Courtesy of the long-winded … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Tao of the Dead lends credence to the saying that everything is bigger in Texas. Austin natives Conrad Keely and Jason Reece — the central creative members of the band — incorporate exaggerated guitar riffs and audaciously bold percussion in an effusive display of progressive rock. As a quasi-conceptual album, it’s well rounded, but the tracks can be difficult to distinguish from one another.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Tao of the Dead
Superball

That’s not to say the album is one entire song — there are a few points, especially at the beginning, when the Texan rockers manage to deviate enough from the formula to produce a few notable tracks. “Pure Radio Cosplay,” which follows an experimental introduction, employs an alternating tempo and a spacey synthesizer to establish the atmosphere. “The Wasteland” is serene and calm where the majority of Tao of the Dead is not, providing an appropriately positioned reprieve from the musical turbulence. “Summer of All Dead Souls,” the album’s first single, will give head-bangers a sense of satisfaction, but really any fan of heavy strumming and nifty riffs will find it a success.

Tao of the Dead is clearly created in the image of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Rush’s Hemispheres. While it never matches up to either (as few ever could), Trail of Dead’s attempt is a valiant effort in mimicking the shape of a story arc: rising tension and a few breakout moments, culminating in a 16-minute finale of shredding guitars and crashing cymbals. The tracks tend to run into each other, picking up immediately where another leaves off, but they prove to come together in a nuanced and complete creation.

The deeper the listener ventures into Tao, the more troubles arise. The four-piece band seems to run out of steam and gets bogged down in adhering too much to the same general sound. Fortunately, that sound isn’t necessarily bad, but the lack of variation results in eventual tedium. “Pure Radio Cosplay (Reprise)” is true to its title in its unfailing repetition of the previous “Pure Radio Cosplay.” “The Spiral Jetty,” clocking in under two minutes, is uninspired and seems like an afterthought. It would be rash to call this lapse in viable material the album’s downfall, but it’s disappointing to see how much of a complete success Tao could have been if the quality of the music remained constant.

Trail of Dead’s seventh studio release is a worthy effort, but it demonstrates a lack of finesse in not finishing strong. The album isn’t disjointed because it flows together so well, but it clearly rises in the beginning and ebbs near its conclusion. As most bands learn the hard way, a concept album is an extremely risky venture. Trail of Dead claims that Tao is such a venture, but on what concept the album is predicated seems unclear. Regardless, the music is still enjoyable with or without a theme, making it a risk well taken.

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