Hot Damn! This is a remarkable and unforeseen return to form.
A fire has been re-kindled in the heart of one of the most enigmatic bands in contemporary music. Every Time I Die return to action with Ex Lives and explode with new found artistic drive and passion. Long term fans may be surprised by an unexpected return to the schizophrenic down-tuned fury that encapsulated hardcore flash-bang Hot Damn!, but acting as a counter-balance to the ferocity comes some of the finest songwriting of the band’s career.
On their previous three releases Gutter Phenomenon, The Big Dirty, and New Junk Aesthetic, Every Time I Die explored a more palatable sound. The band removed most of their dazzling tempo shifts in favour of a pronounced Southern groove and increasingly utilised singer, Keith Buckley’s commendable clean vocals amongst his caustic screams. This approach increased Every Time I Die’s profile and seemed to be a direct reaction to the band becoming jaded with the hardcore scene that they, along with genre legends Converge and Botch, helped forge. So much so, Keith Buckley made an attempt at breaking through the glass ceiling by signing up as vocalist of side-project/super-group, the Damned Things, much to the chagrin of the rest of the band. Ultimately, this project became an apathetic circle-jerk of bloated egos but has turned out to be the touch paper that has ignited Ex Lives. Here Buckley returns to his role as larynx-shredding polymath and the rest of the band (who catalogued a wealth of new music in his absence) bristle with evident anger at the thoughts of being left behind.
As a result, Ex Lives captures the band at their viciously abrupt best. It’s Every Time I Die without any fat, just a reined-in, leaner version of its angular self. Commencing with the flippantly titled “Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space”, new drummer Ryan Leger establishes his prowess on the drum throne as his energetic beats smash the teeth out of your head, and as you reach to pick them off the floor—the riffs (especially the booming breakdown at the end) drops you on your knees. But what makes this track blaze is Keith Buckley’s performance, evident as you kneel with your toothless mouth agape in awe. The frenzied verses are devoid of melody yet delivered with the captivating tonality that all the greats possess, while the chorus contains an almost choral quality. This track is barely contained in its short life span and leaves the listener wanting more.
Every Time I Die’s rapid fire technique continues with the next three songs which rocket past in the space of six minutes. The heavyweight riff tag team of Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams trade blows on the punk bluster of “Holy Book of Dilemma” and “A Wild, Shameless Plain”, with Leger unleashing complimentary blastbeats and d-beat patterns that slam like shots at a ten year AA reunion and bring stylistic comparisons to Trap Them rather than Deep-South approach of Maylene and the Sons of Disaster. Nonetheless, Every Time I Die’s Southern influence still lingers beneath the surface and rears its redneck head on “Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow”, its flaming banjo-intro signalling the beginning of a ode to the demon drink which contains a breakdown whose impact is akin to the hangover felt after drinking a bucket of moonshine and being impaled on a pitchfork. In metal circles, the use of the breakdown has become tiresome and played out. Every Time I Die are an exception in that they have honed the breakdown so that it is placed for maximum impact and does not sound shoehorned into the songs for the sake of providing a “mosh moment”.
As previously mentioned, Keith Buckley is on chaotic form here and sounds as if he has a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove on the likes of “Typical Miracle” and “I Suck (Blood)”. His delivery maintains clarity without sacrificing the acidic bite, and proves more than capable of keeping pace with the frenetic musical abandon that erupts around him. Buckley’s lyrics have always been a major selling point of Every Time I Die, and his entertaining use of imagery, intelligence and pun-tastic delivery remain. In the past his lyrics have had a tendency to be shrouded in metaphors, on Ex Lives however, the singer seems as though he has gone through a dark period personally and he delivers his lyrics with a refreshing directness. On second single and death bed confessional—“Revival Mode”, Buckley croons about having debts piling high, addictions and ex-wives - all of which could be relatable in modern society. There is also an effortless cool about the refrains of “Thanks Lord, but I don’t need any more, poor advice / Poor advice” as the band lock into a sexy groove which acts as a buffer between the breakneck hardcore of precursor “The Low Road Has No Exits” and ensuing calculated spasms of “Drag King”. The larva-like chorus on “Drag King” - “What does he have that I don’t? / Except you” and in fact all the vocal melodies throughout this album, lodge themselves in the listener’s brain and emerge fully formed after repeat listens.
Ex Lives culminates with the broken palate cleanser – “Indian Giver” whose breathy vocals and Kyussian fuzz-groove end the album on a glorious high. The overall genius of Ex Lives lies in the group’s use of restraint when developing the structures of these compositions. The underlying, internal tension that has existed in the band since New Junk Aesthetic has also made an impact here and has been positively injected into this collection of songs; each rippling with kinetic vigour and vitality. For the first time in years Every Time I Die seem comfortable with the fact that they may never crash into the mainstream and have embraced their position as underground royalty. They have finally clawed their way to the top of the hardcore hit-list and it will take a hell of an effort to top Ex Lives , a possible album of the year contender no doubt.
Lesson learned, expect the unexpected.