It’s been a reflective few years for Austin’s Trail Of Dead. Their last album IX came out more than five years ago, marking the longest break they’ve ever taken between albums. Vocalist Conrad Keely spent roughly half that time living in Cambodia, surrounded by unfamiliar culture and language. When he returned, the Trump administration was newly in power, and the political climate was changed. He rearranged the lineup of his band, took them on the road for a 20th-anniversary tour for their classic album Madonna, and spent multiple years writing and recording the album that would become The Godless Void.
The fruit of his labor is finally in our hands, and the tenth Trail Of Dead album doesn’t waste any time in looking to the past. It begins with the same nearly eponymous sentence that was featured at the start of Madonna (“and you will know them…”) as if to continue the birthday tour festivities in the studio. Though this is the only thing that comes close to an explicit callback, the rest of the album is based around a longing to return to a past feeling of hope.
The early stretch can be quite literal in its heartbreak and regret. ‘Something Like This’ looks at this theme first through a performer’s lens. Atop yearning guitars that sound like they could have been pulled straight from How It Feels to Be Something On, Keely sings of “cold lessons” that have left him unable to remember any feeling but rage. “I think those words went something like this,” he sings. “I don’t know if I can sing them like I did before.”
Other cuts tackle the perspective of failing relationships and death, as in the spiritual siblings ‘Gone’ and ‘Children of the Sky’. Of these, the very singable ‘Children of the Sky’ is the most direct. It tells of two people trying to put aside their differences for each other, eventually ending with the narrator in a perennial state of mourning. It describes its namesake children as beings who look at us from above, unbeknownst to the people going about their daily lives. This hint of abstraction paves the way for the second half of the album, which serves as a poetic and adventurous final act.
With ‘Who Haunts the Haunter’, the word stories becomes the operative word of the album’s title. The biggest rock song on the album – with the possible exception of ‘Into the Godless Void’ itself – it describes “The haunted one, hid in the shadow of base desire.” The verses alternate between Alice in Chains-style vocals and simple spoken word to tell stories of celestial deities and the cycle of birth and death. From here on, everything is different.
If the first part of the album is stuck in its own self-pity, the second part moves past it through sheer pirate fantasy. ‘Blade of Wind’ brings in some electronics for some of Trail Of Dead’s most uplifting music ever. Its steady beat, bright choruses, and lyrics about sailing over the skies give its journey a sense of utmost importance and reward.
So, while it’s easy to focus on the messages of giving up and embracing defeat in a godless void, there’s also a feeling that better days will come. As the frayed buildup of finale ‘Through the Sunlit Door’ comes together, there’s something of an implication that this is only the beginning. “Receding into veils of rain as we begin to climb” is the line we’re left with – an accurate depiction of the staccato of the song’s varied musical elements, to be sure. But more importantly, it’s a declaration of action in the face of whatever obstacles arise; an acknowledgement of the vicious terrain and a straight-faced resolution to weather it head-on.