2016 has been a very interesting year for music. Out of the releases I’ve spent time with, I’ve come up with two very distinct trends in the albums that I’ve gravitated toward thus far. Tried and true artists have gone at least somewhat off their usual beaten path to explore the lush landscapes (sometimes pitfalls) of sonic expression. This has given us several albums that have me thinking, “It’s insane how this can sound so much like [insert artist/band here], but still sound so different!” The other criteria being that some of my favorite albums this year have been, well… Total bummers. Heavy subject matter such as death, love lost, close calls, and other general tragedies have made this fiscal year very lucrative indeed for some. Whether it be Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree (Nick’s son, Arthur, tragically fell to his death in 2015), Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, (Thom Yorke’s 23-year long relationship with the mother of his children, Rachel Owens came to an end in 2015), Deftones’ Gore (the first official studio release since the death of their friend and original bassist, Chi Cheng), or David Bowie’s Blackstar (later revealed to be his intentional swan song), some of the year’s highest profile albums on my personal radar seem to have been born in misery, or wrought from a similar abysmal template. And the results are unanimous: ineffable beauty.
Every Time I Die continue to carry that cross with their latest effort, Low Teens. If you’re a fan, you’re already very familiar with the story of vocalist Keith Buckley’s struggles last December when he was made to quickly eject himself in the middle of a tour to rush to his wife’s bedside in Buffalo, NY. Several months pregnant, Lindsay Buckley began experiencing life-threatening complications, and for what probably felt like an eternity to him, Keith wasn’t sure if his wife and daughter would pull through. This is the hellish pit from which Low Teens was borne.
As mentioned before; you can definitely tell this is an ETID album, however, this collection of songs varies greatly from previous albums in very nuanced ways. Not only is this album the lowest tuning throughout (drop C in most cases, possibly lower on select tracks like previous albums’ “Moor” and “Indian Giver”), but it’s easily Keith’s darkest hour by a long shot. The melancholy drips from almost every line whether screamed, growled, crooned, spoken, or whispered as this is probably Keith’s most dynamic performance as well. There’s so much raw emotion injected into these songs, which isn’t really a departure for Keith. What sets this one apart is that instead of the sideways-grinning, cock-sure, and well-read tongue-in-cheek delivery we usually get from the previous English teacher, we’re presented with a bruised and battered hopeless man who reeks of desperation. Many of the lyrics sound like broken prayers, pleading with whatever powers-that-be for a reprieve from the nightmare he was going through when he didn’t know if his high-school sweetheart and their unborn child would make it through the next hour.
“I’d better warm up my gun, In case love is not enough”, “If I have to walk alone I’m giving up, I can’t stay here knowing love is not enough”, “I’ll be waiting with a suitcase when the devil comes for me”, “Clenched in the jaws of anguish are only godless men. Chaos is drawn to silence like life is drawn to death. The dusk is so much clearer than the dawn had ever been. I’m a ghost, I’m a ghost, and yet…”
The brutal onslaught of riff after riff from Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams continues with Low Teens, but even the guitar work didn’t escape the writing process without getting a much darker attitude adjustment. Before, the tone of the guitars mirrored that playful, devil-may-care wink that Keith’s vocals and lyrics threw our way, but now they elevate the sucker punch to the feels as they entomb the overall theme of the album. They’ve constructed a shrine to grief and hopelessness so that those who so desire can bare witness to the beauty it inspired. I rarely use “beautiful” to describe a hardcore/metalcore/mathcore/whatevercore song or album, but what ETID have done here is just that. Especially after running through the gauntlet only to reach the end, and be treated to the this-is-truly-the-end song “Map Change“. ETID have ventured into the “softer” side of their sound before (“Revival Mode“, “Indian Giver“, “Moor“), but not since their sophomore record “Hot Damn!” (“In the Event That Everything Should Go Terribly Wrong“) have they truly emoted through their music like they do on the album closer. As the song and the album come to the finish line, it feels as if the entire world is ending, and it’s okay. We (the listener and Keith) have been exhausted of any and all hope, we’ve resigned to let all that has and will happen wash over us in a cleansing wave, ready to embrace oblivion. The end of this album sounds like what I imagine finally coming to terms with stepping off the ledge must feel like. Complacency in catastrophe.
Every member is on their A-game on this album. Even newcomer Daniel Davison (previously of Norma Jean, Underoath) makes the transition seamlessly as if he’s been playing with these gentlemen the entire length of their career. As a whole, this may be the most cohesive and diverse record Every Time I Die have ever put out. Those saying that these boys just keep making more of the same can now be silenced. And, honestly, when you’re Every Time I Die, if you put out more of the same, it’s still leaps and bounds above and so drastically different from what anyone else is doing, that it doesn’t fucking matter.
Get yourself a copy of Low Teens where you can, when you can, while you can.
Favorite tracks: “Fear and Trembling”, “Petal”, “The Coin Has a Say”, “Just As Real, But Not As Brightly Lit”, “Map Change”, “Nothing Visible; Ocean Empty” (Bonus Track)