incorporates touches of progressive rock, such as odd time signatures, conceptual visions, and orchestration. With their newest opus, IX, they once again impress due to an inimitable blend of atmospheres, melodies, and production techniques. It’s a thoroughly thrilling ride from start to finish.
The record begins with “The Doomsday Book,” an explosive affair dominated by apocalyptic rhythms and beautifully distorted guitar riffs. Keely rattles off his lyrics with the attitude (and slight incoherency) of Kurt Cobain while tribal beats and a catastrophic wall-of-sound build behind him, creating an extremely intense and gripping amalgam, as well as a powerful way to start. It segues into “Jaded Apostles” subtly, with a looped guitar pattern giving way to a more melodically vibrant structure. Like its predecessor, there’s an ingenious coating of devastation behind the instrumentation, which makes it feel urgent and affective without being obnoxious. Both of these tracks ooze bleak excitement and momentum, pulling listeners in without remorse.
Later on, “Lie without a Liar” serves as one of the punkiest and catchiest tracks here, with a strong interplay between the vocals and guitar, while “The Ghost Within,” with its pained piano chords and predictive lyrics, is fairly emotional and arresting (especially when it erupts into frenzy by the end). It’s theatrical and boisterous while also feeling wholly accessible, all the while evoking Mastodon in its shouts and pleas. Meanwhile, “The Dragonfly Queen,” at least rhythmically, feels like a gruffer take on a lost Queens of the Stone Age song, and it evolves wonderfully, incorporating extremely subtle orchestration to elevate it even more.
Without a doubt, the final few songs on IX are what truly shine. For example, “How to Avoid Huge Ships” is a beautiful post-rock instrumental in the guise of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Russian Circles, or God is an Astronaut. The way the orchestration dances with the rock instrumentation is exceptionally tasteful and infectious, as is the way it grows from a gentle hum to absolute panic (and then to sparser closure). Next is “Bus Lines,” a more straightforward gem with a gripping verse/chorus combination, whereas “Lost in the Grand Scheme,” with its inclusion of piano and spacey effects, feels like an epic sci-fi tragedy in the vein of BTBAM’s Parallax II: Future Sequence. Of course, there’s also “Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears,” another momentous example of orchestrated rock music that’s potent, powerful, and prophetic. Its sorrow is absolutely gorgeous.
All in all, IX is a great album from beginning to end. Although the emphasis on classical technique makes the second half of the LP shine more than the comparatively streamlined first half, there isn’t a wasted moment on the disc. Trail of the Dead has long since held a reputation for crafting highly energetic, stunning, and involving works, and IX certainly lives up to those expectations. Rock music hasn’t sounded this invigorating and unique in a long time.