Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Album Review: Every Time I Die - Ex Lives

What's up party people? My name is Vince and I'm new around here. I'll be posting reviews, interviews, and probably the occasional news story about some shitty punk band none of you care about. So yeah, I hope you're looking forward to that as much as I am. But enough about me, let's talk about the music...

So in case you haven't heard, Buffalo, NY metalcore veterans Every Time I Die released their sixth full length, Ex Lives on Epitaph today (or yesterday, I guess). I've been jamming the album over the past week in preparation of reviewing it, and still haven't been able to come up with a suitable intro. Oh well; in the words of the great Bill O'Reilly: "Fuck it -- we'll do it live!"

Anyways, Ex Lives marks a bit of a turning point in ETID's career. For one, the album sees the band all but shed their faux sleaze-rock riffing, returning to a more hardcore influenced approach they slowly abandoned after Hot Damn! It's also their first record with new drummer Ryan Leger (ex- Dead and Divine, The Salads, some other bands), who was recruited after a less than amicable parting with longtime member Michael "Ratboy" Novak. Leading up to the release, the band has talked ad nauseum about the creative spark kick-started by the personnel change, and right from the get go it's apparent they weren't just running their mouths.

Ex Lives opens at a frenetic pace that doesn't show signs of letting up until about halfway through the album. The band sounds a lot younger on these first five or so songs; showing us they haven't forgotten how to play heavy, fast or furious, and proving they're not afraid to just thrash the fuck out when it's appropriate (read: "Holy Book of Dilemma"). Yet just when the heavy hitting stuff starts to get a little drawn out, the band shifts gears midway through "I Suck (Blood)," sliding seamlessly into a sludge metal-esque bridge, and subsequently, the slower, more experimental second half of the album.

At this point, the album starts to simmer down and the melodies begin to take hold. ETID have been no stranger to melody ever since 2005's Gutter Phenomenon, when they began incorporating clean vocals and Southern rock riffs into their sound. While that approach has worked well for them in the past (I was a big fan of The Big Dirty), the band commendably decided Ex Lives was no place to rest on their laurels. Instead, they chose a direction more akin to late-era Blacklisted than Lynyrd Skynyrd; leaning on sludgy yet textured guitar work and some really heavy drumming to provide a solid base for the melodic stuff. Save for the album's closer, "Indian Giver," (a four minute long track that gets far too muddied to really go anywhere) this well-crafted approach to heavy songwriting gives vocalist Keith Buckley ample leeway to croon slowly over the songs without sacrificing any of the cathartic intensity that makes ETID a great live act. Although this concept provides a strong foundation for "Revival Mode"-- the band's cleanest, slowest song to date-- the moment of refinement happens one track later on the outro to "Drag King," which blends just the right amount of melody and heaviness to give it a haunting, regret-tinged quality, encapsulating what Ex Lives seems to dwell on thematically.

In the past, ETID have seemingly all but embraced the "live fast, die young" lifestyle; joking their way through interviews, admitting some of their lyrics are just drunken nonsense, and writing albums worth of songs that are more or less party anthems (in my circle, anyways). Yet, on Ex Lives there's a pervasive feeling that the band's hard partying ways are slowly catching up with them. For even though the lyrics are ripe with hyperbole, the pain is palpable in Buckley's voice when he muses over lines like: "I've got debts piling high/I've got addictions, ex-wives/but I've stayed true, so I thank you/for bearing witness while I waste my fucking life." Yet while it may be sobering to realize that even the wildest among us can't party forever, there's a silver lining in the notion that older bands can still write very strong material when refusing to tread into nostalgia.

Perhaps that's what's most endearing about Ex Lives; Every Time I Die could have easily written another bluesy metalcore album about partying, and 15 year-olds in beaters would have moshed hard at every one of their Warped Tour stops regardless. Instead, the band chose to push themselves as hard as they could artistically, resulting in arguably their best album to date. That's the kind of attitude that separates "good bands" from "essential bands," and if any questions remain as to which category ETID belongs in, Ex Lives should finally answer them. I'm giving the album a very respectable 8.5/10.

01. Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space
02. Holy Book of Dilemma
03. A Wild, Shameless Plain
04. Typical Miracle
05. I Suck (Blood)
06. Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow
07. The Low Road Has No Exits
08. Revival Mode
09. Drag King*
10. Touch Yourself
11. Indian Giver
12. Grudge Music (Bonus Track)
13. Business Casualty (Bonus Track)
14. Starve an Artist, Cover Your Trash (Bonus Track)

* Recommended track

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