...And you will know them by their past glories.
Singer Conrad Keeley's indescribably huge take on progressive rock weighed down So Divided, because it felt like Trail of Dead were holding something back – something was missing. The formula of one part Beatles and two parts grandiose musical expansion yielded the album some iffy results, and might have done a little better if we hadn't already seen just how perfect the band could be with Source Tags & Codes. I'll admit that I've greeted every release since that classic with the same set of expectations, a rather harsh grading scale. And I will admit to having totally dug 2005's underrated World's Apart. But it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that you can't turn back time.
Century of Self moves even further into uncharted prog territory than its predecessors. Over-orchestrated bits like the random piano storm in the middle of "Isis Unveiled" show a Muse-like "because-we-can" tendency towards the too-epic. These moments don't necessarily ruin the music, but they really don't help. The listener can't help but wish for a more straight-forward, just-the-music version of several of these tracks.
A few random influences show up along the way as well. The John Mellencamp-sounding "Luna Park" is a surprise curveball, and The Edge could have written the guitar part to "Fields of Coal". Neither are low points on the album, but the most traditional Trail of Dead moments are obviously a bit more interesting.
It should be no surprise that the most exciting songs are the ones that recall the group's past. "Ascending" really kicks off rocking, with both singers yelling like it was back-in-the-day, and "Far Pavillions" could have been swiped right from the Source Tags sessions as well. Then there was "Inland Sea", which is the best song on this album just like it was the best song on the Festival Thyme EP – due 100% to that captivating chorus chord progression, a demonstration that the group can still captivate when they want to.
But for every one of those bursts of adrenaline, there's a comedown like "An August Theme" or "Insatiable One". It's as if the group decided halfway through recording the album that it was just too overdone, and threw in some heavier stuff to try and level it out. Whatever the reasoning, this album is about half awesome and half alright.
Still, you've got to commend Keeley for painting that huge sonic portrait in his head, ignoring criticism. I took the "em" in the "Fields of Coal" lyric "Don't let 'em run away with your soul" to mean music reviewers, but that's just my take on it. Century of Self is definitely not bad, but don't you just kind of want them to smash their instruments on stage again?
Judge For Yourself: www.myspace.com/trailofdead
Info and Links
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - The Century of Self