Rock history is marked by plenty of wrongheaded tour combinations — the most famous being Jimi Hendrix and the Monkees. But few can compare in terms of sheer disastrousness with the 2007 pairing of Dethklok, a real-life approximation of a fictional death-metal band featured on a Cartoon Network series, and the indie veterans in ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead.
"I think we all ended up on that tour wondering what the hell we were doing there," concedes Trail frontman Conrad Keely, who notes that he and his fellows were booed relentlessly by the Dethklok faithful. But instead of being cowed by this hostility, Keely says the group took advantage of the situation: "What that allowed us to do was, it gave us this complete freedom to do whatever we wanted. We didn't care about the audience and we didn't care about our songs. We could actually deconstruct them into these abstract noise experiments." In his view, the on-stage discoveries that resulted "had everything to do with the way this album came out sounding."
Not that The Century of Self, the act's latest offering, qualifies as a radical departure from predecessors such as 2002's Source Tags & Codes and 2005's Worlds Apart. "We were kind of taking an overview of our entire recording career, and in a way almost being deliberately self-referential," he says of sessions that produced standout tracks such as "Fields of Coal" and "Isis Unveiled." Yet the collection is unique in at least one significant way. It's the first album for Richter Scale, an independent imprint the band founded after leaving Interscope Records, its home for most of the decade.
Keely insists that he has no hard feelings against this most major of labels, despite having announced Trail's departure in an online post that said the company's "idea of marketing became keeping it a secret that we'd released a record." Instead, Richter Scale represents an opportunity for Keely and company to control their own destiny, and to support groups whose music moves them — a longtime goal. "Doing it now, it's better late than never," he says. "But there were so many bands along the way that we would have signed, and it would have been great. We would've had a hell of a roster by now."
Dethklok probably wouldn't have been on it — but Keely still sees value in previously hitting the road alongside the group. "I believe in taking the positive out of the negative," he says.
And whatever doesn't kill the Trail of Dead makes it stronger.