Throughout the journey of being an enthusiast for art, there are always bands that one follows from the start. Those journeys last as long as they have to, as life spans differ; some bands come and go after a couple of albums, while others remain longer, forging the kind of expedition that becomes a part of our own patchwork in the game we call life.
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are one of those bands.
From the Sonic Youth homage to the era-defining Madonna, Source Tags & Codes and Worlds Apart, to the prog-inspired Tao of the Dead and rambling assault of Lost Songs, …Trail of Dead have been a staple, garnering the kind of fierce cult following that any band would dream of.
With a revolving cast of musicians since the aforementioned (and severely underappreciated) Worlds Apart, Conrad Keely and Jason Reece continue to be the steadfast protagonists to the …Trail of Dead story. Once again we see new additions; the pair joined by Alec Padron (bass), Ben Redman (guitar, drums), AJ Vincent (keyboards) and John Dowey (guitar). With this latest incarnation, the band reverts back to the dual drumming madness that has rarely been seen since the days of 2009’s Century of Self.
Keely and Reece’s constant tinkering has been a process of evolution and a bid maintain creative edginess, and following the release of X: The Godless Void and Other Stories (one of 2020’s finest releases and what turned out to be a comfort blanket during the lockdown), …Trail of Dead return with the searing epic, XI: Bleed Here Now (take that, Noel and Liam!).
The lineage between Bleed, Godless and its predecessor, IX (2014) is there. There are concepts that interlink all three albums, but in true …Trail of Dead fashion it cuts both ways, with enough ambiguity during these releases to treat each as standalone concerns.
Clocking in at over 70 minutes, this stands as one of the longest in the …Trail of Dead oeuvre, but that’s not to say it’s bloated. Ambitious yet graceful, this is a band showcasing their maturity, further defining them as true exponents of moving with the times. On the dizzying melodic Field Songs, Keely sings, “Just because we’re lagging doesn’t mean beaten down.” It feels like the salient message on Bleed.
Prior to its release, Keely explained that this was a back to basics approach for the band. Renting a barn outside their hometown of Austin, Texas, the band revelled in the solitude of vast open spaces, and the results are telling in what can be considered a best of without being just that. All the fundamental hallmarks of the …Trail of Dead laid bare.
It all starts with Our Epic Attempts. With the band continuing to enmesh self deprecation with grandiose drama, it leads into Long Distance Hell; a song filled with contemplative missives and a melodic groove that encompasses the …Trail of Dead experience, circa 2022.
With big time melodies, Penny Candle and Contra Mundum sees …Trail of Dead’s trademark rich splendour collide with the raw imagery of Keeley’s beautiful array of artwork over the years (“Even if I were to let you fly/Over the fire” – Penny Candle). It’s a fantastical world and for years we’ve been entrenched in it.
The prog-inspired No Confidence and Water Tower swing with the kind of hooks that are as good as anything they have produced, while the punk rock stomp of Kill Everyone harnesses the chaos …Trail of Dead brought to life with Lost Songs.
With the acoustic laden Growing Divide, once again we see Keely getting reflective, perhaps like never before (“Don’t let the sight of a growing divide let you give up on humanity /Follow the voice to the ends of the earth to discover is was meant to be“). Meanwhile, Golden Sail is full on transcendental with the trademark …Trail of Dead soundwaves that just hit. No explanation, they just do.
Both tracks weep like an open wound, as the blood trickles into the Bleed’s centrepiece, Taken By The Hand. A heart-wrenching Shakespearean drama of the modern day, and one that the band wouldn’t have written in their infancy.
While Taken By The Hand underpins the ideology framework of Bleed, Millennium Actress sees …Trail of Dead heave with the kind of eccentric beauty we’ve come to adore from them. With all the band’s finest elements entwined, sonically, this is the kind of song that encapsulates …Trail of Dead.
Even with numerous interludes, these days 21 songs is a commitment by anyone’s standards. However this is …Trail of Dead taking a retrospective look through the lens to their heroes of the past, and by doing so, they’ve captured not only the present, they’ve found their true core of existence as a functioning unit.
While the notion of the “album” continues to recede from the collective consciousness, overshadowed in an era filled with buzz words, brevity and immediacy, with XI: Bleed Here Now, …Trail of Dead kick against the pricks. And in truth, in their own way, they always have done. This is yet another reminder of that.
XI: Bleed Here Now is out tomorrow via Dine Alone Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.