After foundering on three ambitious but underwhelming LPs that paled in comparison to 1999's Madonna and 2002's Source Tags & Codes, ... Trail of Dead makes a convincing course correction with Tao of the Dead. The locals' penchant for grandiose concepts and elongated immolation remains, but part one of Tao avoids letting the song cycle run away with the songs. "Introduction: 'Let's Experiment'" sets the stage with a thematic keyboard motif giving way to the electrifying "Pure Radio Cosplay," which hits like the angry stepchild of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Teen Age Riot." Even with its lyrical lambasting of present-day pop, "Cosplay" is one of the catchiest things ... Trail of Dead has ever done. Co-founder Conrad Keely's cover art harkens back to late-1970s teen fantasy paperbacks, which primes the palate for an unabashed tip of the cap to prog-descended arena rock. Keely's no Dennis DeYoung, but it's not hard to pick up Styx in "The Wasteland." The album's overwrought second side, "Strange News From Another Planet," plays out as a continuous 16-minute track in six movements that could have achieved twice the impact in half the time. Consider it a really long appendix.
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