Few bands over the last twenty years have managed to defy like ‘Trail of Dead. From the albatross of ‘Source Tags and Codes’ to the major label wrangles, critical crucifixions, the flux of ‘World’s Apart’, and the creative freedom of life post-Interscope, they’ve made a loud habit of shifting from one battle to the next with a dutiful sense of delivering.

So where ‘Source Tags and Codes’ became the benchmark and blueprint they’ll forever be held against, ‘So Divided’ felt like their lowest ebb, definitively moving away from the righteous rage and marauding power to something more drive-time palatable. Since breaking out on their own, they’ve always been a band defined by pride, and it’s that willful stubbornness that’s continued to make ‘Trail of Dead forceful, and not forgotten.

Weathered and tempered by the their travails over the last decade, after the relative return of ‘The Century of Self’, and the prog indulgence of ‘Tao of the Dead’, 2012’s ‘Lost Songs’ felt like the first flickers of a snarling resurgence, and ‘IX’ is a reminder that they’re a band still gloriously capable of coruscating, anthemic noise.

Opener ‘The Doomsday Book’ is the archetypal ‘Trail of Dead rallying call; bright-eyed and triumphant, there’s power and purpose to the thumping drums and Keely’s ebullient vocal. That same spirit also drives the frenetic guitar duels and battle-cry vocals of ‘Jaded Apostles’ and urges ‘A Million Random Digits’ to tear through three minutes at a relentless pace.

In slower, more restrained moments, ‘The Dragonfly’ skips along at a wistful, string-laden pace, and the breathless ‘Bus Lines’ perfectly drifts as a soft-vision of an anthem that doesn’t need to ignite, leaving that to the visceral Fugazi-esque bile of ‘Lost in the Grand Scheme of Things’ nostril-flaring, vein-popping seven minutes.

Always suckers for a grand arrangement, ‘Like Summer Tempests’ sweeps in like a Gazprom-sponsored Champions League theme but on the other side, ‘How to Avoid Huge Ships’ is a brilliant, heaving concept, hitting as it does with clanging piano, furious chords and a devastatingly simple quiet-loud-quiet dynamic. It’s a familiarly wide-lens take on the ‘Trail of Dead post-rock opera that, at searing volume, is violent, vitriolic and fucking fantastic.
At nine albums in, it’s undeniable that the anger and energy has dissipated over the years but ‘Trail of Dead releases have rarely felt like the obligations they could have been. They’ll never fully recapture the bluster and intensity of THAT defining record but expecting a repeat has always been brutally unfair.

So while this isn’t the album to pummel you into the ground, even in this eternal post-Source Tags… pine, the fact that ‘Trail of Dead still care enough to play with the heart and imagination they originally set out to is all the salvation they’ve ever needed and makes ‘IX’ another solid reminder to rediscover what made them so great in the first place.