Expanded 2CD digibook edition comes with a 16 page graphic novel and a bonus disc with 30 minutes of music.
"Tao of the Dead, the seventh LP from embattled hardcore-prog studio junkies ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, is something of a double-concept album, running the thematic gamut from the death of rock radio to the work of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. It is split into two sections-- well, suites-- divided by key. There's a limited edition that comes complete with an extra half hour of music and a graphic novel. There's that cover. Considering, if I told you Tao of the Dead was the band's most stripped-back, least bombastic affair in ages, would you believe me?
Trail of Dead pared down to a four-piece for the 10-day Tao sessions, re-shifting their focus back to guitar and peeling away plenty of the ostentatious orchestral-psych flourishes that’ve bogged them down in the recent past. Save the quarter-hour you'll spend with its five-part closer, Tao of the Dead seems to chop its recent predecessors' average per-song runtime roughly in half. Worlds Apart and especially So Divided-- the nadir of the Trail of Dead catalog-- dragged on with excessive runtimes and twice-too-many choruses and elaborate instrumental scaffolding that, tarp removed, revealed a house of cards.
Rather than blowing out the back end of every song with such a movement, Tao of the Dead maps its grand ambitions over its full length; songs slip by quickly but not without notice, and certain motifs reappear throughout, lending the disc a somewhat hallucinogenic disorientation. Mostly, though, they move; the clipped construction helps, as does the Dark Side of the Moon-style seamlessness between cuts. But the songs themselves-- out front with the melodies, easy on the extraneous racket, alternately lovely and bruising-- are among the most delicate and memorable the band have unleashed. And, smartly, in shifting the focus back to the tunes themselves, they've pushed the grand payoff to the end, once they've really earned it.
Opener "Let's Experiment" gives way to "Pure Radio Cosplay", a sweaty rocker with an almost Stonesy underpinning that laments the death of rock radio, a clever inversion considering it's the band's most radio-ready track in years. Conrad Keely's rough-hewn, gun-to-the-head howl is, like almost everything, pitched down somewhat here on Tao, evincing notes of near-prettiness at times, but he spits out "Cosplay" like he really can't believe something like Nickelback exists while he languishes in semi-obscurity. Yet the sour, why-not-us vibe of World's Apart couldn't be farther from the fantastical worlds Keely touches on here; his lyrics, as they often do, seem dwarfed by the music, but the few he dangles out in front seem to emerge from Keely's full immersion in Tao's mythos. He didn't just namedrop Yes' Relayer and Rush's Hemispheres in pre-interviews because there's little or no pause between songs; each conjures a fully-formed universe between your ears, a quality Tao not only aspires to but frequently achieves.
As "Cosplay" winds down, Keely jumps in with "Wanna do another?," and off they go to "Summer of All Dead Souls", elegantly oscillating between space battle to acoustic plea without overselling either. "Cover the Days Like a Tidal Wave" lays a spoken-word missive over some undulating chords. Despite its title, "The Wasteland" is a lovely, sinewy psych-grunge number, gliding nimbly from mellotron to megawatts. And "Spiral Jetty" feels like a the start of something overcooked that, in the past, Keely and company might’ve drawn out. Here it doesn't hit the two-minute mark, closing out with a bit of dazzling feedback, then easing into the sumptuous "Weight of the Sun (Or the Post-Modern Prometheus)". These aren't epics in miniature, exactly; they move through sections and shift tone gracefully, but individual tracks rarely overstay their welcome, instrumental passages rarely getting more than a few seconds to themselves. When the reprise of "Cosplay" swings around again two-thirds of the way through the record, it's a surprise every time: shouldn't that've felt longer?
Tao, smartly, farms out most of its monolithic hugeness to the record's last two-- well, six-- tracks. But not before "Ebb Away", the loveliest track Trail of Dead have made since "Crowning of a Heart" from The Secret of Elena's Tomb EP nearly a decade ago. A little guitar tumble, remarkable in its understatement, gives way to a crunchy alt-rock chorus that sees Keely letting go of attachment and doing as its title suggests. It'd make for a helluva closer, but Tao of the Dead isn't about to let anybody off that easy. Onward and upward they go into kosmische whirl "The Fairlight Pendant", guitars encircling like three Can records playing at once. It gets to be a little much after a few times through, but I suppose it wouldn't be a Trail of Dead record without some overblown throwback jam, a slack "Pendant" happily picks up. But there's still the little matter of "Strange News From Another Planet", the five-part, key-of-F, half-a-"Family Guy" closing suite. "Strange News" is a bit like the last three Trail of Dead records in microcosm, lots of movement, with a tendency to drift. The track goes from a lurching alt-rock swirl to sampling a documentary about teenage homelessness in Seattle to a Source Tags-style hardcore pummel and back around again. Some will find the grandiose "Strange News" the most thrilling bit of Tao; others may take it as a separate piece entirely, saving it for later or skipping it outright.
So much of Trail of Dead's post-Source Tags & Codes output has felt desperate to recapture that now-classic set’s bluster and heart, only to favor one over the other to the detriment of both. That album’s teetering-on-the-brim mix of beauty and furor seems now like lightning in a bottle, the sort of thing you’d spend your life trying (and failing) to replicate. Tao of the Dead does feel, in its songs and structure alike, like the first post-Source Tags record not cooled in the giant shadow of their decade-old triumph; more patient, more potent, more dynamic, less overloaded, the band deftly charting out their "Flight of the Navigator" death trip, the skewed alt-prog fantasia between their ears come hurtling to life. Set your controls for the heart of your bong." - Pitchfork.com