To be fair, a band name like …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead could only have worked during the post-hardcore scene of the late ‘90s. The band proved a precocious contender within punk-rock intelligentsia, most notably on 2002’s Source Tags & Codes. These guys had an ear for atmosphere as well as emotion, as well as unprecedented musical proficiency. Trail of Dead didn’t pop off the way some of its contemporaries did, but the band’s lasting value speaks for itself—this time through X: The Godless Void and Other Stories.
Founder Conrad Keely and his longtime partner in crime Jason Reece are in rare form on the 10th album. Their time-tested tapestry is as vibrant as their cinematic vision.
In this way, “The Opening Crescendo” is exactly what its name entails. The soundtrack-worthy synthscape swells and lights up like a modernist take on John Carpenter. This intro and “Eyes of the Overworld” spotlight next-level orchestration, and it carries over onto the hard-riffing “All Who Wander.” The nuanced layering of auxiliary instrumentation and instrumental forays elevate the song’s crunchy riff.
With each member switching between drums, guitars and singing, The Godless Void remains proficient in every facet of its structure. The detailed beats and dramatic rhythm changes play well against the charming vocal leads of “Something Like This.” The song’s string-driven half-time finish is hauntingly beautiful, like the foreboding interlude toward the end of “Into the Godless Void.” The latter song presents a ferocious return to Trail of Dead’s noise rock roots and features the most harsh vocal delivery on the record. Even so, the song doesn’t reach the frenzied screams of earlier albums. The instrumentation more than carries the song’s visceral impact, getting more intense just when you think it’s reached maximum energy.
While The Godless Void delivers several more seismic climaxes, it retains a core of thoughtful storytelling—both in music and lyrical themes. The album’s accessible elements come to a head on the ‘90s alt-rock bounce of single “Don’t Look Down.” Complete with lyrical depictions of nostalgic heartache and noodling riffage, it epitomizes Keely’s description of the album as “pop music I wish was on the radio.”
The soulful vocals and plodding rhythms of “Children of the Sky” and the driving chord progression of “Gravity” have a similar effect. In both cases, its sweeping buildup sends the song into the stratosphere over unflinchingly angsty singing. Trail of Dead can certainly remain interesting after shedding the art-rock exoskeleton, but its strength still lies in generating overwhelming walls of sound within a catchy framework.
You could call cuts like “Gone” and “Who Haunts the Haunter” the post-hardcore equivalent of Swans. The way Trail of Dead deepens its soundscapes and ups the ante is visceral and calculated. The former’s vocals actually take on a Michael-Gira-like cadence amid electronic beats and forlorn piano chords, while the latter contrast’s moody spoken-word lyrics with anthemic shouts over churning and bombastic riffing. Whether the band smashes you in the face or lulls you into a false sense of security, urgency permeates this album. The band keeps you gripped to the edge of your seat as it tactfully unveils its sonic tapestry.
What continues to separate Trail of Dead from the crowd is its balance of obscurity and catchiness. The massive tom-tom rhythms and ground-shaking guitar strains of “Blade of Wind” may give way to its undercurrent of sci-fi synths, but you’ll still find yourself singing along with the chorus melody. Even as closer “Through the Sunlit Door” strikes a balance between distorted dream-pop, psychedelia and doomgaze, the band never strays into nonsensical experimentation. The Godless Void is the byproduct of tireless refining and unending devotion. The Trail of Dead evidently ends with a vibrant celebration of idiosyncratic grit.