Every Time I Die Get Low, Cold, Spastic, and Slow
Last year’s winter was the warmest on record — but it was cold up in Buffalo.
It’s been well-documented in the press that Low Teens is a dark diary for Keith Buckley, whose wife, then-pregnant, was hospitalized after falling severely ill this past winter. Their daughter was forced into a premature birth, and Buckley was faced with losing his family. This was all happening in the midst of a rigorous touring schedule for the band, as well as for other reawakening struggles for Buckley, who quit drinking after 20+ years of hard road life.
So Low Teens is an expression of healing for him, and possibly his best performance on an ETID record yet. I’ve always been fascinated by Buckley, a psychedelic-hardcore Hunter S. Thompson with a mic — or “Metallica without the drugs” as he cries on “The Coin Has a Say.” The dude is phenomenally talented, a true poet with insane voice chops. But similar to what’s happened to the Coen Brothers, Buckley has leaned back a bit in his writing on From Parts Unknown and this new album — he’s less preoccupied with trying to be witty or cunning, and far more concerned with expressing something personal.
That’s not to say that ETID are taking the foot off the gas pedal. Low Teens is one of the band’s fiercest records, but also touches in parts on a grace found by some of their peers in Converge on All We Love We Leave Behind and Dillinger Escape Plan on One of Us is the Killer, as well as by ETID on their last full-length, From Parts Unknown. These are records by veteran bands — years past the point in their careers where by comparison, Metallica had cut their hair and made Load — expressing themselves through a predominantly youth-based music culture.
It’s a tricky position to be in, but one that I love being a fan of. I really believe that we’re in a golden age for hardcore/punk/mathcore/etc., and that the key bands going today are so much more musically rewarding, experimental, and just plain exciting than most of the dad punk that shows up in Pitchfork/Noisey/NPR contracted writers’ wet dreams.
And Every Time I Die are one of those key bands. But as much as I love them, I’ve always felt that they’re a band that’s never quite lived up to their abilities when making a full-length. I do think they’ve been getting better with each release — Ex Lives and From Parts Unknown are two tremendous albums — and have been moving out of the arena of “that legacy band that’s always on Warped Tour” into purely great artists. Low Teens, perhaps appropriately given its heavy emotional influences, is a messy record.
It’s first half is really, really good. In particular, avant-doom opener “Fear and Trembling,” and the spastic “Glitches” are two of the band’s best songs. In parts, I think the band stumbles – but that’s because for me, I hold these guys to a higher standard. There’s some really promising material here that feels just slightly undercooked, given the heights the band reached on From Parts Unknown (I’m thinking in particular of the bluesy “Two Summers” compared to the absolute barnburner from their last album, “Decayin’ With the Boys”). I’m open to letting these songs grow on me, but I know the band is capable of much greater things.
That’s because in its second half, Low Teens turns tremendous. “Petal” is the dense, atmospherically heavy track I’ve always wanted them to pull off. “1977” is complete ferocity, a showcase for how heavy and dissonant these dudes can get. Album closer “Map Changes” hides its darkness in plain sight – a beautiful, almost pop-punk chorus married with Buckley’s admonitions that “The bottom is not the lowest we get / Further down still the dark’s absolute / Further down than that, it’s only me and you / I assure you that Hell is not a myth.”
And “The Coin Has a Say” is an early contender for song of the year — a perfect encapsulation of what makes this band great, and possibly the best thing they’ve ever written. It’s a song where every member of the band is firing on equal cylinders, in which each transition, riff, groove, and climax is executed with deadly purpose. This song – that’s what I’m talking about. That’s the shit, man.
This is one of the major records this year that I’ve been most excited for, and I went into it with super high expectations. I really think Every Time I Die are a band that are hitting their stride – so even where they stumble, there’s still plenty to be excited about. I have a feeling they’ve still got a tremendous album in there somewhere, evidenced by so much of Low Teens. There’s nothing on here that’s a failure or anything, but there is definitely a sharp contrast between the truly great shit — where the band is really pushing themselves into new territory — and then the stuff that’s more expected.