The Secret Of Elena's Tomb
By: Eric Greenwood
Since …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead fears nothing in its path, its inherent pretentiousness is so much easier to swallow. That's the thing about pretentiousness- if one can balance it out and justify its presence, then it quickly becomes an asset, particularly when it's utilized as fervently as it is by this band. For example, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead's artwork is over the top in terms of wonderland-crypt absurdity, right down to the font of its name, but the music props up such indulgences, making it necessary to appreciate the full effect of its visceral musical assault.
Musically, on this five-song EP, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead only vaguely hints at what the future holds, relying mostly on its tried and true formula of layered, epic rock and raw, pounding emotion. Dipping its pen into Sonic Youth's inkwell once again, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead respectfully borrows the meat of its riffs only to brutalize them and take them to much greater heights than its idols were ever comfortable with for fear of being labeled too "rock and roll." …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead has no such fears, of course, as the colossal battering of "Mach Schau" proves beyond reproach, though it all seems a tad too familiar.
The clean, arpeggiated opening riff of "Mach Schau" dramatically builds steam until Jason Reece's thunderous drums kick in, and the dueling guitars immediately take on new life, sounding like something lifted straight off Daydream Nation. Conrad Keely's bratty half-yell usurps his familiar scream, lending the song a sense of controlled chaos. Reese takes over vocal and guitar duties for "All Saints Day", the opening riff of which sounds eerily familiar ("Dirty Boots", anyone?), but the song quickly recesses into a dreamy passage wherein Reese shows off his carefully honed vocal chops. He's got a guttural, raspy drawl that never sounds strained or forced, and he knows exactly when to shred it. The song straddles the line of beauty and noise, siding surprisingly yet distinctly on the side of beauty in the end.
The band begins to hint at growth by "Crowning Of A Heart", a Beatles-esque, mid-tempo ballad, reminiscent of the crystalline splendor of the title track off Source Tags And Codes. Weird, effects-laden harmonies glide atop the beautifully plucked guitar interplay. It never succumbs to the threat of full throttle rock that Reece's drumming hints at throughout the song. Equally pensive though somewhat lackluster is the acoustic ballad "Counting Off The Days." Keely's strained, choirboy voice sounds genuine and affecting, particularly when he pushes past his natural range. It's such a simple, open-faced song, which is uncharacteristic for a band that is constantly trying to fuck with the conventions of the rock tradition.
The real experimentation surfaces in another Reece-led song. "Intelligence" begins with a typically clean, contemplative riff but squishy electronics quickly start to gurgle in the foreground. And is that a drum machine I hear? I dare say it is. Reece launches a growling vocal attack over a dance beat, a disco bass line, and the shrillest guitar sound since Big Black's Songs About Fucking LP. It's an unexpected direction, yet it doesn't seem wholly out of place. The borderline industrial cacophony that ensues suits Reece's angry bark perfectly. If this dilettantish piece of experimentation is any indication, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead has many deadly tricks up its collective sleeve for its next full-length, and this EP is just the beginning.