Interview: Trail Of Dead’s Triumphant Return in The Century Of Self

On ‘06’s reeling So Divided, the bell tolls for the band on its opening number. Caught in a “Wasted State Of Mind,” they may’ve streamlined overwrought Epicurean grandeur and prosaic Chamber pop dirges at the expense of mystical ceremonial imagery. But there’d be a light at the end of the tunnel as Trail Of Dead left Interscope for well-deserved independence. However, they’ll leave some early fans in the dust and nearly give it all up after getting unfairly chastised on an ill-suited bill supporting faddish Cartoon Network retinue, Dethklok.

These disturbing developments temporarily haunted then halted Trail Of Dead, but better days were just beyond the horizon. Like the proverbial down-and-out artist struggling to maintain footing, Keely gathered his troupes, nourished their collective soul, regained compositional poise, and began fulfilling a real or imagined prophesy. Standing at the precipice of a dazzling resurgence, Trail Of Dead started their own label, Richter Scale Records, and delivered the fully confident ‘09 masterwork, The Century Of Self.

Religiosity has always been at the heart of Trail Of Dead’s weighty lyrical sensibility. On The Century Of Self, faith takes center stage above social and personal matters. The momentous opening overture, “Giants Causeway,” may appear ominous, but an endearing positivity underscores the remainder. Perhaps seeking a glorified afterlife, the escalating climactic outburst of siren emo-core blazer “Far Pavilions” investigates unclaimed lands that “await us beyond the wall of cantonment.” Though reminiscent of Modest Mouse’s exhilarating seaworthy chants, the sugar-rushed entreaty, “Isis Unveiled,” searches for “secrets of the grand design.” Salvation may fascinate these seasoned warriors, but although they’d be cheerful drafting “the song of the ages,” they just “felt like raging” during sweeping teen-spirited keepsake “Halcyon Days,” revealing a torrential downpour of unfeigned emotionalism. Electrified Pete Townshend riffs infiltrate the core of “Fields Of Coal,” where Keely and Reece wail “don’t let him runaway” with unison impassioned vigor.

The tension mounts from beginning to end for this uninterrupted epic. Feelings of doubt get deliberated upon, especially when the perils of a sustainable musical lifestyle get discussed in song. The suspicious versifying and soared melancholia of “Inland Sea” reluctantly probes the semi-famous lifestyle by inquiring “is the price you’ve paid to live this little dream worth the pain you’ve been suffering?” Pushing aside past insecurities, it’s very likely Keely could now answer affirmatively.

The Century Of Self seems to take on mortality as its central motif.

Conrad Keely: In the context of childhood perhaps —which I tried to illustrate with the cover artwork. It’s a boy looking at a skull and it’s supposed to represent a moment when a child realizes he’s mortal and will grow up and die. The lyrics, overall, were a reflection of the change we’re undergoing.

Does Trail Of Dead usually extrapolate conceptual themes to enhance each album’s entirety?

Source Tags & Codes explored the dichotomy between hi-tech society and agrarian society. The idea of somebody who moved away from a farm, conceived while touring Chicago, when we went Midwest into the fields, was the inspiration. The next two concentrated on frustration. Worlds Apart railed against our musical environment and peer groups. So Divided reflected frustrations with our label. The big difference with Self is more positive inspiration, starting a new chapter getting away from a major label.

That’s an oversimplification. We use multiple themes and try to make them recur. Theology is close to Jason and I. His family’s Christian. Mine’s completely spiritual, studying Buddhism, Hinduism, and indigenous religions. I can’t help returning to that theme of higher spirituality. ‘Inland Sea’ deals with transcendental meditation, which my parents let me take active part in. ‘Isis Unveiled’ is based on a book I’d see on our bookshelves, flip through, and read. It indicted science and religion. There’s three separate viewpoints from Old Testament God, Lucifer, and finally, Jesus. Each told their story. But it also references unorthodox Christian belief that there were two gods, an Old Testament war-like God who’s overthrown by the peace and love New Testament God.