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…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: Tao of the Dead

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead: Tao of the Dead

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…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

Tao of the Dead

Rating: 2.7/5.0

Label: Richter Scale

Soft, murky power chords fade in, soon to be joined by chiming, celestial guitar atmospherics. A brief moment of silence is abruptly interrupted by an explosion of guitar distortion ecstasy and catchy prog synth parts. The instrumental opener then breaks into the second track, the punk-paced “Pure Radio Cosplay.” Cosmetically, it’s safe to say Tao of the Dead begins almost verbatim the way 2009’s The Century of Self did, albeit a superb production value upgrade, courtesy of Chris Coady. That would – nay, should – be a compliment for Tao, but unlike its predecessor, the general conception stews in its own half-assed regurgitation.

Last we saw the Trail of Dead, they were celebrating their newfound record label freedom with prog-rock supernovas that were as titillating as they were epic. Even though it embraced the band’s punk roots, Century was a lighter affair than their previous work, dominated by a surprisingly weighty influence of colorful keyboards and synths that delineated a fresh rebirth for the band. They stripped down to their four core members for the recording of Tao, perhaps why the sound itself is often as bare as their early work. Yet the band still insists on the grandiose, the extravagant and the pretentious. “Pure Radio Cosplay” switches between ’70s arena rock and Rush-meets-Pink Floyd passages that disconnectedly alternate instead of complement each other throughout the song. The songwriting attempts to present itself as larger-than-life, but with the aesthetic clearly lacking, it comes off as contrived.

The ominous chords in “Cover the Days Like a Tidal Wave” find the Trail of Dead hitting their mark, as the climax – marked by electronic sequencers, fuzzed-out guitar walls and Jason Reece’s rainy cymbals – recalls the hair-raising power within them. This is but one of few exceptions on the album. Tao’s chief catch-22 is that as the abrasiveness increases, the songs’ engaging quality often decreases. The result on tracks like the angsty “Summer of All Dead Souls” and the droning psych-jam “The Fairlight Pendant” is a flat concoction of bland melodies and superficial brawn that are as forgettable as they are lifeless.

Tao’s centerpiece is the 16-minute “The Ship Impossible,” the album’s saving grace. A five-part epic, “The Ship Impossible” ebbs and crescendos expertly; 16 minutes flow by in what seems like five, its instrumental passages delivering the consistent gumption, hook and intensity that the preceding tracks failed to conjure, Conrad Keely’s and Reece’s vocal-driven moments interweaving anarchic chanting and melodic swoon that finally bears their potential. For this song alone, Tao is worth a dabble. Most of the album plays out like a half-conceived experiment that hadn’t had enough time to incubate. Given the band’s critic-pleasing history, Tao is but a small misstep in their discography, while acting as a subtle indication that good things are on the way.

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