splendid > reviews > 5/6/2003
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
The Secret of Elena's Tomb

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "All St. Day"

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A few months ago, Conrad Keely posted a rant on the Trail of Dead website about the need for interdisciplinary study in our schools. It was a veritable call to arms for society to produce more Renaissance men and women, to teach students how to master a variety of subjects instead of one. Anyone keeping a keen watch on rock music has known that Keely and his bandmates have already taken these words to heart in their own lives, and it's this ethos that transforms what could have been a pleasant diversion of an EP into an artistic triumph -- or at least a product actually worth the asking price. Keely once again contributes his intricate artwork to the booklet, there's a graphically awesome enhanced segment featuring videos from the last album, and the lyrics actually mean something. Heck, the album's title is drawn from a true story about a German doctor who lived in Florida in the early 1900s, so clearly the band wants to inspire listeners to make their own little historical exploration.

Oh, yeah, there's some music here, too. "Mach Schau" will sound familiar, not because you've heard it before, but because it's an only slightly more pissed-off take on the signature Trail of Dead sound. The stampeding drums suck the song into a vacuum with tremulous breaks at the end of every line, and then spit 'em back out for a Drive Like Jehu refrain. The chaos breaks mid-song for a meandering, spacy segment, only to fire up again for a visceral finale. While it's a great song for what it is, the two that follow it are much more fulfilling, as they shun the band's comfort zone a bit more.

"All St. Day" stacks the guitar layers high and even grooves a little, carrying the EP's catchiest chorus, while "Crowning of a Heart" is the disc's crowning achievement. The song has a disarmingly serene quality, recalling the band's early B-side "Witch's Web". When the vocals fade into subtle "oooh"s and the chiming guitars and gigantic drums culminate in a part hymnal, part symphonic manner, it's an incredible moment. Less effective, but just as risky, is "Counting Off the Days", an acoustic track in which the vocals have a slight hint of an emo whine; it's tastefully short and features nice cymbal flourishes in the background, but works only because the rest of the album works. "Intelligence", a B-side from a UK single, rounds out the disc with a pulsing electro-beat and Jason Reece's best Bono impersonation.

While The Secret of Elena's Tomb is over in less than 20 minutes, it's more impressive than what most bands do in an hour. It's definitely more than a contractual obligation or a between-meal holdover, and allows the group to further establish themselves as one of the most culturally significant rock bands around.



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