After so much time (let’s be honest, 20 years is a long time for a rock band), our expectations for a band change. On one end of the spectrum you have bands like Metallica, suffering from intense overreaction (both good and bad) with every release since ReLoad. On the other, bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan consistently release quality material, but fans and critics lull into indifference because it’s business as usual. In this writer’s opinion, Every Time I Die have been cruising on this end of the spectrum for the entirety of this decade, and that’s just fine; but admittedly, there’s a point where this par for the course becomes a bore. Buffalo’s finest already have one of the most consistent discographies of any modern hardcore band, and they appear to have done it all, and most importantly, done it on their own terms. From humble punk rock beginnings, to mild enough success to warrant touring with Ozzfest, to Guitar Hero pseudo-stardom, to a sort of reinventing of their own sound, to refining that sound with “wild experiments” and “throwback” sounds, what’s left for a band to do?
Ironically, the happenstance of downright shitty events in frontman Keith Buckley’s personal life appear to be the primary mover in a shift in to their latest phase. After nearly losing his wife and unborn child during pregnancy complications, there’s a noted shift in his lyricism and delivery, most of which revolve around the night of his daughter’s premature birth. The context obviously weighs heavily on Low Teens, but it doesn’t fundamentally change his style. He’s still one of the best in the business, tailoring a Faulkner-like literary approach to punk rock, balancing colloquialisms, oxymorons, and metaphors with a keen smartassery, speaking to the beer-swilling common man while still leaving breadcrumbs for ad nauseam (and fascinating) close readings. The tone is much more personal and markedly darker than the party animal anthems of records past, striking a chord he’s never quite hit before, and the power of which is compounded by the instrumental accompaniment.
Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams still have the monopoly on fucking filthy and raunchy riffs of the southern rock and hardcore varieties, as if these are some of the last dudes on the planet who really know how to rock’n’roll (catching them live verifies this). Opener “Fear and Trembling” is a twangy and sludgy jalopy where an off-kilter wheel trues itself as it speeds up and becomes a menacing hardcore steamroller. But their sassy riffing isn’t just cocksure braggadocio, it’s brimming with subtlety and affectations beyond moshpit incitement. It’s hard not to hear the guitar chirps in “C++ (Love Will Get You Killed)” as an EKG machine to which Buckley pleads. “Map Change” even sees the band exposing some vulnerability in a giant chorus with anthemic leads, expressing just a smidge more range than we’re accustomed to hearing.
Overall, they’ve doubled down on the gritty aspects of their sound; bombastic and brassy tones of beard metal and stoner rock not unlike Lo-Pan or Kylesa can be found in “Awful Lot,” “It Remembers,” and “The Religion of Speed,” which are sure to please fans of The Big Dirty and New Junk Aesthetic alike. That’s not to say they’ve let up on their hardcore punk tendencies. Tracks like “Glitches,” “I Didn’t Want to Join Your Stupid Cult Anyway,” and “Just as Real but Not as Brightly Lit” put new(ish) drummer Daniel Davidson through the paces, ripping and stomping better than any previous skinsman the band has featured. Rhythm cohort Steve Micciche is still more than serviceable, keeping the band nimble at a moment’s notice with a number of interesting fills while also holding down the fort during the rock’n’roll excess of Williams & Buckley’s guitar ring-outs and feedback.
“Petal,” the centerpiece and impassioned climax of the record, is a three-minute stream-of-consciousness trip through Buckley’s aforementioned devastating event. The parallel between lyric and instrumentation has never quite synced up so powerfully and perfectly for this band (at least with serious subject matter), making for one of the best tracks of their career, and of the year as a whole. The frenetic and chaotic energy of the guitars, Davidson’s pulsating and pounding heartbeat of a snare that spirals out of control in a drum fill that collects itself (only to repeat the same anxieties), the eerie bass break coupled with Buckley’s desperate “What haven’t I done? / What have I done?” line of questioning – it all culminates into something so deep and stunning, it’s kind of amazing that this has been untapped for so long.
Every Time I Die have honed their sound for some time, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that they’re still writing some of the most ingenious southern-fried metalcore. It’s weird to think that after all these years they’re finally coming out of their shell a bit, exhibiting some brilliant and previously unknown new facets, but there’s definitely something special here that hasn’t been heard before. It’s difficult to quantify and would be an oversimplification to just call it emotion. It’s ambiguous but evident, leaving the best way to succinctly describe Low Teens is to simply rephrase a line from “Glitches” : You won’t feel different but you won’t feel the same.
Low Teens was released on September 23rd via Epitaph Records. You can get it right here and you’d best do that right now.