The long-awaited Trail Of Dead-a-thon!


16. Sep. 2007, 22:23

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have been an interest of mine for nearly 3 years now - I was criminally late to their party, so to speak, but now they're firmly cemented as my favourite band (that's still together, at least).

I've recently (finally) completed my Trail of Dead collection, and in celebration, I am devoting this evening to listening to all of the albums in order. And I will comment on the way. Because I'm quite sad like that.

So, first up...

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

This is only the second time I've listened to this album in full, and I can't help but think it has the feel of a band trying to find their 'sound', for want of a better phrase. While the songs are great, they don't quite have the blistering energy of some of their later albums. Richter Scale Madness is a song that will never be as good on record as it is live, which is a pity. That's not to say it's a bad song though. A song that I would love to see them play live is second track Novena Without Faith. Put simply, it wouldn't sound out of place on Madonna or even Source Tags & Codes. Almost a pre-cursor to Aged Dolls, in terms of sheer magnitude if nothing else.

If this album was better produced, it would be as amazing as Source Tags is... unfortunately some of the tracks just lose energy. Nonetheless, a great album and a great opening to the band's catalogue.

Standout tracks here: Novena Without Faith, Half of what, Gargoyle Waiting, Ounce of Prevention.


Onwards, then, with their sophomore effort. This album is almost criminally overlooked, I think mainly because of how well they followed it up.

Throughout the album, they don't put a foot wrong. Every song a classic, and the segues inspired.

Mistakes & Regrets sets the tone in a thoroughly forceful way, Conrad doing as the lyrics say and screaming 'at the top of [his] lungs'. The lyric 'and there is nothing left to say that has not been said' is delivered with such venom. This has the power and raw energy that was missing from the debut.

And the energy doesn't stop there, with Totally Natural following. Like Richter Scale Madness, it's a different beast live, but only in terms of the atmosphere - this time the band sound just as good on record. And there's a bit of feedback at about 3:35 which almost as ear-piercing as the band in concert! Epic.

I won't give a commentary on every track, but on a couple of others which I think make the album. The first being Clair De Lune, a boy-loses-girl sort of track, but not at all trite. More bitter and venomous than anything. The change of mood at the 'What good are promises if nobody honours them?' chorus is superb. An excellent track.

Another key moment on the record is Aged Dolls, which is just epic. There's not a lot more I can say. I think it has the whole Trail of Dead spectrum, the raw energy (particularly the delivery of the line 'I am a motherfucking ghost'), the quieter and more reflective sections, and the post-rock-esque guitar lines towards the end. Superb.

The two closing tracks of the album, while probably not intentionally, sound to me like two alternative takes on teen angst - A Perfect Teenhood saying 'fuck you' to everyone (quite literally), with a perhaps metaphorical mention of bloodlust. I'm not quite sure if it's normal or not, but while listening to this track, at the 'fuck you' part, I can't help but imagine in my mind everyone who I'd want to say it to. This really is a song to stir up the blood. Sigh Your Children on the other hand is much more contemplative - 'Is it something wrong if this is what I want?'. While it's not necessarily anything to do with teenhood, it's certainly a song I wish I knew when I was 15.

All in all, a fantastically written and executed record. Difficult second record? As if.

Standout tracks here: Mistakes & Regrets, Totally Natural, Clair De Lune, Aged Dolls, A Perfect Teenhood, Sigh Your Children.

Source Tags & Codes

It Was There That I Saw You reminds me of the roller coaster Oblivion at Alton Towers (for those of you unfamiliar, it's basically a slope up, a short bend, and then a huge vertical drop). All the way through Invocation and the short guitar intro, I know that bass slide and subsequent explosion is coming. But every single time, without fail, it just completely blows me away.

That sets the tone for the whole of this album really. Every minute of it is astounding, whether because of the huge energy, the more contemplative quiet parts (such as Invocation, After The Laughter), or some mystical unknown power that this album seems to have over me.

Pitchfork famously gave this album a rare 10 out of 10. Well, if any album's gonna get it, this has to be a contender. There's little more I can say, really. All I will add is that the central tracks of the album, How Near, How Far and Heart In The Hand Of The Matter are an astounding combination.

From Neil Busch's anti-boredom anthem Baudelaire to the apocalyptic Monsoon to the pounding Relative Ways, not to mention Another Morning Stoner, this is just one fucking awesome album. There is nothing more I can say that would do this masterpiece any justice. Their best, and potentially the best.

Standout tracks here.... well, all of them really. I'll link to the ones I haven't already mentioned (they're still just as good as the rest): Homage, Days Of Being Wild, Source Tags & Codes, and for those of us with the UK version, Blood Rites.

Worlds Apart

Well, Source Tags & Codes was always gonna be difficult to follow up wasn't it?

This was the first album by the band I bought, having heard The Rest Will Follow a few times on music TV. It took me a while to get into it - I had a habit then of buying albums and not listening to them for ages - but when I finally gave it the chance it deserved, I was impressed.

Let's get one thing straight - this is a good album. I don't think many people could deny that. Its main problem, though, is that it will always be put against it's predecessor. And it will never win.

The first few tracks of the album are up there with the best of Trail of Dead's work... Will You Smile Again? in particular is very special, with Worlds Apart, The Summer Of '91, The Rest Will Follow and Caterwaul opening the album superbly. It's impossible to see the band play Caterwaul live (with Jason Reece naturally jumping into the crowd) and claim it's not up there with their best.

