The sense of liberation that rejuvenated … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead on The Century of Self, the band’s first album on their own Richter Scale imprint, continues on The Tao of The Dead. Indeed, the way Conrad Keely and company flex their brains and muscles here, without any confines except the ones they make for themselves, makes The Century of Self feel like a dress rehearsal. It's easy to see why any other label might not want to take a risk on an album like this: it’s divided into two parts, it’s written in two specific tunings, and the album artwork is the first installment of Keely's steampunk graphic novel. Yet these are exactly the kind of things -- along with the music, of course -- that make the Trail of Dead special: they revel in grand sounds and grand concepts. But The Tao of the Dead is far from pretentious, mostly because it’s so loud. From the opening blast of “Let’s Experiment," the band’s fusion of punk energy and prog rock fantasies on the first part of The Tao of the Dead is nearly flawless. “Pure Radio Cosplay” serves up a meta-critique of the death of rock radio that’s as radio-friendly as any song they’ve released, riding a “Jumping Jack Flash”-style riff as it charges through the album’s elaborate trappings like a bull in a china shop. “Summer of All Dead Souls” and “Cover the Days Like a Tidal Wave” follow suit, delivering the heavy yet nimble rock the band perfected on Source Tags and Codes. Yet there’s also plenty of variety, from “Weight of the Sun (Or the Post-Modern Prometheus)”'s bracing shanty rock to ballads like “The Wasteland” and “Ebb Away,” which keep the tension of the album’s louder moments. The album’s second part, “Strange News from Another Planet,” is where the Trail of Dead truly unveil their devotion to prog rock. A 16-minute suite with five movements bridged by Krautrock-inspired interludes, it’s much too driven to ever be called noodling as it spans the stormy “Know Your Honor” and “The Ship Impossible” and the shimmering power ballad “Rule by Being Just” and the fiery “Strange Epiphany.” As well-executed as the album’s second part is, The Tao of the Dead might have been more dynamic without it, but this is why the Trail of Dead call their own shots. This is another fascinating and unfashionable album from a band unwilling to cater to anyone’s expectations except their own, and thriving because of it.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Strange News from Another Planet: Know Your Honor/Rule by Being Just/The Ship Impossible/Strange Epiphany/Racing and Hunting