The days of smashing guitars and hurling themselves around the stage may be long behind them, but there's still a frenetic energy about the band onstage tonight. What they lack in destruction, they more than make up for in conviction and even their most jaded fans would be hard pressed to argue otherwise. Four songs into the set and the energy in the room has been raised to a volatile level. One spark and the whole thing could go up in flames. That spark comes courtesy of the excellent 'Mistakes And Regrets' from the bands breakthrough 1999 album, Madonna. The crowd swell and crash to the powerful rhythm section of Autry Fulbight II and Jamie Miller, as the two band leaders draw from the collective adulation of the surge below. This is a live set to prove the band is every bit vital as any of their previous incarnations.
Formed in that great melting pot, Austin, Texas in the early 90s ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (or Trail of Dead as they're more affectionately known by fans/journalists who can't be bothered typing out the full name) have come a long way since forming as a duo playing "Post-Punk fused with weird Abstract Rock". After 18 years together, Conrad Keeley and Jason Reece are on the verge of releasing their latest album, 'Lost Songs'. Recorded in Hamburg, the album marks the 8th of a career spotted with incendiary live shows, comic books and a notorious Pitchfork 10/10. While in previous albums the band has built their sound using orchestras, two drummers and a whole host of backing musicians, 'Lost Songs' presents a slightly more stripped back approach (as stripped back as a Trail Of Dead album can be, amidst the throb of caustic feedback).
Inspired by contemporary world events, there is a palpable sense of dissatisfaction that runs through the new Trail Of Dead album. The guitars scream and oscillate through the mix, the drums, guttural and relentless, the album presents some of the bands rawest material to date and this is reflected in the production value. There is a noticeable change from the warmer, lush sound of Tao of The Dead and it is at least partially intentional. "We were in this studio in hamburg and all this gear was raw as shit, but at the same time we were definitely conscious of what sound we wanted,saying,'OK, we want less mics on the drums'". The result is an album closer sonically resembling their earlier albums like Madonna or their most critically recognised album to date, 2004's 'Source Codes and Tags'.
This is no album of halves. Mellvilian landscapes, awash with scenes of destruction and chaos, alongside sardonic politicised messages. The band may have been burning like this for years, but there is no shortage of fuel. Events in Syria, the ongoing Pussy Riot controversy and what the band see as a contemporary popular apathy spur the album to burn and throb with vitriol. "We thought, this is happening and it seems relevant to comment on it". Irked by the lack of conviction of contemporary artists, the band haven't shed their outspoken nature, "We're getting on in years. We're supposed be getting more conservative, but we're getting more radical".
"Where's the beef?", they ask, only half joking, "Mick Jagger set the bar of what it meant to be a lead singer 50 years ago. Are we just gonna look at the bar? When did we stop reaching for the bar? We can't do it, I mean we're fucking old.The young kids these days are suffering from an affliction of apathy - the stuff being created nowadays has a real sense of convention". This sense of convention is replaced with a sense of urgency on the album, especially in songs like 'Catatonic' - a portrait of an over-privileged, dispassionate generation, and 'Up To Infinity' (worth noting that when it was released was dedicated to Pussy Riot), their trademark raucous guitars flesh out the angst ridden lyrics of Tyranny and Dispassion ,alongside their more fantastical elements of the bands imagination, continuing the episodic story started in 2009's The Century Self.
In lots of ways Trail Of Dead have become the archetype for the post-hardcore scene. They have never once been dissuaded from their unique vision or bucked to trends over the 18 years of their career and perhaps this is what makes them the ideal candidates to comment on the state of the popular music industry. Despite the age of the band, it still feels like they are as enraged as they were releasing their eponymous debut back in 1998. They are still as politically minded and outspoken as they ever were. Their argument seems to stand that if nobody else is going to say the things that need to be said, then there will be nobody stopping them. And, while the albums they produce in doing so are as good as this, let's hope nobody does.
Words by David Tate
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'Lost Songs' is out now.