From there on, though, it seems to almost lose focus. A Classic Arts Showcase and Let It Dive are good but don't have that something which made Madonna and Source Tags so impressive. To Russia My Homeland is impressive technically and is well written, but just feels trite and forced. I'm not sure what would make it seem less so, but there's something about it. One thing that certainly does bother me with it is the drum track being in just one of the stereo channels. It's true, trust me.

All White is a good song, but at under two minutes long still somehow feels like a five minute slog. Again, I can't really put my finger on what the problem here is - there's just something missing.

The Best sees a return to form within the album, and sees a hark back to the venomous and bitter lyrical delivery of Conrad Keely, reminiscent of Clair De Lune as mentioned.

I'm always pleasantly surprised by The Lost City Of Refuge - it's always better than I remember it being. It starts calmly enough, but when the guitar comes in a minute or two later, it sounds really quite good.

I do love this album, all in all, despite a couple of gripes as mentioned above. It's what started my Trail of Dead fanhood and I'll always hold it dear.

I'm very glad, though, that I heard this before Source Tags & Codes... I thought Worlds Apart was excellent before I heard it, and it made Source Tags sound all the better.

Standout tracks here: Will You Smile Again?, Worlds Apart, The Summer Of '91, The Rest Will Follow, Caterwaul, The Best.

So Divided

And so we come to the nearly year-old So Divided. If Worlds Apart was disappointing, this, I suppose, was like a kick in the bollocks.

Similarly to Worlds Apart, it's a good album, with some great tracks. But it feels more like a step back than a leap forward. Were it not for the immaculate production, it'd sound like a to-be-forgotten debut album.

Thankfully, the band themselves aren't too keen on the album either, rarely playing any of the material in their live shows of the past year.

Again, it's a good album. In fact, compared to most bands' output, it's very good indeed. But Trail of Dead had a lot to live up to, and this simply didn't meet it, which is a pity.

I still enjoy this album on the rare occasions I listen to it. Some of the tracks are incredibly good, particularly Wasted State of Mind, which I tend to think feels totally different yet oddly familiar. You can tell it's Trail of Dead... but it doesn't really sound anything like them.

It's a fantastic track though, easily the best on the album. Along with Naked Sun, Stand In Silence and Sunken Dreams, it forms a handful of quality songs on the album. But there's too much filler.

Their cover of Guided By Voices' Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory, for example, is enjoyable but not oustanding (admittedly, I have not heard the original - perhaps this version would sound better if I had).

A good, but not great, album then. Not nearly enough to put me off the band, although I'm not sure I would say the same if I had been a fan since the glory days of Source Tags & Codes and previous.

Standout tracks here: Wasted State of Mind, Stand In Silence, Naked Sun, Sunken Dreams.

So, after all that, what conclusions can I come to?

Trail of Dead are a band which have consistently produced quality material. Admittedly some of it is significantly better than others, but that doesn't detract from the band's catalogue as a whole.

I just hope their next album is more of a hark back to the days of Source Tags & Codes and Madonna, in my opinion their two best albums.

Alternatively, if that's not likely, I'd be happy for them to just tour from now on... however good the albums are, there's nothing quite like having Jason Reece jump into the front few rows, or if like me you were near the front when the band recently played in Sheffield, nearly getting smacked in the head with Conrad's guitar. Good times! :D


  • DarthStench

    Do you have the EP's? Secrets of Elena's Tomb is totally worth it, a few songs holding up to the Source Tags standard. The Worlds apart promo has an epic Genesis cover.

    17. Okt. 2007, 14:27
  • nehemiah553

    I do indeed have the Secrets Of Elena's Tomb, which I foolishly omitted from this journal - it's brilliant. Haven't heard the Genesis cover but will try and find it!

    17. Okt. 2007, 16:24
  • Big_Papa_Elliot

    I would probably consider Trail Of Dead to be my second favorite band, but I can't get into anything after Source Tags. Sunken Dreams and So Divided off of So Divided are both great, but nothing awe-inducing like Novena Without Faith, How Near How Far, or It Was There That I Saw You. I think that The Secret Of Elena's Tomb isn't good at all, by the way. But congratulations on making a very interesting read. I enjoyed it.

    24. Jan. 2008, 2:56
  • eenbeetje

    "I'm very glad, though, that I heard this before Source Tags & Codes... I thought Worlds Apart was excellent before I heard it, and it made Source Tags sound all the better" the same goes here, I discovered them with worlds apart which I loved and after that I heard source tags & codes and all I could think was: WOW!

    2. Sep. 2008, 15:55
  • Rowan5215

    You should really edit this and put in the new album "The Century of Self". It is easily their best.

    20. Jun. 2010, 9:00
  • robinofdarkness

    good read but how could you possibly miss out two of their finest works in when we begin to steal and blight takes all. i discovered trail of dead through madonna which is a totally blinding album but the self titled and source tags are starting to takeover that title. they kinda tailed off with so divided and century of self barring a few songs like far pavilions and inland sea but still a superb band and fantatsic live...

    7. Jul. 2010, 17:00
  • nehemiah553

    Fair point, When We Begin to Steal and Blight Takes All are superb. Skated over them a little too hastily I must say. I will get round to putting Century of Self in this as well!

    7. Jul. 2010, 17:11
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