BY MICHAEL TOLAND
When …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead erupted in the mid-90s, it was a noise-driven ensemble reflecting not only the AmRep-inflected postpunk of the underground, but also the dissonant rock tradition (Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers) of its Austin homebase. Yet the shapeshifting quartet’s evolution into a full-on progressive rock band has been so subtle it went almost unnoticed, at least until its 2011 two-disk magnum opus Tao of the Dead. IX, which is indeed the band’s ninth album, continues the band’s prog odyssey, with sweeping melodies, widescreen arrangements and fantasy-based graphics that celebrate heroines and the feminine mystique in general.
Overpowering anthems “Jaded Apostles,” “The Doomsday Book” and “Lost in the Grand Scheme” reach for the sky, tear it open and keep going, in part because of the roiling rhythm engine driven by the band’s multiple drummers. “The Ghost Within,” The Lie Without a Liar” and “The Dragonfly Queen” pull back the bombast, concentrating squarely on pretty melodies and understatedly emotional singing – a surprisingly measured approach the band proves perfectly capable of exploiting. “Bus Lines” combines both approaches, moving dynamically between power and poise without jarring tonal shifts, while the instrumental “How to Avoid Huge Ships” puts a dreamy melody over a frantic polyrhythm. “Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears” turns on the prog tradition of adapting classical melodics to a rock arrangement, but does so with subtlety rather than theatrics.
The record also comes with a bonus disk containing the 20-minute cosmic journey “Tao of the Dead Pt. III,” effectively making this a double album. As it should be – with IX, Trail of Dead consolidates its stance as one of the ‘aughties’ most consistently interesting prog bands.
DOWNLOAD: “The Doomsday Book,” “The Ghost Within,” “How to Avoid Huge Ships”