In an age of playlists where music has seemingly become a throwaway, background commodity to the multi-faceted lives of many, a 70 plus minute prog rock odyssey, recorded on a long-discarded format favoured by 70’s rock giants, seems as out of time and out of place as a Commodore 64 in 2022. But Texas based alt rock legends …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have never been ones to buckle and follow trends, preferring to experiment and do what the fuck they like, regardless of what is going on around them.
2020 should have seen the core duo of Conrad Keely and Jason Reece touring latest album ‘X: The Godless Void And Other Stories’ with a brand-new 5-piece line up, but Covid had other ideas. Following months of doing nothing, Keely decided to write a new album, and the band retreated to a rehearsal studio/barn in their native Austin, Texas with their new 6-piece line up, to do things on their own terms with no interference or pressure to deliver. They set up 2 drum kits, 3 guitar stations and a bank of keyboards to record an album in quadrophonic surround sound. The fruits of their labour is their 11th studio album and it is called ‘Bleed Here Now’.
Inspired by ‘Behind The Music’ and ‘Classic Album’ documentaries featuring their favourite 70’s artists, …Trail Of The Dead have crafted a 22 track, 73-minute rock album that features multi-layered vocals, swathes of cinematic strings and organs, cleverly thought-out arrangements and melodies aplenty.
Following a couple of trademark atmospheric intros that set the scene, first song proper ‘Field Songs’ is a euphoric offering of guitar and piano. Both upbeat and melodic, it harks back to classic TOD material. ‘Penny Candle’ with its bombastic drums and effect-ridden guitars, carries the melodic feel through and seems the perfect backdrop for Conrad’s wailing alt rock vocals.
‘No Confidence’ is a full-on rock monster, riding on a Zep-like riff and a killer rhythm. Energetic and invigorating in equal parts, it brings to mind ‘Worlds Apart’ to my ears. The odd wavering, vocal effect gives it an unnerving feel that may have you checking your speakers to make sure they are not broken. The ensuing tribal gang vocal section takes us out of classic rock, further afield than alt rock, yet with our feet firmly planted in …Trail Of Dead territory.
The segues do what it says on the tin and bleed into one another, giving the feel of one whole body of music, a trip if you will, into the mind of Keely and Reece during the pandemic days and months. From the subtle and dreamy, to the cinematic and the in your face, it certainly piques the interest and keeps the listener coming back for more.
The fast and furious ‘Kill Everyone’ could be the only lead vocal cameo this time around from Jason Reece. It may only last 1 minute and 22 seconds, but it showcases the frenetic live punk energy the band are capable of.
Yet, ‘Bleed Here Now’ certainly seems more like Conrad’s baby this time around. With multi-layered, dreamy vocals and mournful piano chords ‘Golden Sail’ is a proggy, space rock odyssey. The breakdown and the ensuing, galloping space rock mid-section is as trippy as you like. Every listen brings new, trance like noises that hypnotize, enrapture and take the listener to another realm.
This brings us to the 11-minute album centerpiece ‘Taken By The Hand’. A fuzzy wall of guitars contrasts nicely with Conrad’s wailing vocals and stark use of space in the verses, before the guitars crank things up again. Guitar solos wail, before another time change that gives way to the tribal beats of 2 kits in unison that battle with layered, effect-ridden guitars, building and creating drama in the most epic of ways.
The influence of the likes of Rush and Yes are prevalent on the likes of ‘Protest Streets’. Chanting vocals befitting a monastery of monks, a folky, acoustic outro featuring female vocals that travel the Enya/Kate Bush trail. This leads us nicely to the duet with Amanda Palmer that is ‘Millenium Actress’. The juxtaposition of the two lead vocals works well over the orchestral instrumentation, as the song builds over regimental drums and soaring strings.
In 900 words I can only really scratch the surface of this album. The proof is in the pudding so to speak, but from the opening ‘Our Epic Attempts’ to the closing epilogue of ‘Calm As The Valley’, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead certainly take the listener on a journey like no other.
As immersive as it is refreshing, ‘Bleed Here Now’ is a grandiose, 73-minute rock masterpiece that gives more with each listen. But you have to give it the time it deserves to reap the rewards. As much thought and effort has gone into the sequencing as it has the writing and recording of the music. It plays out as one piece of music, one whole body of work, the many segues leaving you unsure where one track ends and another begins. Like a book, it becomes an exciting aural adventure with many twists and turns through its cleverly designed arrangements and glorious musical interludes.
As powerful as their first three albums and more ambitious than mid-career highlights such as ‘Worlds Apart’ and ‘Tao Of The Dead’, ‘Bleed Here Now’ is Conrad Keely’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, his ‘Melancholy & The Infinite Sadness’, and it could turn out to be …Trail Of The Dead’s finest moment.
Author: Ben Hughes