…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead—which was started by guitarists/vocalists Conrad Keely and Jason Reece in 1994—have garnered a lot of intrigue and recognition with their name alone. Thankfully, their music is often just as absorbingly cryptic and metaphysical, undertaking prophetic subject matter with an ambitious composite of punk, post-rock, classical, and alternative rock flair. Thus, their work is always highly distinctive, thematic, and arresting, and as its name suggests, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories is no different. It’s arguably a tad rawer and less theatrically unified than 2014’s IX, but this tenth outing nonetheless demonstrates that the band is still very far from lifeless.
Keely and engineer Charles Godfrey (Of Montreal, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) produced the LP; it also features guitarist Aaron Blount and bassist Alec Padron. In the official press release, Keely notes that the album is inspired by “the sadness of moving away from a place that I loved [Cambodia]”, as well as The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Reece comments, “There’s definitely the idea of loss, leaving someone or something important in your life, but it’s more abstract.” Beyond that, it marks the longest break they’ve had between albums; luckily, their reunion added “a new vigor” to the process, according to Reece. Therefore, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories is simultaneously a pseudo comeback collection and a commemoration of the band’s 25-year history as well. In all of those ways, it’s a major success.
The first proper song, “All Who Wander”, immediately recaptures AYWKUBTTOD’s signature formula of dense musical destruction: sharp guitar riffs clash with raucous rhythms, faint piano notes, and catchy yet somewhat jumbled vocals. There’s an appealing air of both rebellion and refinement, which is what makes their style so distinguishing. (A prerecorded voiceover halfway in adds theoretical authority to the experience, too.) That artsy anarchy is upheld through the even more infectious title track (which, Reece claims, centers on universal existentialism), as well as the early 1990s-esque breezy grunginess of “Don’t Look Down”, the dynamic and contemplative “Children of the Sky”, and the expectedly calamitous “Who Haunts the Haunter”.
Outside of those in-your-face tunes, the AYWKUBTTOD incorporate more eclectic instrumentation and varied arrangements to yield a greater sense of profundity. Specifically, bookends “The Opening Crescendo” and “Through the Sunlit Door” cleverly mirror each other via their tastefully suspenseful and lavish orchestral Armageddon. As the start and finish of X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, they do a brilliant job of making the whole journey feel connected and meaningful. In-between, the heavily acoustic “Something Like This” brings slow strings into the mix before “Gone” paints a sleek electronic collage beneath the dejected singing. Near the end, “Eyes of the Overworld” uses gripping piano arpeggios to fuel its pressing percussion and apocalyptic chants. Whereas the penultimate “Blade of Wind” concludes with celestial synths that create a feeling of divine tragedy, not unlike the opuses of Coheed and Cambria.
X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, like just about all of its predecessors, must be digested in one sitting to grasp its magnificent inventiveness and ideas. While IX is likely a bit more enjoyable, memorable, and cohesive, this one is far from a slouch or disappointment. Rather, it reveals just how much And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead remain masters of their niche. Sure, many other rock bands throw in symphonic touches and philosophical messages, but none do it quite like this. Despite how many years have passed and how many other artists have come and gone, Keely, Reece, and company still do a particular thing very well; that alone makes X: The Godless Void and Other Stories worthy of acclaim.