Texan rockers Trail Of Dead may have started as a hardcore band with experimental aspirations, but if not a progressive rock band, they’ve taken a parallel, experimental path to many of the finest modern groups.
Moreover, despite their sometimes harsh, aggressive songs, they’ve never shied away from melodies and hooks, making a virtue of their directness in the process. Their strongest record of recent years was concept album Tao Of The Dead, consisting of just two songs and fearlessly blending space rock, motorik, post-rock, heavy prog in the vein of Rush and, of course, hardcore punk.
Delving into their back catalogue proves problematic, however, because they’ve never actually written a bad album, a trend that IX continues. Until circa 2000, their frantic noise rock blazed bright in the alternative scene, before 2002’s Source Tags & Codes broke them into the mainstream. It was the perfect balance of raw punk and experimental indie rock. However, in the years since, which have seen them exploring lesser-trodden paths, the band have arguably written their best works. Their last album, Lost Songs, was quite like a return to Source Tags & Codes, in attitude if not in actual sonics – a necessary blowing of ballast after the depths of Tao Of The Dead. Appropriately enough, then, IX resembles nothing so much as their criminally underrated masterwork Worlds Apart, the much‑maligned follow-up to Source Tags & Codes.
Where Worlds Apart was preoccupied with percussion, IX shares the preoccupation but for a different reason. With a slimmer setup than 10 years ago, they’ve used percussion and rhythmic hooks to drive dramatic tension and extend the dynamic range of the album, not content to simply rely on guitars to determine the peaks and troughs of each track.
The best example of this is the squalling How To Avoid Huge Ships. Bus Lines, meanwhile, revolves around a percussion hook to drive its waltzing, gauzy guitar lines forward, and The Ghost Within builds from gentle beginnings to a pounding, sweeping finale. Lie Without A Liar is classic …Trail Of Dead, melodic and fraught, while Sound Of The Silk is another example of Conrad Keely’s fantastic lyrics, and is the album’s standout track.
Some may complain that the fundamentals of …Trail Of Dead’s sound remain largely the same, but the simple fact is that IX is a fantastic piece of work, and you can’t condemn a band for being consistently brilliant, can you?