Every Time I Die: Ex Lives – Music Review
By Eric Stuckart
It’s been a while since I’ve been completely in love with an Every Time I Die album from start to finish. I won’t say that they got stuck in a rut, but it seemed like they really fell headlong into becoming that goofy band that played heavy music, known more for being the clown princes of the metalcore scene, complete with a somewhat ironic “party” song on each subsequent release.
Since 2007’s The Big Dirty, the band was veering more and more towards the melodic, poppy end of the spectrum with their chaotic, southern-tinged metalcore. While they were still leaps and bounds better than a lot of the competition, it wasn’t hard to see the formula that they were starting to settle on. Each song started with a bit of a chaotic riff, but somewhere in there was a bluesy, southern breakdown, and if it wasn’t that, it ended up being the other way around. The band were also starting to write a lot more parts to showcase vocalist Keith Buckley’s developing melodic singing chops. This lead beautifully into his side project The Damned Things, but it didn’t fair as well for fans of ETID’s older music.
I’m not really sure what Buckley went through during the period of time since then, but between some of the rants on his personal blog in recent times and the lyrics and general sound of Ex-Lives, the man has gone through a bit of a change, making for a much darker ride than pretty much everything since Last Night in Town or perhaps Hot Damn! First single and video, “Revival Mode,” exemplifies this the most. A David Lynch-inspired video that shows the band members attempting to dispose of a body before finally turning on the frontman, it shows a band not content riding the wave of irony-laden metal that they helped to create nearly ten years ago. However, it’s the music that speaks even greater. Melodic and brooding, it’s a sound that they haven’t attempted before. It finds its inspiration more from mid-90s alternative combined with a simple, downtrodden riff that sort of brings to mind Converge’s “Grim Heart/Black Rose,” completely ignoring the melodic post-hardcore trimmings that their past material found itself steeped in.
While “Revival Mode” is the only song of its sort, it’s that feeling of a life wasted that is felt throughout Ex Lives. The album is heavy and foreboding, with a much greater emphasis on covering ground that they haven’t really returned to since the earlier part of the last decade. Even the Southern rock influences have been scaled back dramatically, in favor of more chaotic, math-metal riffing that harkens back to the days when they first emerged on the scene and were described as sounding like Converge meets Glassjaw.
Songs like “A Wild, Shameless Plain” and “Drag King” rely more on an atmosphere of seething rage that barely bubbles at the surface for the greater part of the songs, giving them much more depth and makes the songs less about waiting for the next big heavy mosh riff. Personally, I’ve been waiting for the band to record another album like this for years, and as much as I had a good time with the swagger of their later material, their angrier songs just never sounded as sincere as they did back in the day. The closest thing to a party song they have on this album is the aptly titled “Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow,” but even that song sounds different than similar songs did in the past. Opening with an odd banjo solo, the first half of the song is comprised of a sped up blues number, but that quickly gives way to a sound more akin with stereotypical hardcore bands. Where on past albums, such songs were about keeping the rager going, this one is what happens when the party gets ugly, and the rager turns to blind rage. It’s not pretty, but given the thematic makeover felt throughout, it’s a perfect fit.
To a certain degree, Ex Lives sounds as though none of the albums since Hot Damn! ever happened, with Buckley using his always sharp wit to make more biting statements about himself rather than cracking wise about everyone else for a change. It’s a drastic change, but they needed to do something drastic to prevent themselves from falling into the formula and prove that they’re still relevant in an oftentimes fickle scene. For a band that’s been around for as long as they have, they’re still full of piss and vinegar, and the amount of focus in their songs is incredible. To an extent, it’s the sound of a band that begrudgingly grew up and realized that the party can’t keep going on forever.
Stream Ex Lives in its entirety over at soundcloud.com/epitaph-records.
Photos from epitaph.com.