The Trail of Dead has fallen onto its artistic face. Less than 400 days after the band released the critically acclaimed, experimentally brilliant and gorgeous Source Tags and Codes comes The Secret of Elena’s Tomb, an EP that sits on the progressive sound and offers little to their fans besides a few Sonic Youth rip-offs and poorly programmed drum beats.
The Trail of Dead is not the first to enter the dark, dank, decrepit chamber of disappointing follow-up albums. The Smashing Pumpkins have the infinitely disappointing Adore, Red Hot Chili Peppers have a whimper called One Hot Minute, and the list goes on. Fans can only hope the Trail of Dead climbs the walls of this chamber of ill-created music and makes their next full length album with the same provocative energy as Source Tags and Codes.
Opener “Mach Schau” rubs a little too closely to Sonic Youth’s “Total Trash.” The repeating verse “I blew the past a kiss” certainly doesn’t add any muscle to the weak song. The song title means “make show,” which German fans often shouted as words as encouragement for the Beatles. The following track, “All St. Day,” used the Trail of Dead formula of loud guitars and murmured lyrics that soared on Source Tags but really doesn’t come to fruition here. “Crowning of an Arc,” the standout track, could be a sign of the Trail of Dead grabbing at a groundbreaking future, if put in another context.
The most remarkable part of the new EP is it’s title and the story behind it. The Trail of Dead treats its music as a composition of history, anthropology and sound (the band name is based on a Mayan Book of Dead). Elena was a tuberculosis patient who in 1931 became an object of obsession by one of her caretakers, Carl von Cosel, who courted the dying girl during her final days. Apparently, he never came to terms with her lack of response. He built a mausoleum for her body to rest and for the next seven years experimented with techniques to resuscitate her. Her corpse started to decompose, and he needed to take measures to keep her in as the figure he first fell in love with. He used piano wire to string her bones together and replaced her rotting skin with wax. He inserted glass eyes into her hollowed sockets and even fitted her vagina with a tube so as to consummate their love.
If nothing else, the necrophiliac made for an interesting springboard for an album. Unfortunately, the songs on the EP are not nearly as interesting as its title. The Secret of Elena’s Tomb is unfortunately a formless lump of songs that is held together with far too little glue. Perhaps Trail of Dead’s experimental, raw mantra will make another appearance in their next full-length album. Until then, stick to listening to Source Tags and Codes.