When Keith Buckley screams “I want to be dead with my friends!” at the beginning of the relentlessly pummeling Ex Lives, you can’t help but feel his sincerity.
Every Time I Die’s sixth studio record, Ex Lives is a decidedly dark affair, both musically and thematically. The cover image, a guy in an ETID shirt being accosted by some kind of riot police officer, is a prescient foretelling of what’s to come on the record’s 11 songs (or 14, if you snag the Deluxe Edition – which you should).
By now, Every Time I Die have a distinct sound, perfected through years of touring, where they watched the scene die. Presumably, that’s what pissed them off so much this time around – there just aren’t a ton of bands like them, at least as far as integrity and earnestness are concerned. The trendiest “scene” bands these days, in addition to being indistinguishable from the next batch, ooze fabrication in the form of neon t-shirts with crude and pointlessly offensive slogans, churning out by-the-numbers mallcore devoid of creativity – all in the name of Hot Topic marketability, of course.
ETID, on the other hand, give a damn.
Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space, the aforementioned opening track, puts to bed any concerns about this album being heavy on the tongue-in-cheek, groovy Southern-tinged metal that ETID sometimes play around with – this is grimy, brooding stuff.
Keith’s words, always one of the brightest parts of an ETID album, are at their peak on this record – as an English major, I read poetry that had difficult themes buried in fancy talk, and when I read Buckley’s lyrics I feel the same – but in place of “fancy talk”, there’s passion, grit, and an impeccable knack for wordsmithery.
On Holy Book of Dilemma, a blisteringly short kick in the pants, Keith is at his most critical at the song’s end: Our mathematics and our faiths are just ways of devouring space while we continue to devolve/Separate hearts are the whole of the law, he screams, over and over, driving the point home.
But Ex Lives is incredible for more reasons than just Keith’s turn of phrase – it’s depressingly ominous. A Wild, Shameless Pain has an anxious, claustrophobic feeling, one that teems with purpose and chugging riffs, courtesy of Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams. Throughout the record, (recently departed) bassist Josh Newton and drummer Ryan “Legs” Leger provide a solid percussive backbone to the guitars-and-vocals-blitz that has long formed ETID’s calling card.
I need a new rock bottom/I’ve got to find a beloved back alley, I’m bored as hell in Sodom and Eden is just another dry county, Keith says in Typical Miracle, while another chunky-yet-catchy riff slams along in the background.
But it gets even better – I Suck (Blood) quickly took up residence among my favorite ETID songs (alongside INRIhab, We’rewolf and Wanderlust).
The song blends Keith’s shouting with his melodic singing voice, charging along with a windmilling lead guitar riff until about ¾ of the way in, when Keith says to the target of his anger Hold your fire/WHAT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR? Did you think I could garner attention with tact?, all set to a delicious breakdown.
Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow (and its use of the banjo) is another highlight, channeling both the Southern touches of The Big Dirty with the twisty time signature maneuvering that characterized Hot Damn!
Revival Mode is to Ex Lives what Wanderlust was to New Junk Aesthetic, the type of song that brings out the band’s versatility – a down-tuned, reflective lead guitar melody and Keith’s singing voice are the stars here, eventually erupting oh-so-slightly, due to the steadily increasing tension that climbs and climbs until the song’s finish. Oh, and it has a gloriously dark and bizarre music video:
Drag King and Touch Yourself should please longtime fans with their aggression and hardcore stylings, while the last track of the Standard Edition, Indian Giver, lets ETID spread their proverbial wings a bit. Two minutes in, a slow, infectious riff, accentuated by a haunting chorus of background voices, takes over, bringing the song to a rousing finish.
If you snag the Deluxe, you’ll be treated to three more gems: Grudge Music, Business Casualty, and Starve an Artist, Cover Your Trash, bringing the final tally of songs to fourteen.
Reducing all these words to one sentence, Ex Lives is flat-out amazing. It was hard to imagine Every Time I Die outdoing themselves after the last few records, but they’ve found a way – this record incorporates their best heaviest material AND their most impressive melodic passages seamlessly.
If all these words are too much, let me make it clear: you won’t find many albums this year (or decade) that come close to rivaling the precise, vitriolic fury that is Ex Lives.