After …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead combined their early noise-punk assault with sturdy rock songwriting to create the amazing Source Tags and Codes, they spent their next two albums grasping for a way to follow it up, with limited success. Worlds Apart (aside from the brilliant “Will You Smile Again?”) featured the unwise decision to put frontman Conrad Keely’s voice front and center, and his powerful shout-singing style turned into off-key crooning. So Divided found the band attempting more pop-oriented songs and added a lot more piano. Some of these songs (“Eight Day Hell”) worked really well, but the album itself still felt like kind of a mess.
With a new full album on tap for 2009, the advance four-song EP Festival Thyme seems to indicate the band may finally have found their footing again. Opening with ringing piano chords and crashes of distorted guitar, “Bells of Creation (Machete Mix)” merges the experiments of the past four years with the classic sound of Source Tags-era Trail of Dead. “Inland Sea (EP Edit)” is a little quieter, but still carries a strong melody in the piano and in Keely’s voice, which is comfortably back in the middle of the mix here. The bombastic ending also makes me wonder what the full album version will sound like. “Festival Thyme” is a rollicking, upbeat tune that is ultra-catchy, but at a short 2:17, doesn’t wear out its welcome. The EP’s five-minute closer, “The Betrayal of Roger Casement and the Irish Brigade”, is a noisy instrumental that starts soft and slow, and quickly gets loud. This track sounds more like a Trail of Dead leftover that won’t quite make the album, but it’s at least an interesting piece. Hopefully Festival Thyme is a preview of good things to come in the near future for the band.